3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology. This kind of technology enables the creation of a three dimensional solid object by placing successive layers of material. A computer containing the blueprints for the object to be printed into a three dimensional structure is connected to a reasonably sized machine on which the three dimensional objects are quickly made. Hence this kind of mechanized method is also called as rapid prototyping. A complete physical 3 D model can be created layer by layer from digital data in a single process. Also, combining 3D printing with inkjet technology for creating 3D models not only saves time and reduces cost but at the same time eliminates the requirement of designing, printing and gluing together of separate model parts. Material cartridge, flexibility of output and translation of code into a visible pattern are the basic principles included in this revolutionary method. 3D printing is different from traditional machining techniques known as subtractive processes because the traditional techniques were mostly involved in the removal of material by drilling, cutting etc. This technology has paved its way in the fields of civil engineering, dental and medical industries, footwear, and industrial designing, geographic information systems etc.
Charles Hull, the founder of 3 D systems developed 3D printing in 1984. He named it as stereo lithography. He defined it as a method and apparatus for creating solid objects by successive printing technique. The patent for the technique was obtained by him in 1986. The history of manufacturing saw the emergence of subtractive manufacturing first, followed by the new additive techniques. The original application of the additive manufacturing was on the tool room end of manufacturing spectrum. One of the earliest additive variants was rapid prototyping which basically focused on decreasing the time and cost of developing prototypes of newer parts and devices. This was previously done with traditional methods which were slow and expensive. With the advancement of technology as the years passed by, the additive methods flourished further into the production end of manufacturing. The rapid growth of technology and the need of the consumers helped in bringing forward the emergence of 3D printing. Currently, some of the 3D printers in market specialize in CAD modeling whereas others can print objects using any kind of gel like material. Different materials are used during printing which can be a polymer, plaster, resin, fine powder that creates the 3 D models making them as hard as rocks. Hence the type of the model created depends on the type of raw material used during the printing process, either gel or powder. With the advancement of technology, the use of 3D printing is taking place in various fields such as palaeontology, archaeology, forensic pathology for reconstructing fossils, priceless artifacts and damaged bones or tissues acquired from crime scenes respectively and many more.
Creating a 3D model takes place by laying down successive layers of a liquid, sheet material or powder, creating a series of cross sections and simultaneously allowing a machine to read in data from a CAD drawing thus enabling the construction of the required model. 3D printing revolution has made its success stories in various industrial applications such as creating robots, toys, eye glass frames etc. Researches in archaeological fields make use of 3D printing to recreate the original pieces of artifacts. Reconstruction of the old damaged fossils has been made possible through 3D printing technology that has not only helped in deriving the original fossil but has also helped in tracing the hierarchy of the derived fossil. Medical research fields have made use of this technology to recreate the damaged worn out pieces of tissues and bones for the patients who have suffered traumatic injuries. In the fields of jewellery designing, 3D printing has made its use in developing intricate and precise designing of ornaments. In the fields of machinery, designers and engineers have created useful components such as flashlights and computer keyboards. Forensic research fields have used 3D printing to reconstruct heavily damaged evidence derived from a crime scene. Various other fields are yet to make use of 3D printing technology in the coming years as technology takes its path towards more development.
3D Printing Companies and their technological developments
As already mentioned Charles Hull of 3D systems developed 3D printing. Hence by the end of 1980’s, stereo lithography systems became popular. As the technology grew further, other similar technologies were introduced as well such as fused deposition modeling and Selective laser sintering. Another technology was patented in 1993 by Massachusetts institute of technology (MIT), which was named as ‘3 Dimensional Printing techniques’ similar to inkjet technology used in 2D printers. Year 1996, saw the introduction of three major products viz “Genisys” from Stratasys, “Actua 2100” from 3D systems and “Z402” from Z Corporation. Another breakthrough product was launched by Z Corporation in 2005 named “Spectrum Z510” which was the first high definition colour 3D printer in the market. Another breakthrough named “Reprap” occurred in 2006 which aimed at developing self-replicating 3D printer.
The current 3D printing technologies available are as follows:
Stereo lithography: It is also known as SLA’s. In this a perforated platform lies below the surface of a vat liquid photo curable polymer. UV laser beam traces the various slices of the object placed on the surface of this liquid. This forms the formation of thin layers of photopolymer that eventually hardens giving rise to the required object.
Fused Deposition Modeling: Hot thermoplastic is forced out from a temperature controlled print head. It produced objects to a high degree of accuracy.
Selective Laser Sintering: It uses a laser to successively fuse together successive layers of materials used.
Multijet Modeling: Objects are created from successive layers of powder. An inkjet like print head sprays on a binder solution that glues together required parts.
V Flash Printer: It is a low cost 3D printer manufactured by Canon which builds layers with light curable film.
Fab@home: It uses inexpensive syringes to deposit materials. It is an experimental project at Cornell University.
Others include Desktop factory which is a startup launched by the Idealab incubator, Pasadena, California and Nanofactory 3D printing technology which are related to nanotechnologies.
If 3D printing has made its success story in developing useful 3D objects from a digital file, then at the same time it has a dark side where 3D printing has been used illegally. With the technology becoming more affordable, there could be an emergence of the dark side of this technology. We know 3D printing has been used to recreate tissues and bones but with the advancement of technology it may lead to the reconstruction of the complete organ. But this organ may not satisfy the needs of the patient as because it is not the actual graft or organ transplant but a mere 3D object developed through advanced technology. Such a technology may even lead to the production of destructive arms and ammunitions. In the coming years it may even lead to the production of a pistol from a digital file that will highly put a negative impact on our society increasing the risk of crime. Likewise thieves can create an ATM card scanner using a 3D printer to withdraw huge amounts of money. Such a case has been already reported in Texas. In fact there can be chances of developing clones of humans from the digital file containing the cells of a particular human being which will certainly result into an illegal and unethical practice, hurting the sentiments of the nation and its people without any kind of government approval. Women who want to look more beautiful and who admire the looks of the beautiful actresses would certainly make use of 3D printing to get their exact desired look that might hurt the sentiments of others. Such unethical and illegal practices may evolve in the coming years leading to discrepancies in our society and imbalance in the human survival if proper norms, rules and regulations are not laid for the appropriate use of 3D printing technology.
Future of 3D printing
The making and advancement of 3D printing in various fields in the recent years, will eventually lead to the development of a 3D world. Such as the coming generations will see things like jaw replacement using 3D Printed jaw or a tooth replacement using a 3D printed tooth. This may reduce the time consumed in waiting for long hours in front of a doctor’s clinic. Life will take a three dimensional turn as each and every field will use 3D printing technology in one way or the other. Probably this technique will help in developing DNA’s and desired genes that would help in genetic engineering raising the standards of the food we eat. In fact the world may even see the creation of gadgets such as cell phones, I pods etc. through 3D printing technology. Children will be living in the world where 3D printing will give rise to their favorite cartoon characters and objects.
Each and every thing in this world had a positive and a negative side. 3D printing is advancing with the development of technology and the needs of the people that are helping in developing technology at such an immense speed. 3D printing may have a darker side of it but at the same time it may help in evolving this world into a newer world where 3D printing technology is and will satisfy the needs and the interest of the people.