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3D Printing

What is 3D Printing?

One hundred years ago flying to the moon was considered impossible.  Fifty years ago owning a personal computer seemed like unrealistic.  Today both of these ‘pieces of fiction’ are fact.  Twenty years ago people who owned the old-fashioned spool printers would have thought that 3D printing was the work of fiction.  However it is a technology that is real and has benefited many fields.

So what is 3D printing?  In simplest terms 3D printing is a technology that allows an item to be printed in three dimensions.  Replicas of the human body, as well as a flute have been created by 3D printers.  So how does this technology work?  Ironically it works along the same lines as an ink jet printer.  The 3D printers begin by laying down millions of droplets of poly-photo resin which the printer lays down in layers on a plate.  Then the liquid is hardened and the plate is lowered slightly and the layers are laid down on top of each other thereby ‘building’ upon the previous layer that was laid down on the slab.

When the 3D printing is finished, the technician takes out the item and washes off excess material.  Then the item is finished.  The technician is left with a three dimensional item that was printed in a matter of hours, instead of taking several weeks to create.  Most 3D printers have one flaw, they are only able to print from resin at one time.  However recent improvements have made it possible to use two different resins in a printing job.  This allows 3D printers to print items with varied flex, shade and feel as well as allowing for more complex models to be created.  This has many uses.

These models can be used in several different fields such as architecture, and medicine.  Imagine being able to create a replica of the human torso, then overlaying it with the organs and skeletal systems, giving one a transparent view inside the human body.  This has actually been done through the use of 3D printing technology.

This technology has not been widely publicized, so many believe that 3D printing technology has only been around for a few years.  In reality the technology is almost 30 years old.  The first 3D printer was invented back in 1984 by Charles Hull.  Of course those printers were extremely slow.  Early 3D printers would take at least a day to complete its printing task.  Today’s 3D printers can complete a job within 2-4 hours.

The jobs that 3D printing can accomplish are astounding.  These printers have the power to simulate things like rubber, polypropylene, even medical equipment.  Recently 3D printing has allowed a student from a college in Massachusetts to create a working flute. The student demonstrated how all of the hinges and rubber gaskets work on the flute, and he is able to make beautiful music with it.

While 3D printing still has some bugs that need to be worked out, it is a gigantic leap forward technologically.  With 3D printing people have the ability to replicate almost anything.  Hopefully soon 3D printing technology will be available to all.

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