A New Era in Technology
In September this year, Local Motors introduced the world’s first 3D-printed car known as the Strati, printed in just 44 hours. Imagine walking into a dealership, choosing your design, and having your car 3D-printed by the next day!
Or consider 3D-printed houses, which are well underway in Europe and China, where this year a company named Winsun said it built 10 3D-printed houses in one day at just $5,000. As ludicrous as it might sound, it may actually be commonplace in the not-too-distant future.
How It Works
3D printing isn’t as new as one might think. The technology was first invented by Chuck Hull in the 1980s when he founded 3D Systems, Inc. Since then, numerous advances have been made in the way that it’s produced, the materials used and the product innovations being created.
The process starts with the digital design. Physical blueprints are a thing of the past; these designs are created in computer-aided design (CAD) software, operating as a digital blueprint that speaks the language of the printer.
Once the design is created and sent to the printer, it’s time to choose a material, or filament. Depending on the printer, materials can include plastics, rubber, metals and more. Once your material is chosen, the filament is typically pulled through a tube and into an extruder, which heats it up and deposits it through a small hole.
Just like an inkjet printer, the 3D printer makes passes, building the object layer by layer until it is completed; the average layer is 0.1 millimeters thick. During the process, these layers are automatically fused together to give you the final product. If there are parts of the object that need additional support to stay stable during the process, water-soluble support material is printed and then removed after the process is finished.
Technology for Every Industry
Tucked away in Satellite Beach, you’ll find Ken Brace, owner of Rapid Prototyping Services, LLC. Brace brings design ideas to life using Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), which uses a heated tip to deposit layers of molten ABS, a fiber reinforced thermoplastic.
Brace believes the simplistic automation of the technology presents incredible opportunities for companies in manufacturing. “The technology runs by itself, so I can be a one-man shop running 24 hours a day. In typical factories, you can only run the factory when employees are there,” he said.
Inside his shop, you’ll find a myriad of 3D-printed products, from simple canisters to the cross section of a skull. While the technology has proven its worth to the engineering and manufacturing industry, it’s moving in to revolutionize the way products and prototypes are produced in every industry, including medical, aerospace, fashion, construction and more.
Take one of Brace’s clients, who was a surgeon wanting to visually represent what he was seeing on an MRI of a patient’s skull. They took the MRI, put it into CAD, and began to print it, stopping the machine halfway to see the cross section of the area he will operate on. The surgeon was able to use it as a resource while operating, and it was successful. A few have even developed and printed tools for their specialty and gotten them approved for use.
“This is going to be the next Industrial Revolution. We haven’t changed our manufacturing processes since the early 1900s and we still start with a block of solid material and remove the excess,” Brace said. “The machines have evolved to be faster and more efficient, but we’re still doing basically the same thing we did since the last Industrial Revolution. So, we’re going to reevaluate our manufacturing processes and it’s going to change the way we manufacture.”