3D Printing

3D Printing

 

3D printers are a relatively new technology, but already people are beginning to talk about printing food and even body parts through them.

3D printers simply take in 3D files exported from whichever software you are using in formats such as .obj and .stl. From these files the printer breaks the model up into layers (think of pieces of paper with traditional printing)  and begins its printing process.

There are two printing processes. The first and oldest is that of “subtractive” manufacturing which means taking away from an object, such as carving a piece of wood, until you end up with the desired result. The second and more common way now is that of “additive” manufacturing which is about building up an object layer by layer from the ground (image below).

 

One such printer that uses the additive technique is the Makerbot Replicator 2X. A 3D printer such as this takes its ‘ink’ in the solid form of bioplastic filament which is pulled into the machine, through the extruder where it is heated up and added to the current layer of the model on top of the building platform.

As the technology continues to evolve it is becoming possible to print with more and more materials such as metals and glass and to make more and more complicated objects. One issue that has been raised around this type of technology is that of the printing of controlled ‘objects’ such as firearms. It will be interesting to see where this goes – as it is basically already possible to print objects such as these, and whether governments around the world will place restrictions on who can use this technology and/or the ways in which they will be able to use it.

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