3D Printing in a Nutshell, Now and in the Future

It’s hard to appreciate the importance of what’s developing with 3D printing and related technologies. Many people equate the current state of 3D printing technologies to the state of computers and software in the early 1980’s. I agree with that, but there’s one BIG difference. With the modern Internet, there is an interconnectedness and ability to easily share and access information that we did not have in the 80’s. Many of the 3D printer designs and related software are released under open source licenses, so others are free to download the designs or source code and make further improvements, then release it back to the community. This Internet-based, open source, community-driven approach to developing a new technology is tremendously powerful!

Here’s a look at the current state of 3D printing, and a glimpse of what’s ahead:

 

Now

As of today, here’s what’s happening in 3D printing and related technologies:

  • Consumer-level 3D printers are becoming less expensive, more widely available, and easier to use.
  • To show the cost effectiveness of 3D printing, students at MTU printed $1,944 worth of household items for a total cost of $18 over the course of a single weekend.
  • Designers can now create digital 3D models and then sell physical replicas of those models in a variety of materials using services like Shapeways or i.Materialise. No need to own a 3D printer!
  • Children are seeing how easily ideas can be transformed into a physical object. Schools and libraries are starting to install 3D printers, enabling a new kind of experience-driven education.
  • Organ tissues are being 3D printed for medical testing, and surgeons are starting to fix serious injuries with 3D printed implants.
  • The first food printers have started to arrive: Consumer levelprofessional level, and some just for the chocolate lovers.
  • The Smithsonian is in the process of 3D scanning their archives (which contain over 137 million objects, only about 2% of which are on display). They are being made freely available online, with many of them in a downloadable format for 3D printing at home.
  • NASA is sending a 3D printer to the International Space Station so they can build parts on demand.
  • The ability to 3D print entire houses has been developed.
  • Prosthetics are being made available much more affordably and being made available to those who need them.
  • Prosthetics are also being turned into works of art the wearer can be proud to show off.
  • And of course we can’t forget, 3D printing has made its way into the world of fashion.

The Future

In the years to come, things are going to get really interesting:

 

In Summary

These technologies are going to radically change our world in ways we can only partially imagine now. As the technology continues to develop at an accelerated pace, those futuristic, almost magical technologies we keep collectively dreaming about in our sci-fi movies will begin to materialize. And it’s going to happen faster than you might think, thanks to something that we as humans are hopefully rediscovering – that many people working collaboratively on a challenge can achieve incredible results!

 

Here’s a nice infographic that sums it all up:

Infographic source: http://www.nerdgraph.com/the-possibilities-of-a-3d-printer/