The Future of 3D Printing

Most people are probably familiar with the concept of ‘Printing’ and take it as commonplace. Simply holding down the keys “Ctrl+P” will print any page displayed on most monitors. For this generation, the printer is almost taken for granted, and not much is put into how the printer works. Whilst your printer is whirring, and you are waiting for that last page of a document that has been hours in the making to print, simple science is taking place within your printer. Because of electrostatic electricity, ink is sprayed onto a page and attracted to precise areas in order to imitate the image that you want to be printed. All this happens in a short time and no-one would think it was very complicated to print a page. What would people think about 3-D printing?

The technology for 3-D printers has been around for a while yet in the last two years, 3-D printers’ sales, for the household, has risen dramatically. This indicates that 3-D printers are manufactured with a long term aim; 3-D printers should be available to all consumers. The implications of a 3-D printer as commonplace in the household are quite substantive. For example, any physical possession could be purchased to print, just as easily as one could download music to be listened to only moments later.

A 3-D printer works much like the laser printer currently does. Just as nozzles spray toner onto paper, in a 3-D printer a nozzle squirts molten plastic resin in horizontal layers onto a base plate, which then cools, sometimes aided by exposure to UV light. This section drops away from the nozzle and the process is repeated, building up layer-by-layer until the model is finished.

There are many potential problems which remain unsolved. For instance, complicated models would take hours to finish and might need different materials to strengthen certain parts. Furthermore, just as  if the quality of the printed page is not sufficient, the quality of the object printed by a 3-D printer may not be sufficient. However, while a page can be reprinted in seconds, a model that has taken hours in the making would be very irritating if it was produced with a defect.

One possible purpose of a 3-D printer could be its role in printing replacement parts. For example, instead of buying popular consoles, many people use their PC as a platform to play video games. This improves their PC’s invariably with different parts such as graphics cards, which enhance their gaming experience. Using a 3-D printer, these parts could be easily printed and used. On one hand, this would require printing an object made of more than just the spool of plastic found within these printers.  On the other hand, it may be possible to develop 3-D printers in conjunction with automated circuit board etchings to print electric components. Creating these “hybrid” printers could give birth to anything being printed as long as the printer was used in conjunction with the right object.

On a final point, if anything could be printed and these printers became used by the majority of people, the chances are that copyright laws would be broken very quickly because it would be very possible to design, on a computer, a component identical to a component designed by a corporation, which is then manufactured by the 3-D printer. However, this problems occurs with all revolutionary technology, and ‘revolutionary’ is an adjective that should be  ascribed to a 3-D printer, considering all the possibilities this offers us. With this technology available, it would be a shame to let politics and law prevent this fascinating technology becoming part of our lives.

Contributed by Zia Farooq

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