Digital 3D printing is the way of the future. Already, 3D printers can mold together an incredible variety of objects. The age of assembling prototypes and special purpose tools by hand or machinery may soon be drawing to a close. With a basic 3D scan or design, and the right 3D printer for the job, a world of innovative creation can be in your hands within minutes.
The possibilities are seemingly endless with 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, or direct digital manufacturing, as it’s also known. In a nutshell, the printer reads off of a three-dimensional CAD (computer-aided design) file, created by a 3D modeling program, in order to build the object in question. The printer adds layer by sequential layer until the object is complete. Someone equipped with a 3D printer can knock out a simple bolt or wrench, or something much more sophisticated, like an artificial human jaw, a prosthetic leg — or a car.
Imagine your water heater breaks down and the part you need is unavailable because the company that makes it has closed down. With a 3D printer, you don’t have to worry, because all you have to do is print that part out for yourself, and you’re set.
Even though 3D printers have been around for a while, we’ve only begun to see what they can really do, and how they can be used. Along with Internet communication and renewable energy sources, 3D printing is set to become an integral part of the “Third Industrial Revolution.” Here are a few of the things that could very well be printed near — or very far away — from you soon:
Meat and Leather
Rather than raise and slaughter animals for leather and meat, digital printers may soon allow us to “print out” the food or material we need. How will that work, you might be wondering? Tissue-engineered products will make use of bioprinters to print organic material and culture tissues into the desired product, which could be leather from an endangered animal, or “meat.” Down the road, beef (not from living cattle), or different types of exotic meat will be able to be printed out onto your dinner plate. Who knows, folks might be chowing down on synthetically produced tiger and panda burgers in the years to come. There’s no accounting for taste.
While panels and materials used in home construction can already be created with 3D printers, the future promises something even more amazing. Massive 3D printing machines and robots will be able to print out an entire house, rather than just the pieces needed for assembling the main structure. While this is good news for people who want their home made in a day or two, it could spell bad disaster for laborers employed in the construction industry.
Human Organs and Bones
Those bioprinters that are going to let us print out leather and meat someday could also help us to print human organs and bones. This is great for the future of the human race, and anyone in need of an organ or tissue transplant. The days of waiting on an organ transplant list could soon become a thing of the past. Need a new liver? No problem, just print one out.
Moon Bases and Planetary Rovers
Yep, moon bases and rovers will make use of 3D printing too. Next generation rovers will incorporate a ton of 3D printed parts (thanks to their strength and durability), while future moon bases could be made entirely out of lunar material, assembled by a roving 3D printer. It looks like 3D printing technology, when properly applied, holds no earthly bounds.
What would a new technological innovation be if we couldn’t figure out how to turn it into something lethal? That’s just human nature, I’m afraid. Guns printed on 3D printers already exist, and they’ll most likely continue to be improved upon. While bans are in place to stop the proliferation of plastic, printed guns, all someone really needs is the CAD file and a 3D printer — as well as the desire to print out a dangerous weapon.
And lest I forget, this astounding technology has already led to the printable “Sad Keanu” doll. That’s right. You can now own your very own Sad Keanu Reeves doll. In case you missed out on the meme that was going around a while back of a downhearted looking Keanu Reeves eating a sandwich in New York (fame can be a pain), you no longer have to miss out on the fun. Thank New York toy designer Nancy Liang and the 3D printing company Shapeways for this 3D printed bit of pop culture kitsch — and a possible new addition to your quirky doll collection.