Natalie Sullivan, Assistant News Editor, @nhillsullivan
Additional reporting by Alex Sousa, Managing Editor, @TwoFistedSousa
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing has been at the forefront of consumer technology for the past year or so. New models such as those costing a mere few hundred dollars allow the user to create a 3D object in any shape, building it layer upon layer.
With the recent boom of 3D printing, as the technology has become available on a wider scale than ever before, many are looking at its potential for education, medicine, conservation and manufacturing.
“We try to do everything on the printer that we can,” said David Manning, a professor of the UVU design and technology department that uses 3D printing as a way to recruit high school students. “We think that’s the future.”
Although the technology has existed for 30 years, many companies, such as Invent-A-Part, located in Springville, are working to bring 3D printing to the typical home like any household appliance.
Basic 3D printing bots work by connecting to CAD data stored on a computer. Then, one moving part located at the top of the frame lays and melts plastic cord according to its set directions. This process using a 10” by 10” makes 3D printing faster, more accessible and less expensive than it’s older more primitive counterparts.
“3D printing will change if not disrupt the landscape of manufacturing and most certainly our lives our businesses and the lives of our children,” said Manning.
Lisa Harouni, co-founder and CEO of Digital Forming, works on the software side of 3D printing, the design tools needed to run the new generation of 3D printing processes.
“It is actually a reality today to download from the web, product data to a desktop machine that will fabricate it for you on the spot,” Harouni said in an interview with Ted Talks.
Controversy has developed over the issue of consumers using 3D printers, mostly to do with the potential to circumnavigate gun laws. Already there are plans to put legislation in place to ban making guns on 3D printers. But that hasn’t deterred market specialists from pursuing the new technology, believing that the benefits are too great to ignore.
On March 4, a surgery was performed where 75 percent of the patient’s skull was replaced with orthopedic implants created by a 3D printer. Developed by Oxford Performance Materials and approved by the FDA, the technology has been seen as a revolution by many.
“We see no part of the orthopedic industry being untouched by this,” said Scott Delice, president of Oxford Performance Materials.
It’s not just the medical field that is looking at the benefits of 3D printing though. The technology’s eco-friendly potential is also being explored by organizations that are experimenting with the ability to recycle and repurpose materials.
With the great possibilities of this technology, it is important to also realize its current limitations. Industry specialists have and they’re already looking towards the future, which they say will be in accessible 3D printers that work in other materials, such as metal.
“[With new 3D printing,] we can actually create structures that are more intricate than any other manufacturing technology—or, in fact, are impossible to build in any other way,” said Harouni.
Even in the face of controversy—with people questioning the effects of 3D printing on the manufacturing job market—many people are excited with the unprecedented accessibility of the new technology and hope to see it grow.
The technology is opening doors to a new market, the likes of which have never been seen before. And in this time of worldwide transition, many are seeing this as the perfect opportunity to make the most of it.