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On the Horizon: The World of 3D Printing

1 Sep, 2012 By: Dr. Satwant Kaur, HP imageSource


As always, imageSource looks to Dr. Satwant Kaur (First Lady of Emerging Technologies) to share cutting edge technology advances, concepts, and opportunities with our readers. This month she addresses the emerging technology called 3D Printing.

3D WorldWhile office technology and innovative new product advance us perpetually forward, affecting all types of services and sales, it can be challenging for today’s dealers and resellers to keep track of them all let alone understand the advantages that can develop for finding new opportunities to increase revenue. First you have to understand the concept and capabilities behind new ideas before success follows. Here, Dr. Satwant Kaur explains 3D printing:

[Satwant]: In using 3D printing, the printer devices connected to a computer can print 3D solid objects. This 3D printing is definitely an emerging technology that will change our world. Today we talk about the Internet of things; tomorrow it will be a printed world viewed differently than today. 3D printers bring digital manufacturing capabilities to everyone’s reach. Consumer 3D printing is poised to be in everyone’s homes while commercial 3D printing is revolutionizing the manufacturing process.

[imageSource]: How does 3D printing actually work?

[Satwant]: 3D Printing creates objects out of models created by 3D Modeling or images generated by 3D Scanning. Basically 3D Printing is:

  • A type of additive manufacturing by which a digital file is translated into a physical object by a 3D printer.
  • The object is made by building up multiple layers of material.
  • A variety of materials can be used for 3D printing, and different 3D printers build objects in different ways.
  • Is like printing a digital 3D document. Instead of ink on paper, layers upon successive layers of materials like plastics & rubber are put together to create the object.
  • Allows making not just prototypes, but product parts, quickly and on-demand.
  • Has medical applications such as for each person’s unique body parts, including fitted hearing aids

3D printers can print things needed for replacement parts such as for the office, home appliances, toys & jewelry, etc. This is done using various types of metal, plastic, glass, gold or silver ink, etc.

[imageSource]: Is there more about additive manufacturing that we should know?

[Satwant]: As mentioned, additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital model that has been scanned or modeled and stored in a computing device. Traditional machining techniques are subtractive processes, where one starts with a raw material and removes material by drilling, cutting, machining, turning, milling, and sawing etc. These processes waste raw materials. In contrast, the emerging trend of 3D printing utilizes additive processes, where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material:

  • 3D printing is usually performed using a materials printer
  • 3D printing can be used in pre-production for rapid prototyping
  • 3D printing can be used in production for rapid manufacturing
  • 3D printing can be used as a tool to do post-production customization

Additive manufacturing uses 3D printers to:

  • Reads in data from a digital drawing that is generated from CAD or modeling software
  • Lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, or sheet material; builds from series of cross sections
  • These layers are fused to create the final 3D shape

3D printing technology can be used in various fields such as footwear, industrial design, construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, etc.

[imageSource]: What does the future look like with 3D printing?

Tech Sol[Satwant]: We are talking about an emerging future where not only intangible services, but tangible goods will be delivered, as well through our computers over the Internet. The mass pre-production of objects could possibly be replaced by personal factories to customize goods & spare parts. It sounds like science fiction but the probability is being considered. When you now consider that the Internet with its clouds can make it obsolete to store digital information at work or at home, you realize technology is evolving to another level, affecting every industry. Consider the food industry as an example. I mean, 3D printing applications could include food printers that can print out in cake icing, cheese or chocolate! Take that concept to the next level and its concrete mixers for office buildings and homes. Yes it’s hard to fathom this without a firm grasp on developing technologies, but the possibilities are endless.

[imageSource]: This sounds incredibly futuristic. What are some technologies behind 3D printers?

[Satwant]: How about these:

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): in FDM, a hot semi-liquid thermoplastic is extruded from a temperature-controlled print head to produce plastic objects with precision.
  • Digital Light Processing (DLP): with DL, a vat of liquid polymer is turned into a very strong solid by exposing it to light.
  • Thermoplastic Extrusion: generally, consumer printers use thermoplastic extrusion, i.e. it dribbles out tiny dots of melted plastic.

[imageSource]: What other areas of potential applications for 3D printers are there?

[Satwant]: Areas that utilize 3D printers in their design and manufacturing process include automobiles, plastic toys, coffee makers, plastic bottles and containers. Such printing of 3D objects enables the use of 3D printers for:

  • Rapid product prototyping or production of molds used to produce consumer products
  • To check the fit of different parts before they go through expensive production cycle
  • For architects to show detailed models to client /users
  • For medical professionals to print copies of bones printed from 3D scan data
  • Digital Dental Printer to create crowns and bridges by dentists
  • For hearing aid manufacturers to produce ear molds & shells for patients
  • We can scan an object, and then create an exact copy /duplicate using a 3D printer
  • Designing and 3D printing of personalized iPhone case / copies of keys
  • GE is using 3D printing process to produce parts for turbofan engines
  • 3D design and 3D print of ultra-light and perfected fitted shoes
  • For bicyclists, 3D printing of custom bike frame & road cycling helmets
  • 3D printed paper-thin solar strips can be for used for generating electricity
  • Custom-designed, 3D-printed electric guitars
  • Events/theme parks can do 3D scan of visitors; provide them their 3D prints
  • Homes can be 3D printed without the use of some heavy machinery use
  • Nike uses 3D printers to create prototypes of shoes
  • Ships will have 3-dimensional CAD images of parts; 3D printer can make replacements
  • Custom fitted artificial limb replacements originating from 3D printing processes
  • 3D medical prints can be used to create tooth caps and crowns

[imageSource]: Who is or will be manufacturing 3D printers?

[Satwant]: Many commercial 3D printers are now available from various companies, including Hewlett Packard (HP) that sells FDM-based HP Designjet 3D printer series through Stratasys. Most commercial 3D printers are usually fairly large and often floor-standing. Services like Sculpteo and Shapeways can be used to 3D print /3D design, and market online. Commercial 3D printers are manufactured by: Hewlett-Packard, Dimension, EnvisionTEC, Fortus, Solido3D, Solidscape and Stratsys; and Personal 3D printers are manufactured by: BitsfromBytes, Botmill, MakeGear, Solidoodle, RepRap, Ultimaker, Cubify Cube and Printrbot.

[imageSource]: What are the challenges you see in 3D printing?

[Satwant] Printers need paper to print. 3D printers need special purpose ingredients to print objects. Therefore there are challenges such as:

  • Load bearing parts are not easy to manufacture
  • The part is 
made of material we don’t have in homes
  • There may be Intellectual Property Issues in replication and creation of objects



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