The Innovative and Inventive 3D Printing
Published on 04 Nov 2014. Written by Michael Nauta
Rapid prototyping has taken the world by storm and is a field that is greatly revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. It was only a matter of time before Skyfi Labs developed a course to practically acquaint students to this upcoming technology.
Rapid prototyping, or more commonly known as 3D printing, is a group of manufacturing methods through which we develop a 3-Dimensional model from Computer designs or scans. Unlike CNC (Computer Numerical Control) milling, which is an extractive process, 3D printing is an additive process and can be used to manufacture complex, sometimes even hollow shapes which are out of reach to conventional CNC milling machines. Various methods of 3D printing are available and materials produced range from metals to plastics. Recently, even body tissues have been replicated via this technology. The most common method is the FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) method that will be demonstrated to you at the workshops, although all areas and fields of this technology will be covered.
Although only recently gaining widespread fame, 3D printing is a technology that has been in existence since the early 1980’s, with Charles Hull being credited as the founder of the technology. Recent advancements in technology and material science have led to an increase in the applications of 3D printing and here I will mention a few industries that are using 3D printing and ways in which a practical knowledge of rapid prototyping can be useful to you as a student.
In earlier days, sequential design processes meant design teams wasted valuable man hours on designing and testing different parts of a product in different departments. This proved to be a very ineffective method of product development and simple defects resulted in companies missing deadlines and losing out on a lot of money and resources as everything would have to go back to the drawing board. With the introduction of 3D printing, companies are now able to print prototypes faster and quicker whilst at the same time working on ways to improve ideas, this leads to iterative engineering processes where continuous testing and improvement can be done in a shorter time and for a much cheaper price. Architects would be able to have small scale models of designs they are working on, and automobile manufacturers are now able to consider the aesthetics of models without the need to make costly and often time consuming traditional molds. Companies such as FORD and GENERAL ELECTRIC have already embraced additive manufacturing methods in their product development cycles.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Scientists and medical technologists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine started work on 3D printing human body organs and cells, having successfully printed a functional kidney and with plans in the pipeline to have 3D printers capable of printing skin replacements for soldiers that have sustained burns on the battlefield. This is just some of the research that shows that medicine is a field where 3D printing is gaining considerable attention. Another case that can be studied is that of 3D printing jaws and skull replacements of patients that have undergone serious accidents, this is considered common practice in a number of advanced medical institutions. 3D printing a broken piece from a skull for example offers the advantage that it is faster and a fitting replacement can be done on the spot with the right infrastructure. Patients that have lost limbs can now have custom prosthetics printed for them, using composite materials that are not only lighter but sometimes stronger than conventional metal based prosthetic limbs
NASA-(National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has recently taken charge of a 3D printer able to work in 0 gravity conditions, which are characteristic of outer space, the idea is to have 3D printers at the International Space Station which remove the need for constant refilling missions and allow astronauts to print tools and equipment as per their requirements in real time. The printer takes us one step closer to creating a fully self-sustainable environment outside the comforts of earth. This is a giant leap for mankind as you can imagine all the different applications it can have on further interstellar exploration. Life on outer planets now seems possible as 3D printing technology would be able to allow mankind to manufacture according to his needs anywhere he might find himself, even Mars.
The first 3D printed house was built in china using High Grade cement and glass fiber, the process is still in the experimental stages, but so far progress has led to other countries adopting the same ideas in a bid to develop cheap efficient house-printing technology that could as you might have guessed, decrease building costs and increase the ability of man to provide habitat in almost any environment. This also reduces the need for costly back breaking labor and greatly increases the customization available to property developers
Ever-since the University of Southampton first 3D printed its SULSA aircraft in 2011 using Selective laser Sintering (a method of 3D printing), hobbyists and drone developers have gone crazy with ideas of their own, it is now standard practice in industry to 3D print majority of components in specialized drones. This allows for customization and makes it possible for small teams to work on projects that would previously only have been possible at big factories with variety of complex advanced equipment.
These though, are just some of the fields, which 3D printing has made its mark in. There are many more fields that have been revolutionized through rapid prototyping, and all of these will be covered in the course, developed by experts in the field, with the latest available technologies. If you have ever wondered how to make your dreams a physical reality and learn about a technology that is changing the world in real time, then this course is definitely for you.
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