Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing

Photo Courtesy of istockphoto/Henrik5000

Close your eyes and imagine the future. What’s transportation like? How about food preparation? Communication? How about shopping?

Science fiction writers have long allowed us glimpses of possible future worlds. From Star Trek to Minority Report, we are fascinated by the potential of technology.

WAIT UNTIL YOU HEAR ABOUT THIS

One technology that has been around for decades but is only now starting to emerge in the public eye is the world of 3D printing. Science fiction fans, technologists and futurists may grasp this concept faster than most. And though I’m a student of futurists like Dan Burrus, and a frequent attendee of the Consumer Electronic Show, the reality of 3D printing is something my mind struggles to truly grasp.

Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman, leading experts on 3D printing, have written a new book Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing. It’s all about “the promise and peril of a machine that can make (almost) anything.”9781118350638

I recently had the opportunity to ask the authors about this new world and where we are headed.

3D PRINTING TODAY

This technology is already in use today. Give us a few examples of where it’s in use, but we may not even think about it.

Yes, 3D printed products do indeed lurk amongst us in our daily lives. Many people don’t realize that 3D printing technology is not new; in fact, 3D printing has been in use in engineering and manufacturing environments as a prototyping tool for decades. If you look around your office or your car, almost every product — your chair, stapler, eyeglass frame and car mirror — probably started their life as a 3D-printed prototype. What’s new is that in the past few years, an increasing number of everyday actual products — not just prototypes used in the product design process — are made using 3D printing.

The medical field has been one of the first industries to embrace 3D printed products. Most hearing aids these days are 3D printed so they fit exactly the shape of your inner ear. Invisalign™ orthodontic braces are 3D printed, which makes sense since a personal and customized fit is critical when it comes to dental work. Many dentists are 3D printing crowns. On the cutting edge, surgeons are experimenting with 3D printed titanium hip and jaw implants designed using medical scans. If you pair a 3D printer with an optical scanner or a medical image, you can make custom prosthetics more quickly and accurately.

In general, the more a product benefits from being customized or personalized, the more likely it will be made via 3D printing. Right now, 3D printing is too slow and too costly for mass production.3-D printed artificial heart valve