If you've been keeping up to date on the news, you've probably heard of 3D printing. Chances are also likely that you may be unsure exactly what the technology does! Though 3D printing is not a new technology, for the first time in its history, it has received attention for producing everything from artificial skulls to Star Wars figurines.
Companies have finally released prototypes of smaller, more cost efficient 3D printers designed for everyday customer use, with MakerBot displaying their model during this year's South by Southwest Festival, one of the country's largest film, music, and technology festivals.
How does 3D printing work?
So how exactly does 3D printing work? A 3D printer is essentially a more complex version of your standard desktop printer, often with some sort of encasing or protective covering that enables a 3D object to be produced. Though inks are used to cover objects, 3D printers work by extracting liquids, powders or metals with incredible precision to create 0.05-0.1 millimeter thick sheets of material that form the basis for whatever object you are creating. These objects are modeled from visual blueprints that are created using imaging software. This image file varies depending on the type of object you are producing, but whatever the file is, the printer is able to interpret the file to make sure the objects have both the correct shape and correct dimensions.
For those without a background in graphic or industrial design, or a lot of money and space, 3D printing is impractical. Not only does creating 3D image blueprints require extensive knowledge, but many machines are large and typically cost well over $1000. However, as mentioned above, companies are are increasingly looking to downsize their models and streamline the process to let even those without the fundamentals of graphic design have fun.
Scan and print technology from MakerBot
MakerBot, a Brooklyn-based global leader in 3D printing since 2009, is among the first of these companies to invest in the beginner market. Their technology, dubbed the Digitizer Desktop 3D scanner, will enable you to scan objects up to 8 inches tall and 8 inches wide using lasers and a webcam. Once the image is scanned, a computer program automatically reads the data, producing the 3D image that the printer can then produce the object with. As a Digital Trends article on the launch comments, "It’s fantastic for recreating a broken link on your bracelet or making a replica of your favorite cup." Though there are no details yet on price or a release date, MakerBot has a sign up sheet so that users can be notified when these details are finalized.
When will 3D printing reach the masses?
Though we are many years away from 3D printing being accessible in much the same way highly quality photo printing used to be out of reach for most households, companies are taking the lead to ensure more people have access to this technology. Please let us know your thoughts on 3D printing. Do you think it's a waste of time or a tool you could see yourself using one day?