It seems that modern society has reached the top of technological development, producing in large numbers things that were available only to the elect until recently. The creation of a physical object on a digital prototype using a portable 3D printer opens up many exciting possibilities for creativity, art, science, business, and other fields of human activity and can be done even at home. This paper will consider the history of the creation of a 3D printer, its use, influence, and possible future development.
The History of the Technology
In the mid-1990s, competition in the global economy has reached such a high level that consumers started to dictate their terms to producers. Goods such as cars or watches were no longer sold in millions of units. The optimal party was a few thousand. It was time to move to small-scale production. However, enterprises face the problem of enormous costs for the production of prototypes, patterns, and various forms needed for a finished product. A solution to all these problems was worked out at the end of the 20th century with the invention of a 3D printer, which became widespread all around the world in just a few years.
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In 1986, Charles Hull created an installation that could create 3D prototypes using a stereolithography method (3D Printing Industry). In 1990, the scientist Scott Crump first used the method of fusing a 3D re-creation. The turning point in the bulk print can be considered 1996 when the Solidscape Company developed a special inkjet printer that created a three-dimensional image (3D Printing Industry). From this point, date the concepts of “3D printing” and “3D printer”. Technology began to develop around the world. There were a lot of companies that brought new features and improvements to 3D printing. The emergence of a printing method PolyJet that used liquid plastic for a three-dimensional model of the photopolymer was a breakthrough in young technology. Such a version of 3D printing was cheaper and more accurate. It enabled not only the production of models and prototypes but also end products.
3D printing is used for a variety of materials, such as ABS plastic and PLA, polyamide (nylon), polyamide fiber, stereolithography materials (epoxy resin), silver, titanium, stainless steel, wax, and polycarbonates photopolymers (“3D Printing Basics”). The basis of the work of a 3D printer is a programmed recreation layering model. Technology implementation may be different. There are two basic approaches to printing: laser and inkjet. These options are further divided into smaller units.
The laser technique includes stereolithography, fusing, and laminating methods. Laser stereolithography is based on the effects of laser radiation on the photopolymer. Photopolymer is a substance that changes its properties under the influence of luminous flux. The method uses a platform immersed in a photopolymer layer to the level of the press. A substance is under programmed radiation, which leads to the solidification of the layer. The next platform is lowered in steps, recreating the whole object layer by layer. The quality of the resulting 3D object depends on the characteristics of the photopolymer used and the exposure.
Laser fusion involves the effect of radiation on the state of metal or plastic powder. Layer by layer, a material melts into the desired contour of the workpiece. The method uses a set of laminated layers of the working material. Each layer is cut in a predetermined cross-section, folding the entire 3D model. Then the layers are bonded.
Inkjet's approach to 3D printing also has a lot of branches. The printer head can push the heated thermoplastic particles on a cooled platform. This is accompanied by rapid cooling and hardening of the layer of re-created objects. Another method to harden the material is to use ultraviolet. There is also an analog of laser fusion. Thus, the liquid flowing from the inkjet head can also be used to form the pattern of a powdery substance. In addition, sample bodies can be created based on jet bioprinter work. The material in such devices is stem cells that interact and evolve from the desired instance.
The Impact of the Technology and Its Limits
The influence of 3D printing can be quite significant. Today, 3D printing is widely used in aerospace technology and bioengineering. In addition, the devices are used in the construction of prosthetic bones through the capacity of stem cells. “3D printing is reaching out and touching everything. It's comparable to the web in that it's a technology that can be applied to whatever you want it for,” said Dave Marks, the media and content director of 3D Printshow in London in 2013 (Heath). At the same time, the construction of this model is much cheaper than the usual traditional prosthetics. Moreover, the price of primitive models of modern 3D printers is so low that the devices can be used in every home. This shows that 3D printing is advantageous not only in mechanics but also in medicine.
The use of 3D printers drastically alters the supply chain. Thus, in a traditional supply chain, there are a large number of operations before the products are delivered to the end-user. The use of 3D printers replaces factories, warehouses, and logistics systems.
However, the construction of any model using a 3D printer is a fairly lengthy process. Thus, it takes hours to print an object of about two inches in height (Heath). Another important drawback of 3D printing is that printing one copy of an object is much more expensive than the production of this object in a serial loop.
There are a lot of limits on 3D printing. Pessimists believe that the world economy will be in a severe crisis because of three-dimensional printing if every person used the printing capabilities at home. A decline in industrial production can lead to total unemployment. Idle industries will bring huge losses to their owners as well as to the state. The three-dimensional printing technology can create a huge problem with the protection of copyright. After all, everyone will be able to print any product he or she likes without paying any financial compensation to its author.
Finally, 3D printing can be used by a person not only for a benefit but also to the detriment. For example, 3D printers can be utilized in creating weapons. Not so long ago, there was created the world’s first gun printed on a 3D printer. It was a plastic model of a firearm that can shoot (Greenberg). Thus, there is a risk that with the presence of a 3D printer, in the future anyone will be able to set up the production of weapons at home.
The Usage of 3D Printing Today
The development of 3D printers can produce a revolution in the industry. Three-dimensional printing is already used in the creation of various products. Thus, it created a working firearm, and Philadelphia has already passed a law banning such a dangerous use of 3D printing.
A breadboard has been used by many developers for a long time. A model of transparent material greatly simplifies the study of the inner structure of complex mechanisms. Re-create 3D printers already exist. The RepRap model can produce more than half of its parts.
The use of three-dimensional printing in education makes it possible to quickly and easily obtain a variety of visual aids for students, which may be distributed in secondary and higher educational institutions. Equipping schools with 3D printers can contribute to an increased impact of the educational process and rapid assimilation of the material by students. Thanks to three-dimensional printing, students can work with real physical models, manipulating them in all possible ways. Almost any layouts or visual aids can be drawn on the computer program and then brought to life.
Three-dimensional printing technology allows people to create architectural models of buildings, some areas of the city, and cottage settlements with the appropriate infrastructure. The use of 3D printers enables people to obtain a full-color layout with minute details, after which experts can analyze its strengths and weaknesses and start the construction. Typically, such printing scale models use gypsum composite, which reduces the manufacturing costs.
The advances of 3D printing in medicine seem even more impressive. Nowadays surgeons use 3D models for more accurate diagnosis and intervention. This approach has enormously improved the quality of operational and preventive actions. For instance, many dentists take advance of 3D printers in the production of dentures.
UK scientists have been able to create a sample of the retina that has the potential to destroy the concept of “low vision” (Orcutt). In addition, artificial donor organs will help to deal with incurable diseases and globally simplify transplant surgery. There are many goals and tasks set for 3D printing, which do not seem unattainable though.
Some Possible Future Developments of the Technology
It is likely that in the future it will be possible to print new pants or a fashionable evening dress without leaving home. Three-dimensional printing technology is used not only in the design of things but also in the manufacture of clothing or footwear. Three-dimensional printers allow creating test packing products, such as perfume bottles or bottles of the most interesting forms. In this case, the benefits of using 3D printing are obvious. The client can hold a completed package in his hands, evaluate its design with all the elements, including brand names and labels, and feel the texture.
However, the application of three-dimensional printing cannot be limited to the creation of architectural models. There was created a unique system of three-dimensional printing for large construction projects based on the principle of operation of an ordinary construction crane. China has already built a five-story house with a huge 3D printer (Stott). It is assumed that in the future it will be possible to build or “print” entire villages in a couple of hours with the use of such a system.
Some enthusiasts want to make a 3D printer a massive resource. A prototype of the machine for 3D street-printing has already been created. The project was named Dreambox. The sample of a required model is transmitted via the Internet, and the result can be picked up at the site of installation of the machine. Perhaps soon, such a device will be present in every home, enabling its owner to type any item.
3D prototyping technology is a promising technology to date. It allows reducing the time and the costs of production of volumetric models. There are a lot of areas of use of 3D printing, such as creativity (sculpture, architecture, landscapes), industrial production (development of new technologies, robotics), living organisms, and biotechnical systems (reproduction of biological objects, replication, virtualization, imaging, laser, radar scanning and three-dimensional vision of an object). The work in these areas is greatly simplified due to the use of D printers. The development of 3D printing will have a tangible impact on all of them.