Manufacturing from a bone to a weapon, the 3D printing (also called additive manufacturing) is a not so new but recently media newsworthy technology that is revolutionizing the world as we know it today. It's endless application possibilities and the effect called "the democratisation of production", are causing changes not only in economic terms but also social, medical, cultural and artistic, aesthetic, functional and industrial.
There is hardly any sector related to the manufacture of tangible objects that have not been, or will be impacted. And I think is normal and predictable, considering that this technology substitutes any manually or labor required manufacturing process by an automated system.
In addition these processes depend on the raw materials, the software and hardware. And considering the pace that this industry evolves (more competitive printers, new materials, software updates) we may have an idea of how much we have yet to discover.
"3D printing is spreading fast as the technology improves and costs fall. A basic 3D printer, also known as a fabricator or "fabber", now costs less than a laser printer did in 1985." The Economist
Although any application of new technology requires a strong investment (the costs of the machinery, software research, development and implementation are expensive) the fact is, on the other hand, the simplification and faster processes enable manufacturers adjust demand to supply and drive down manufacturing prices. The digitized and automated process has saved time and effort for manufacturers.
In other words, 3D printers enable rapid prototyping and manufacturing, and the introduction of them in the production process has the "potential" to drive down costs. Given that most markups occur at the retail level, however, it is difficult to estimate whether those costs are realized in the short-term or long-term.
3D printing goes one step further. By creating the actual product or part, the technology has the ability to disrupt the entire product chain. The product or part is no longer the branded item, but the software and printer become the most important elements in the production chain. With 3D printing the manufacturing machine could be in your basement or spare bedroom.
Designer Janne Kyttanen has created a range of 3D-printed shoes for women that can be made at home overnight to be worn the next day.
In social terms, intellectual property rights for the designs and product liability for printed products is another issue that still need to be resolved. But more media notoriety, awareness and consciousness has caused the home production of customized weapons.
In early May, Cody Wilson, the world's most famous digital gunsmith, fired the first entirely 3D-printed handgun, the Liberator, and posted its blueprints online. The idea was to give anyone with an Internet connection, a computer, and a 3D printer the chance to do the same. This generate a social debate about if downloading and manufacturing a 3D-Printed Gun is legal or Illegal.
Talking about medicine, 3D printing has enabled the transition from the generic to customized. Bones, hearing aids, prostheses, casts for fractured bones tha could replace the usual bulky, itchy and smelly plaster or fibreglass. See this conceptual project by Victoria University of Wellington graduate Jake Evill.
The prototype Cortex, ventilated, washable and thin enough to fit under a shirt sleeve.
Art, fashion and design industries has been also influenced and transformed by this new production system breaking boundaries in creativity through tecnology. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam has acquired Solid C2 by Patrick Jouin in collaboration with digital manufacturers MGX by Materialise, the first item of furniture to be 3D-printed in one piece.
Created in 2004, this chair was made from intersecting ribbons of material that ignored furniture-making traditions in favour of the freeform shapes that 3D printing allows.
Another aplication could be for transforming the environment and objects around us. Also the building processes. See the next project:
California studio Smith|Allen has completed the world's first architectural structure using standard 3D printers. Called Echoviren, the 10 x 10 x 8 foot pavilion was completed last weekend. It consists of 585 individually printed components produced on seven Series 1 desktop printers made by Type A Machines. It took the printers two months and 10,800 hours to print the components, but just four days to assemble them on site.
The footwear industry would maybe the one that best squeezes the possibilities of this technique, with the ability to create shoes that fit like a glove to your foot, pushing up the custom posibilities, enhancing durability applying more resistant materials and letting test them before purchase, evaluate them in terms of resistance, etc...
These boots are fitted with a footplate made by selective laser sintering, a process that uses lasers to fuse small particles of material together.
But culinary industry doesn't fall too short. See Los Angeles architects Kyle and Liz von Hasseln have set up a business that produces 3D-printed sugar sculptures for wedding cakes, table centrepieces and pie toppings.
The duo founded 3D printing company The Sugar Lab while studying at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), where they graduated last autumn.
Although there is many reasons to believe that 3D printing is possitively transforming this world, not every voice you hear about it is positive. Let's listen to the Designer Ron Arad, who compares the overuse of 3D printing today to how musicians "abused" synthesisers in this movie made by Alice Masters for London's Design Museum. Have a nice week.