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Friday, August 23, 2013

Why is 3D Printing important

As I explained in another video, 3D printing is essentially a way of constructing a 3-dimensional object by putting down thin layers of material. The 3D printer deposits the layers by using information from a computer file that describes the object’s 3-dimensional shape. So, in essence, you can create any object once you have a 3D printer, the material for the object, and the computer file that describes the object’s shape. This can really shake things up when it comes to manufacturing products, which is why 3D printing is so important and is getting so much attention.

For starters, you can now buy a desktop 3D printer and build complex (but small) products at home. This is like the early days of personal computing -- only, this time, it’s “personal manufacturing.” We’ll have to wait and see what the hobbyists achieve with 3D printing, but it’s exciting because “personal manufacturing” could shake things up just as personal computers did.

On the commercial side, engineers are now able to “3D print” fully functional metal parts using titanium and steel. If commercial manufacturing moves to 3D printing, you won’t need factories with assembly lines to make products, instead they can be built in one or more 3D printers. And a single 3D printing facility could print many different types of products. You would be able to “print” products on demand and at many different locations -- all you have to do is send over the data file for the product. It’d make sense to print products at locations near customers.

On the other hand, you need far fewer people to operate 3D printers than assembly lines. That could mean less jobs, but that could also be helpful for an aging society. If 3D printing is the way products are manufactured, then there won’t be any need to set up factories in countries with cheap labor. That’s something to think about.

Finally, 3D printing is not limited to just the types of products we currently know -- researchers are working on printing many different types of objects, including, for example, tissues and human organs. Who knows, someday in the future, there’d be 3D-printed artificial organs for people who need transplants!

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