Can 3D Printing Make Everything We Need? - PSFK
This article titled “Is 3D printing the key to Utopia?” was written by John Naughton, for The Observer on Saturday 12th May 2012 23.05 UTC
You know the problem: the dishwasher that has cleaned your dishes faithfully for 15 years suddenly stops working. You call out a repairman who identifies the problem: the filter unit has finally given up the ghost. “Ah,” you say, much relieved, “can you fit a new one?” At which point the chap shakes his head sorrowfully. No can do, he explains. The company that made the machine was taken over years ago by another outfit and they no longer supply spares for your ancient machine.
Up until now, this story would have had a predictable ending in which you sorrowfully junked your trusty dishwasher and bought a new one. But there’s an emerging technology that could change that. It’s called three-dimensional printing.
Eh? Surely printing is intrinsically a two-dimensional process, involving the squirting of coloured dyes on to flat sheets of paper? And indeed it is, so perhaps the use of the word “printing” in 3D printing is a bit naughty – which is why men in suits tends to call it “additive manufacturing”. But there is still a strong metaphorical correspondence between the 2D and 3D processes. In the former, we take an electronic representation of a document on a computer screen and output a replica of that on to paper; in the latter, we take a three-dimensional computer model of something and use printing-like technology to create a three-dimensional version of it in plastic or other materials.
It works like this: a designer uses computer-assisted design software to create a three-dimensional model of an object. Another program then “slices” the model into thin sections and instructs the “printer” to lay down an exact replica of the section in plastic (or other types of) granules which are then fused to become a solid layer. The process is repeated, slice by slice, until the entire object has been made.