03 February, 2014

The Future Printed In 3D

Three-dimensional printing saw rising consumer acceptance in the first quarter of 2013, giving the automotive industry, consumer end products, healthcare and small businesses cost-effective solutions to research and development. The first compact 3D printing machine, the Replicator 2, came out in January 2013 from Maker Bot. The Replicator 2 has a resolution capability of 100 microns and a massive 410-cubic-inch build volume, meaning that any shape designed to be printed will in fact be replicated in the same 3D figure. Before the technology was introduced, wax-made models were used to study different aspects of prototypes. On a large scale, plastic prototypes were costing companies thousands in research and development. In the automotive industry, for instance, drag or air resistance on vehicles is measured on vehicle prototypes to increase acceleration and reduce fuel consumption. These tests cost companies time and money to study, produce and use to experiment. Later, the prototype is discarded if any flaws are found. In architecture, 3D models are built to aid a labor workforce, yet this increases the risk of human error. The accuracy of the 3D model in comparison to the true figure might not be precise. As 3D printing starts to increase in manufacturing in terms of size and accuracy, at the same time so do companies'emphases on building effective prototypes in a shorter time span. While 3D printers were once clunky, expensive devices reserved for the industrial elite, they've lately been adapted to fit on your desktop at home. Having a 3D printer and being well-versed in how to use it gives you another tool in your belt to tackle problems and create new objects. As an example, if a small and specifically shaped piece of plastic breaks from your laptop, you can replace it in an afternoon without having to call the manufacturer or dealer—and presumably save yourself money and time. 

Advantages of 3D printing to consumers 

The price of owning 3D printers has gone down due to several manufacturers introducing new models. Accessibility is the main advantage of 3D printing: when done in-house, it enables design teams to produce a high-quality, realistic prototype quickly and at relatively low cost compared to machining or outsourcing. For individuals, it reduces the cost of involving third-party service companies for parts and appliance care. Creating custom-made objects promotes variety and increases innovation as well. When a community shares designs and illustrations of a particular object to better serve its purpose, it opens the door to a new industry and better jobs from home. Price will dramatically decrease as there is no manufacturing, transportation or outlet cost involved. 

Ethical Considerations and Disadvantages 

With enabling consumers to freely "bring to life" models set by CAD designs, the main issue lies in raised expectations, build quality, price and usability. With copyright policies being violated, build quality will decrease as no approved tests have been run regarding the durability of the device or object. The life-span of the object is limited due to its origination from powdered plaster. Plus, since consumer 3D printing is in its early stages, there are neither clear policies nor supervision on patent infringements, copyright violations and breaching international trademark laws. 
3D printed parts are also not as strong as traditionally manufactured parts. Their layer-by-layer technique of manufacturing is both their biggest strength and greatest weakness. In injection molding, you have an even strength across the part, as the material is of a relatively consistent structure. In 3D printing, on the other hand, you are building a part in layers that have laminate weaknesses: the layers do not bond as well on the Z axis as they do on the X and Y plane. The rise of black market 3D printed spare parts, generic versions, or fake brands and entire niches will no doubt expand with copied items and crafts that will harm product quality, pricing, authenticity and demand. For instance, 3D printing can be used to scan and duplicate credit cards, IDs, car keys and other private items. The obvious disadvantage to 3D printing is that it's already serving criminals and facilitating fraud. 

Final Processing: from 2D to 3D 

To perform a print, the machine reads the design file and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross sections from the CAD model, are joined together or automatically fused to create the final shape. The primary advantage of this technique is its ability to create almost any shape or geometric feature. 

A Bar-Code Scanner Prototype 

With the ability to mold up to any 3-Dimensional object, prototypes can be created in less than an hour depending on the CAD file used by designers. The mold will eventually develop from plastic injection to contain metal, aluminium and even silver. 

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