What Exactly Is 3D Printing, Anyways?

What Exactly Is 3D Printing, Anyways?In our post about 4 great examples of new manufacturing technology a few weeks ago, we mentioned a new technology which has the potential to revolutionize the way certain things are manufactured.

That technology is 3D printing, and today we’re going to tell you a little more about what it is and why it’s so important.

Invented about 30 years ago in the United States, 3D printing is still in its infancy, but is starting to pick up speed. To understand how it works, it’s best to think in terms of some older manufacturing technology.

With something like a CNC machine, manufacturers start with a single block of metal (usually), and the machine slowly takes away material until a part is formed. This type of manufacturing is strong and pretty efficient, but takes longer for more complicated parts.

This is compared to the 3D printer, which, as its name suggests, “prints” goods from the ground up. So instead of starting with a large block of material, 3D printers start with a spool of “ink” (which is really ABS plastic) and print things from the ground up. This means that parts are not only cheaper, but also can be more complicated without increasing cost or having too large of an impact on efficiency.

But what’s it being used for currently?

The answer is that 3D printing is being used for a lot of things. From rapid prototyping of parts to manufacturing in medicine, 3D printing has a lot of uses. Currently, it’s used most in medicine, architecture, defense, automobiles, and aerospace, and we expect to see its uses continue to expand over time. We think that it will be highly influential in prototyping–like it’s starting to be now–and could eventually change the way that we look at manufacturing.

As we mentioned, the technology is still in its infancy–but we really think it’s worth keeping an eye on. Though no one is really sure at this point where and how it will impact manufacturing, many experts agree that it will be hugely impactful over time.

So if you’re an up-and-coming student, or even if you’re an adult who is interested in manufacturing, keep an eye on 3D printing. We’re willing to bet that it will just keep getting more and more interesting over time.

For more information on 3D printing and its capabilities, see MAKE Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing. Additionally, we recommend checking out the infographic below (courtesy of GE’s Roadshow for Growth), which has some great information on 3D printing’s current uses, and its potential future impact. Give it a look!

Title photo credit: Hindrik S via photopin cc