By Seth Peters
Edited by Bryce Swiggum
As many of you are aware, 3D printing has become increasingly popular over the past few years. Although the technology behind 3D printing has been around since the 1980’s, only in the past couple of years has the technology improved enough to find its way into consumers’ hands. For those of you who are unaware of what 3D printing is, it’s the process of putting down layers of a substantial substance, such as plastic resin or liquid metal, until the layers add up to an object. The printers usually print hundreds and sometimes thousands of layers before the object is complete. This process enables a machine to produce objects of any shape, no matter the complexity of the design, and in a timely manner. Many say 3D printing is ushering in a new era.
A 3D printer can print in over one hundred different materials. The possibilities with this emerging technology are mind-boggling, from printed guns to printed candy. Some of the world’s largest brands such as Coca-Cola, Nokia, and eBay are all currently utilizing 3D printing technologies, and for a good reason. 3D printing allows companies to produce less waste. Manufacturing plastic and metal objects in particular is generally a wasteful process with a lot of surplus materials and leftover parts. For some aircraft builders, up to 90 percent of the material is usually wasted. Creating a similar object with the use of additive manufacturing (3D printing) not only uses less energy, but also minimizes waste. Printing objects also allows for cheap manufacturing. It’s estimated that 3D printing could help companies on average save up to 70% of their manufacturing cost. This includes package and shipping costs, which would decline with an increase of locally printed goods. Another benefit of 3D printing is the speed of production. With industrial 3D printing technologies being able to create an object in a few hours, the traditional manufacturing methods, taking up to two or more days are gradually becoming obsolete. This leads to an on-demand manufacturing model and to considerable cost savings. It’s important to note, as companies spend less to create and distribute their products, the consumer pays less as well.
I could go on about how companies are utilizing and taking advantage of this new technology, but how is 3D printing relevant to you? There is an increasing number of 3D printing companies who are redesigning and developing 3D printer technologies to make them extremely affordable at a consumer level. One printer, the MOD-t by New Matter, is just under 300 dollars for purchase. For those of you who enjoy art or engineering, this printer is a must! Oskar van Deventer, a Rubik’s Cube enthusiast, used 3D printing to design and create his own complex shifting puzzles. Many artists are designing complex shapes that would otherwise be impossible to create and incorporating them into sculptures and installations.
For those of you who struggle with art or designing “new” things, 3D printing is still for you. Thingiverse, a 3D printing website, is filled with thousands of designs that are available for free. From models to life hacks to holiday crafts; all available to download and print from your very own 3D printer. The “lifehacks” section is full of interesting yet useful things. Tablet stands, phone cases, and cord organizers are just a few of the many awesome designs ready to be printed. Tired of constantly untangling your headphones, print off a cleverly designed headphone holder. Always running out of places to put drinks in your car? Print off a cup holder, or three cup holders, that are engineered to attach to common objects in your car.
If you are interested in 3D printing and want to see one in action, make a visit to the art building here on campus. That’s right, Nebraska Wesleyan’s art department purchased a MakerBot last year and is now offering a class using the printer. Introduction to 3D printing is a class taught by Jess Starkel and allows students to experiment with Tinkercad and 123D programs to create a variety of artworks. These creations included a pendant, chess piece, and little robot. When asked, two students in the class said they would highly recommend the class to others and plan on taking advanced 3D printing courses in the future.
Whether 3D printing interests you are not, it’s here. It’s rapidly evolving and becoming more sophisticated each year. Although some speculate mainstream consumer adoption is five to ten years away, it’s something we need to be prepared for. 3D printers capable of outputting in color and multiple materials already exist and will only continue to improve. With effects on energy use, waste reduction, customization, product availability, medicine, art, construction and sciences, 3D printing will change the world as we know it.
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