The 3D printing concept is inherently dramatic and the ideas are creative, but ironically, 3D printing sometimes gets a bit under-reported, simply because things always seem to be running at such a high pitch. Let’s catch up.
MX3D is combining robotics and 3D printing and plans to build a 24-foot long pedestrian bridge over a canal in Amsterdam. This InformationWeek story has a couple of videos. In essence, the company will use additive printing technology to “draw in midair” and finish the bridge in about two months. That, according to writer David Wagner, is a competitive timeframe.
Focusing on the great near-term promise of the technology, CloudDDM co-founder Rick Smith starts his column at Forbes with two vignettes focusing on 3D and GE: One is about an Indonesian man without industrial manufacturing experience who nonetheless used 3D printing to win a competition centered on redesigning the bracket that holds a jet engine to the wing. The second focuses on the use of 3D printing to reduce from 21 to one the number of parts needed to create a jet engine fuel injection system.
It should be noted that the new products are better: The wing/engine bolt is 83 percent lighter than the part it replaced. The fuel injection system is five times stronger and increases fuel efficiency by 15 percent over the existing type.
Lots of less esoteric and intensely functional uses of 3D show up in medicine. For instance, it is used to improve joint replacement. Traditionally, six knee designs have been available for use. In a 3D printing world, it is possible to customize knees to the patient. The San Diego Union-Tribune says that in similar areas, such as hearing aids and dental implants, 3D approaches are both faster and more flexible. 3D printing of human tissue and organs is technically here. It is being used for training and testing drugs, and seems likely to be used directly on people in the near future.
Finally, 3D offers a story or two that are especially cool and dramatic -- even in a landscape of stories with high cool and dramatic ratios. 3D Print.com reports that the “Open Source Nano Replicator Initiative” is looking at technology that will enable 3D printers to use single atoms as their source material. It is worth noting that the organization is trying to raise $500 million on Indiegogo. That seems as close to science fiction as the project itself.
That said, the stakes are pretty high, according to Eddie Krassenstein:
If successful, a nano-replicator would mean that any free man, woman, or child would have the ability to 3D print anything from a turkey sandwich to a human eye ball, using the smallest constituent unit of matter, the atom as the building blocks. With every solid, liquid, gas and plasma in the universe made up of atoms, virtually anything could be printed on a machine of this caliber. The only obstacle that remains in our way — albeit a huge one — is the technology that will allow this to move forward.
The mind-bending nature of 3D printing makes it a very entertaining category. The reality is that very smart people are doing very important things. Many of these are good. Some, like figuring out how to 3D print weapons, aren’t. The bottom line, however, is that the category has perhaps the greatest potential to change society. And that’s saying a lot.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.