Into the new dimension: 3D printing.

I sit and stare at the 3D printer at work trying to figure out what is wrong with it. Troubleshooting this instrument has been such an interesting experience. The lack of literature and documenting makes even the simplest issue hard to diagnose and repair. My source of information resides on forums where other frustrated users share their experiences and solutions. Consensus on problem solving is almost non existent yet the passion that some individuals, who I’ve never met, show drives me to keep looking. A personal 3D printer user has to deal with problems that arise from design flaws in the recently introduced instruments, software limitations and imperfections, 3D construction boundaries, and limited availability of information resources. In the end, every current personal 3D printer user is a beta tester. However , these issues won’t be the center of attention of this post. I want to dedicate this entry to a discussion of the limitations that our creative mind imposes in an effort to expose that we have merely scratched the surface of the possibilities that a technological advance like this provides.

Just like many new technological advances, 3D printing is still having a difficult time being integrated with the life of an ordinary user. Entry level 3D printers are becoming more widely available and soon we’ll start seeing these as just another essential household item (analogous to how computers transitioned from fulfilling specific office tasks to being really close to a necessity). In the mean time, it’s in the hands of the pioneer users to shape the future development of this technology.

Commercially available 3D printers construct objects by dispensing melted plastic in stacked two dimensional “slices” of the object. Software applications “slice” a 3D model into differentScreen-Shot-2014-04-05-at-2.10.45-PM-e1396721729466 layers to be printed sequentially on top of each other to form the expected object. This printing method presents the limitation of the need for support structures for overhanging sections in the Z dimension. Different software applications code for different coordinate maps. This reflects in overall print time, quality, resolution, accuracy, and even printability as some complex models prove to be impossible to print under some “slicing” engines. Thus, as of now, we are limited by method the of construction. Until we can literally print in thin air users have to deal with different approaches to solving this issue. One of the approaches being developed is printing with multiple materials. Support structures could be printed with material with drastically different solubility than that of the main model thus enabling the dissolving of unwanted structures within the model simply by immersing the object in a solvent bath.

Small video showing 3D printing software.

Once all the technicalities to 3D printing have been explored society will face a shifting behavior in product acquisition. In my opinion, manufacture will shift towards the user. We will buy designs and software which will probably reform the basis of our economy. Services will be more valuable. This leads to issues of intellectual property, copyright infringement, and digital piracy. We are closer and closer to confronting the “silly” concern discussed on internet communities “You wouldn’t download a car would you?”.


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