Manufacturing in 3D


Do you want to make your own product at home without buying it from a store? 3D printing is gradually making it a reality.

Three-dimensional printing (3D) is most useful in product design employing computer technology. It enables countless modification of the design and eventual making of a prototype. The aircraft and automobile industries are the early adopters of 3D printing techniques.

Now, 3D printing has quickly spread to other industries such as medicine, education, and product manufacturing. As a result, the word “printing” has become a misnomer because the technology now enables manufacturing from a 3D image stored in a computer. It’s not just printing anymore.

How can the technology make the jump from printing to manufacturing? The idea is to slice the 3D image of the product into very thin slices, reducing it to 2D. Then it becomes much easier to manufacture one slice at a time. Since slicing the 3D image requires tremendous amounts of data manipulation, modern computer technology provides the tool for the job. It then uses the data to instruct the manufacturing machine to begin with the first slice, then an adjacent slice, and so on. It will take thousands and thousands of such iterations to complete the whole product.

After two adjacent slices are made, how can you join them together? It depends on which material you use. If you make a plastic or metallic product starting from a molten liquid raw material, the two adjacent slices will bind together naturally after cooling. How about making a wood product? I’ll let you find out because I don’t know. I only know you have to saw and chisel from a raw block of wood when making furniture. There is no such thing as molten wood in this world.

In medicine, 3D printing is used to make body implants, or artificial organs and human parts. In education, students can make models or prototypes rather than just study from textbooks. In manufacturing, imagine the potential when more and more products can be made at home using a 3D machine guided by a piece of application software.

According to the San Jose Mercury News (August 5, 2013), you can now buy a 3D printer for as low as $1,300. There is a host of computer software available for the 3D making of plastic toys and other consumer items. Soon, a machine will enable you to first design something in a 3D image, then use it to make a product at home for your own special needs.

August 2013

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