Emerging Technology (Enhancing, Engaging, Connecting)
- By David W. Dodd
- December 1st, 2014
Many of us will remember the synthesizers aboard the USS
Enterprise on Star Trek. “Computer,
how about a bowl of chicken soup? And
I’ll need some clothes for beaming down to
the planet’s surface — make sure they match
the ones being worn there.” As far-fetched as
that sounded at the time, it’s moving toward
reality today, and we are in the midst of something really exciting.
Its name is 3D printing, and it’s exploding in development and use
across numerous industries — and even at home.
How It Works
Traditional printing works in two dimensions, by applying a
material to the surface of paper or other materials to form an image.
One of the reasons 3D “printing” came to be called by its name is
that it started as an expansion of that process, but in three dimensions.
In this process, sometimes called additive manufacturing,
various types of materials are layered onto an object being produced,
with the result being a precise manifestation of a digital image.
Typically, software in the general category of computer-aided design
(CAD) is used that drives the printer in the physical development of
the object. The image of the desired object is computationally transformed
into a procedure, incorporating large numbers of layers of
material that must be precisely added on to produce the desired object.
For an existing object, laser or other forms of scanning convert
the original into a digital 3D file. For objects being initially designed,
the computer aids the designer in developing this 3D design.
3D printing was actually developed in the 1980s — ironically just
two decades after the original Star Trek series. But technology had to
advance to accommodate the possibilities of this process. In recent
years, this technological evolution has advanced substantially. In various
areas, including healthcare, aerospace, high-tech manufacturing
and others, product design, development and prototyping are being
propelled rapidly forward by the capabilities of 3D printing. It has
already found a place in numerous manufacturing processes as well.
Where It is Used
Like many people, I have several dental crowns. About three
years ago, I had a crown designed and manufactured within the
dentist’s office through the use of 3D printing. Today, this process
is becoming common. There are now numerous technologies being
developed and used that involve different “printing” techniques
and a wide range of materials.
Nothing is quite as useful in conveying a complex concept
as real-life examples. For this story, the website Mashable.com provided examples of 3D printing that anyone can readily identify
with, that I summarize in the following.
Sketchfab, a product that lets users publish and share 3D
content online, has collaborated with the British Museum to make
available the first downloadable collection of 14 3D models that users
can print using 3D printing. The images are being made available
under Creative Commons licenses that users can incorporate
into virtual reality environments, video games and 3D printing.
Mark Deadrick, who is president of a company called 3dyn and
who makes his living designing rocket parts, recently learned from
a story posted online of a Chihuahua named Turbo that was born
without its front legs. Deadrick designed, made and shipped to
Turbo’s owners a 3D-printed wheelchair, and the puppy is now able
to move himself around using the cart.
UPS provides 3D printing in approximately 100 of its stores
across the U.S. The service, which began as a trial in San Diego,
is available for use by individuals who can pay to use the service,
including a high-accuracy 3D printer from Stratasys.
Finally, in 2013, NASA awarded a research grant to Systems
and Materials Research Consultancy to develop a method for the
3D printing of food in space to support long-term space missions.
And, the National Academy of Sciences recently published a book
entitled 3D Printing in Space. The Academy notes the potential
of additive manufacturing to support spaceflight operations,
including long-duration missions, by enabling the manufacture of
replacement parts and tools.
One of the most interesting aspects of 3D printing is that it is
now available for personal use. The RepRap open-source project
played a large role in making 3D printing available to hobbyists
and others. Fab@Home is billed as the open-source personal fabricator
project. These and other communities are rapidly expanding.
And, 3D printers are widely available at affordable prices. A quick
look confirms you can even buy them from Amazon.
We’re at a point where ideas are propelling this technology
forward rapidly, and without doubt 3D printing will soon affect us
all in many positive ways.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.
David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or firstname.lastname@example.org.