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3D Printing: A New Industrial Revolution?

Date: 2014-05-22

As 3D Printing has existed since 1986, one might ask why there is such hype today around this technology. And indeed, for decades, engineers and designers have been using 3D printing in order to build prototypes. In fact, there are many complex parts which are prototyped using 3D printing and are now used on aircraft or satellites. 3D printing is also used for architecture, interior design, jewelry, art, and even fashion. Another day-to-day application of 3D printing is dental prosthetics: after a mouth and teeth scanning, using CAD/CAM design and 3D printing, dental labs can accurately and rapidly produce crowns, bridges, stone models and a full range of orthodontic appliances. 3D printing has also been used in order to make hip implants out of titanium.
Some other examples:
•     In November 2010, Urbee, the first 3D-Printed prototype car, was presented. This was the first car ever to have its entire body printed out on a giant 3D printer. More here andhere.
•     In June 2011, Shapeways and Continuum Fashion announced the first 3D-printed bikini. More here.
•     In July 2011, led by the University of Exeter, the University of Brunel and application developer Delcam, researchers in UK presented the world's first 3D chocolate printer. More here.
•     A Dutch architect has announced plans to print an entire innovative building, piece by piece.
•     Very recently, the first fully 3D-printed gun test-fired called “the Liberator” has been printed. More here. The relevant CAD files have been downloadable at DEFCAD during a short period of time; those have been removed from public access at the request of the US Department of Defense Trade Controls.
 
In fact, as the computing industry, 3D printing technology is advancing rapidly and its cost is falling dramatically. This means that 3D printing is now widely available and affordable for the general public. And indeed, some 3D printers, for example, now sell for about $1,000. As an example, Staples in the US is selling Cube 3D Printers for $1,299.
Moreover, the 3D scanning process which is often needed as a first step in order to get the CAD/CAM models also exhibits some very drastic pricing decrease. Indeed, Kinect-based 3D scanning can be used to create detailed models of objects and much larger spaces, using a $150 scanning device and a $350 graphics card. This work opens up a huge range of possibilities – you can imagine an interactive environment where every surface supports multi-touch, or an augmented reality system where virtual objects interact with the real world exactly as you expect. This kind of new scanning approach, even if less precise, enables the emergence of disruptive 3D scanning technology as it represents only 1% of the cost of existing solutions. This is what has been announced by Microsoft as Kinect Fusion.