By now, everyone has heard about the incoming 3D printing revolution. The advances made in 3D printing technology means that domestic 3D printers capable of printing solid 3D objects in polymers will be a reality in just a few years. Before that, following in the footsteps of 3D printing in the US, department stores will possibly start offering a 3D printing service in which designs can be uploaded and a choice of materials and colour can be made. There is no doubt that great change is on the horizon, but what will 3D printing really enable the average person on the street to create at home?
Firstly, it will be important to take small easy steps with the technology, so the creation of baby toys might be a sound place to start. 3D printing will be ideal for making simple plastic shapes in various vibrant colours. The doting parents will be able to create games like a miniature skittles set with relative ease, learning the basic functions of the 3D printer as they create basic designs to help their child’s basic learning. Of course, once the baby grows up, the child can be included in the design process, designing new types of toys with slightly more complexity.
If your family regularly enjoys going out for a picnic they can print a whole range of personalised plastic crockery and cutlery, in the favourite colour and embossed with the desired image of each family member. It is easy to imagine the 3D printer becoming fully integrated within the family’s day to day lives. At first, all new technology seems rather daunting, but the sheer practicality of 3D printing matched with its, dare I say it, potential for fun, will soon move it from the sphere of IT geekdom and into the warm embrace of the domestic household.
However, 3D printing will undoubtedly be the favourite tool of the computer wizards for years to come, for the simple reason that they have been so instrumental in driving its progress and stimulating interest in its myriad capabilities. The RepRap project, founded in 2005 by Dr Adrian Bowyer at the University of Bath, is particularly interesting because it is a 3D printer that can print its own parts, allowing for self replication and wider distribution of 3D printing. Importantly, 3D printing will herald a new form of manufacturing capable in the home, without patenting, in much the same way as home computers revolutionised graphic design and the creative industries.
Yes, this means that Dad will be able to have his dream workshop in which he will be able to create new DIY kits to his own specifications and needs, manufacturing the parts he requires or creating scale models of different projects. Will they ever emerge for dinner again? The sheer range of uses for 3D printers are incalculable and will steadily grow as more and more 3D printer owners discover ways to utilise 3D printing to meet their particular needs. Lewis Hamilton might design and print the parts for a Scalextric set, David Beckham may print a ball or goal posts for a weekend kick around.
The US TV host Jay Leno already possesses a 3D printer, using it to create scanned body parts for his range of classic vintage cars, which includes a 1907 White Steamer. He then gives the printed part to a special mechanic to fashion in metal. The point is that what was once obsolete can now be scanned and recreated again.
Needless to say, 3D printing promises to be a revolutionary and liberating technological breakthrough.
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