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3D Printing: A Step Closer to a Star Trek Replicator?

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If you are not familiar with Star Trek then let me explain. In the world of Star Trek you can order any item you desire from a replicator. This is a machine that builds objects and food while you wait. The purpose is to be able to manufacture food, spare parts and other objects while in transit rather than have to store huge amounts of cargo. It is of course pure science fiction. Isn’t it?

In the last few years there have been some amazing breakthroughs in the 3D printing industry. The latest 3D printers can now print objects with moving parts. In one demonstration by Z Corporation, a leading R&D business in Burlington, Massachusetts, printed out a functioning adjustable wrench that was strong enough to tighten a bolt.

Zcorp have already produced color 3D printers. The Z450 Printer could print a lifelike human head from a 3D scan and the latest Z650 has a larger printing surface to produce large, high resolution parts in color.

3D printers can now replicate just about any product. The Z650 has a 1200 cubic inch print volume which means that it can print out many objects at life-size. Printing is as simple as importing a 3D model plan into a computer and then hitting the print button. The machines now check that all required materials are available to finish the job.

Another company has now developed a 3D metal printer. Super fine stainless steel powder is used to build 3D objects made metal. Powerful heated fuse the metals together, layer by layer. The object is then fired in a kiln before being fused with bronze to strengthen it in a second kiln where it is fired at 2000 degrees centigrade. 3D metal printers produce items quicker and at less cost that conventional methods.

It is not just about printing 3D models though. A team from the University of Exeter have developed a 3D chocolate printer that can manufacture any design in chocolate. Other companies have been experimenting with alternative materials such as icing sugar. In January 2011 a project team from Cornell University demonstrated their 3D printer that can make edible food. They demonstrated it at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, possibly the hardest crowd to please in culinary circles, and received a warm reception.

Another research team at the European Aeronautic Defence and Space have designed and printed a functioning bicycle using the Additive Layer Manufacturing technology which can build, or print, items from fine nylon powder, carbon-reinforced plastics, titanium, stainless steel and aluminium.

Once a machine can combine various different ingredients and materials a range of edible and flavored products could be created while you wait. It is very likely that 3D printing will start to be seen more in industry over the next decade with 3D printers producing more food and replacing traditional production line methods.

The world of printing is still developing at a staggering rate. Although some people suggest that this is not printing but a new system of manufacturing, the principal does remain the same – adding fine layers of material to create an object that you can hold. It is just unlike photographic printing the objects are in 3D.

This article was written by tech trends watcher and technical writer Pete Reynolds, who when not dreaming of building his own replicator writes about the real things, Zcorp 3d printers, for a UK distributor.

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1 Comment

  1. wow nice 3d printing machine.Actually i haven’t see a 3d picture…

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