3D Printing | Pushing the Envelope in Engineering

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Published on May 16, 2016 with No Comments

3D Printed Cells Bowl - Math Art by @Dizingof

3D Printed Cells Bowl – Math Art by @Dizingof (Photo credit: Dizingof)

Three-dimensional printing (3D) has launched to much fan-fare in practically every creative sector there is. Architects are lauding the technology because they can translate their vision into real models, tweaking the scale with little effort; engineers similarly can test their theories, creating new components for industrial applications whilst looking at them around a full 360 degrees.

Even toy designers are jumping for joy at the thought of creating new toys with electronics, built-in as part of the manufacturing process as opposed to being installed separately. Palaeontologists meanwhile are salivating at the thought of recreating fossils to preserve while archaeologists mull over the possibilities of replicating long-lost ancient and priceless artefacts.

The buzz for 3D printing is clearly here, but for the uninitiated, there are a few questions you might have.

How does 3D printing work?

Rather than thinking of 3D printing as anything like what you’re familiar with in terms of desktop, inkjet

English: Stereolithography (3D printing) :: th...

English: Stereolithography (3D printing) :: the inner ear of a fossil baboon (2.8millions year) initially 2cm enlarged to 22cm. ::Specimen of of Anthropology Molecular and Imaging Synthesis of Toulouse. Français : Stéréolithographie :: Oreille interne d’un fossile de babouin (2.8millions d’année) initialement de 2cm agrandie à 22cm. ::Exemplaire du Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Moléculaire et Imagerie de Synthèse de Toulouse. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

printing, it’s probably easier to imagine it as a kind of milling machine. The one, obvious difference of course, is that rather than removing material away from a solid object, it builds up objects through printing layers of material from the bottom up. “Additive manufacturing” is an alternative name for this process.

Like the majority of design work today, 3D printers can receive instructions produced through computer aided design (CAD) software, printing to a precise level of detail as instructed by the computer. The scope for the technology is nearly unlimited, as 3D printing is enabling designers to construct What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) models, practically identical to their CAD vision in real life.

What are 3D models made of?

Typically 3D models are made of ceramic powders, plastics, polymers, plaster, liquid resin and thermoplastics. Although metal alloy modelling is also possible, this is incredibly expensive. When metal objects are the intended final product, it’s more likely the a 3D model will be produced in plastic before being molded in metal.

A quick scan of the internet shows that it’s also possible to create rubber products, such as seals, gaskets and plugs, using 3D printing. This means that, much the same as mentioned, more complex seals and

Maker Faire 2008, San Mateo - a 3D Concrete pr...

Maker Faire 2008, San Mateo – a 3D Concrete printer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

shapes can be created from scratch. Rubberised goods might also be popular with manufacturers keen to design items with a better texture than plastic.

Modern applications of 3D printing

As you might have come to imagine, the sky is the limit when it comes to 3D printing… Although, a rather recent project in Washington, United States, might even dispel this idiom.

That’s because engineering students from the University of Virginia have successfully built and flown the world’s third unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) using 3D printing technology.

The plastic plane, which has a 6.5-foot wingspan took hundreds of hours to design, print and construct, but it finally achieved flight in August 2012, cruising at an average speed of 72.4kmph.

Back on home turf meanwhile, 3D printing has been used to help surgeons reconstruct a British soldier’s kneecap, which was smashed when being hit by a bullet whilst he served in Iraq.

3D models of the soldier’s knee joint are being use to produce cutting guides, enabling a team of Charing

Cross Hospital surgeons to conserve as much of the existing knee as possible, and avoid reconstructing ligaments needlessly.

With 3D printing facilitating achievements as amazing as these, there’s little wonder the world is hyped for what is possible.

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