3D Printing

The history of printing dates back from the T'ang Dynasty when the Chinese developed woodblock printing. 2D printing is nothing but printing text and images on a paper having X, Y dimensions. While 3D printing adds one more dimension, depth i.e. printing an object having X, Y & Z dimensions. The history of 3D printing dates back to 1859 where François Willème began creating photo-sculpture of living people in 3 dimensions using cameras1.

In 1983 Charles 'Chuck' Hull, father of 3D printing invented a breakthrough technology, stereo- lithography. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process where 3D solid objects are made from a digital file, CAD (Computer Aided Design) file by using layer upon layer approach with mixture of several inks and additives ranging from plastics to metals and specially developed clays depending on what the end product is.  It is more competent than traditional methods as there are less waste materials therefore satisfying concerns about environmental issues.
3D printing technologies have been illustrated in Figure 1 below1, 2.

Figure 1 Source: 3D printing technologies

3D printing is a classic disruptive technology according to the disruption pattern identified by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen3. Another disruptive aspect of 3D printing is the reality that a single machine can create immensely different products. In traditional manufacturing the production line must be custom-made if the product line is changed. It eventually requires expensive investment in tooling and extensive factory down-time.
Click print physical 3D object, just like a document is no longer a science fiction, but it’s a new reality. The ability to print on demand could lead to a shift from mass production to more local production, nearer to the end user’s site. This may lead to growth of smaller and medium sized developers and investors as costs of 3D printers become more affordable.
The impact of 3D printing on human life will be profound with its market forecast to reach $40bn by 20274.

Here intention is to share information about 3D printing and make aware common man about this revolutionary world with few illustrations below.
Touchable pictures: Blind and visually impaired people can print a 3D version of a photograph to visualize it via touch. Expectant mothers can now create 3D models of their unborn babies.
Body parts & organs: FDA has approved 3D printed facial implants recently. Chinese boy with bone cancer has a 3D printed spine, which will enable him to walk. Harvard University researchers have made the first entirely 3D printed heart on a chip with integrated sensing. This will enhance drug design & development process.
Lightweight casts: The Cortex exoskeletal cast is light, washable, breathable and recyclable alternative to the traditional plaster cast. It is hygienic as well as wearable and is based on and X-ray and 3D scan of the patient’s fracture.
Space manufacturing: Like car companies, airlines shall use 3D printed components to increase the strength and safety of their products. NASA has launched a 3D printer into space enabling astronauts to manufacture spare parts, tools and supplies5. NASA is also interested in using 3D printing to create food for astronauts. It is considered that pizza could easily be produced on a 3D printer due to the distinct layers.
Clean factories: 3D printing of entire car in single piece will not only reduce cycle time, waste produce, and human resource but shall also improve efficiency of assembly line.
Carbon credit: 3D print shops may grow on streets soon. This would significantly decrease the number of items being shipped around the world hence cutting down the pollution, eventually carbon footprint.
Better education: Availability and affordability of 3D printers will make STEM education more attractive and interesting.
Micro batteries: 3D printed lithium-ion micro batteries, smaller than a grain of sand, can be used to manufacture miniaturized devices from medical implants to tiny insect-like flying robots.
It is interesting to see flow of 3D printing through various industries. Impact of 3D printing on several industries can be charted based on their current application against future potential as depicted in Figure 2 below6.

Figure 2: Impact of 3D printing on several industries
If we try to imagine future of 3D printing then it will be a plant without a factory floor but with a dais for innovation, facilitating creation to thrive in exceptional areas and initiating a new generation of doit- yourself (DIY) firms.

Technology Forecast: The  future of 3D printing, Issue 2, 2014

3D Printing a Manufacturing Revolution,

Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When NewTechnologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Boston: Harvard Business School Press,1997).

EY analysis based on 2016 EY global 3D printingsurvey.

The Doctor

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