3D printing technology, like many other emerging technologies, is advancing at an exponential rate. 3D printing is a process during which solid 3D objects are created from digital files. Essentially, the printer lays down consecutive layers of material until the desired 3D object is achieved. Although this technology was initially created for rapid prototyping, it has grown to be useful in many ways in today’s society, and is expected to have even greater positive effects in the future.
3D printing is an incredibly versatile emerging technology that is currently used for various purposes. It is used in education, prototyping and manufacturing, medicine, construction, and even art and jewelry making. In education, 3D printing is used as a cheap alternative for STEM students to quickly create their own prototypes. For example, chemistry students can make 3D models of molecules, engineering/architectural students can make models for buildings etc., and medical students can create cross-sections of organs and use them to enhance their learning. In prototyping and manufacturing, using 3D printers greatly reduces the time and cost required in traditional manufacturing. 3D printing also allows companies to offer many more personalized options to their customers for things like phone cases. 3D printing is still best only when used for production in smaller volumes or on a case-by-case basis. In medicine, there is a form of 3D printing known as bioprinting. Bioprinting can create tissue-like structures that imitates its natural counterparts, and can also be used to make measured, custom prosthetics. Bioprinting can even create 3D printed artificial organs, which can help solve organ failure issues swiftly. Pills can also be produced, using a 3D printing process known as Binder Jetting. This process creates pills that are very porous and can hold high dosages in a single pill that dissolves quickly, that is especially useful for treating conditions like epilepsy. In construction, 3D printing applications include additive welding, extrusion, and powder bonding. In terms of art and jewelry, 3D printing allows jewelers to have more freedom to be able to create non-traditional, unique, custom-made items using 3D printing technology with a much lower production cost. There are also a variety of artists around the world who make use of the 3D printing technology because it allows them to create 3D pieces of artwork very easily and efficiently. The technology has been used to create sculptures, ceramic vases and even to render pre-existing paintings in 3D. This has allowed visually impaired people the opportunity to feel and experience the artwork which they previously could not even interact with. All in all, 3D printing is immensely versatile, and is used in practically every aspect of life.
In our society today, 3D printing has had surprisingly positive impacts, such as in education, housing, medicine, industrial manufacturing, in the environment, and even in disaster relief. As I previously mentioned, 3D printing technology has been implemented in various subject areas as it is an effective and affordable option for hands-on learning in various STEM and non-STEM courses/careers. The 3D printing of houses has also been considered as a possible option for low-income housing in the future. Recently, two companies, ICON and New Story, created a 3D printed house for $4000 USD. The 3D printing used to build that house is capable of building a 600-800 square foot, single story home in 24 hours. Additionally, In New York, a project called Homed was launched that was using 3D printed pods to help house the homeless in the city. This initiative was initially created for the homeless in NYC, but has begun to expand all over the country in hopes to significantly reduce homelessness. Furthermore, 3D printing technology has been used in disaster relief. For example, a tech-oriented non-profit group known as Field Ready, made use of 3D printing to quickly produce water pipe fittings and washers after the earthquake in Nepal in April of 2015. In addition, in Japan, there was a 3D printed drone created known as X VEIN, which was built specifically for search and rescue missions in the event of any disaster. Both of these events display that 3D printing technology’s ability to produce spare parts has incredible potential to help rebuild infrastructure in disaster-stricken communities in a cost, time and labor effective manner. Environmentally, 3D printing has been used to reduce waste in industrial manufacturing, as well as in efforts to reinvigorate coral growth to save coral reefs by printing settlement substrates etc., which help meet the coral’s needs for effective restoration. Lastly, it has been used for better, more efficient, and much more affordable medical and dental care. 3D printed titanium and polymer implants, hip/spinal/knee replacements, dental models, and metal teeth replacements are just a few examples. Overall, 3D printing has had an incredibly positive impact on society today.
In the future, 3D printing will be used to do extraordinary things. Once access to 3D printing technology is widespread, people will be able to print items from the internet in real time and shipping/transportation will no longer be required. This will make online shopping even more affordable and environmentally friendly. The ability to print goods in your own home will allow for a dramatic decrease in traditional manufacturing, resulting in less pollution in terms of manufacturing and transportation. Additionally, there will be an increase in mass customization of products as further advancements in this technology will give companies the ability to customize products to fulfill the wants of their customers. This will not increase labor costs either because customers will be responsible for the personalization themselves. Furthermore, medical care will continue to become more affordable around the world. Soon, scientists will be able to bioprint blood vessels, body tissues, skin cells etc., which will be especially helpful in curing patients with blood diseases. Prosthetic prices will also drop as 3D printing technology is improved to allow printing of prosthetic sockets. All things considered, the future of 3D printing looks bright.
In conclusion, 3D printing technology is already changing the world for the better, and will continue to benefit society even more in the future. 3D printing has already been implemented in various areas such as education, health, manufacturing etc., and has only had positive impacts. As of now, 3D printing is fairly expensive, but as the demand and supply increase, prices will fall, and eventually, 3D printing will revolutionize the world.