3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, allow for digital designs of three dimensions (height, width, and depth), often drawn out in software like CAD, to be manufactured in the physical world. The first 3D printer was developed in the 1980s and has proceeded to evolve over the years through different variations of 3D printing.The 3D printing process allows for a variety of materials, such as metals, plastic, and metals to be printed out on top of each other in thin layers until the product is complete.
In the open source community, 3D printing is making a huge wave amoungst engineers and social science professionals. Keeping the 3D printing technology affordable is what has open source enthusiast raving about this technology. “Open-source enthusiast design small 3-D printers, usually from expired patents, and post instructions online so others can follow their lead. That makes it possible for do-it-yourselfers to buy the parts and build their own printers fora price hovering in the hundreds of dollars, rather than the thousands” 1).
With the ability to use plastic as a raw material to construct endless products, 3D printing has had the ability to create valuable products for a fraction of the cost. This has helped bioengineering professors and professionals take their career to the next level with the ability to print bones and other body parts for study. One example in particular can be found at Drexel University where Kenneth Lacovara, a biologist, prints copies of dinosaur fossils and lets his undergraduate students study in the lab. 2)
Outside of educational benefits, 3D printing has the ability to change the way our society looks at health and health care. As it turns out, 3-D printing is a cheap, and great alternative to creating prosthetic limbs. Founded in 2013 by John Schull, E-nable, an online volunteer organization, uses 3D printing to create prosthetic hands and fingers for people in need, primarily children. 3)
Aside from the cost of materials being as little as $20 - $50, 3D printed prosthetic hands work just as effective as other prosthetic hands and children love them because of their vibrant colors and super hero feel. Each hand takes about 20 hours to print and two to three hours to assemble. The YouTube link below shows and in-depth tutorial on how to assemble the plastic parts into a 3D hand.
3D printing technology is wildly popular and rapidly expanding. Currently some printers have the ability to use metals as raw materials. Some examples on how this technology has been used can be seen in the final parts on NASA's next-generation Moon rover, or metal prosthetic jawbones and other body parts.4)
The art world and open source world converge together on a few different projects. One of these projects is spearheaded by Rob Myers, a programmer and artist. “Disrupting the Continuum” allows for models for shareable readymades to be downloaded by anyone, altered, and be printed through a 3D printer 5).
By making 3D models available to the public, it allows for things like the mundane (a urinal, a balloon animal, etc) to be altered and manipulated into a unique piece of art that can be printed into the physical world. The artist can,in turn, share their altered 3D model with other people on the Internet which can be further altered and manipulated.
Beginning in 2012 in London, there has been a exposition all about 3D printing showing artists and designers from around the world called the 3D Printshop. Some of the features in the 3D Printshow includes 3D printing in architecture, art, and fashion as well as workshops and seminars. It offers artists the ability to exhibit their work at the show and learn from other 3D printing artists. This year, the 3D Printshow had an event in New York in mid-February which had exhibits for creators, explorers, and investors alike. They offered seminars on the basics of 3D printing and ways to invest in projects. The artists that exhibited their 3D printed works.
One project featured on their website was the Natural Column Project, spearheaded by Daniel Büning, where he implements architectural elements and mimics structures from nature to develop 3D printed works that can withstand weight and pressure. This is an interesting development in 3D printing because it takes new technology and pushing the limits of what it can manufacture. For this specific project, “sand was used in a Voxeljet-printer… After drying, the dark coloured sand hardens to form a stone like structure with holes wherever material is not required. This leaves the airy structure standing free – and strong” 6). There is an artistic element to the project by utilizing biomimicry to create structures that can actually be used as a building block for structures in the future.