Back in 2009, Peter Schnitt, a student of MIT, printed a three dimensional clock with hands, counterweights and moving gears. When he hung it up on a wall and pushed the counterweight, the timepiece did work, although not very accurately. Scientists are now working around a technology that could go beyond wall clocks and help in boosting the world’s economy. The technology is called 3D printing with some even stating that it could trigger a new age industrial revolution. Those involved in such projects have called the process ‘additive manufacturing’.
Modern manufacturing methods revolve around reduction, where blocks of wood, metal and plastic are ground until the required item is produced. The rest, which amounts to almost 90 percent of the metal, plastic and wood that is not used, is thrown away.
What 3D printing does is it lay down layers of plastic or metal powder as per the directions of a software, the same way ink is injected on paper directed by the printer’s drivers. When each layer is placed down, the tray containing the items is dropped down by a fraction of a millimeter after which the next layer is added. The process continues until the work is complete.
The ingredients used are not limited since almost everything that flows can be utilized. Some have even tried using chocolate. There is very little waste with this technology and the products can look more attractive than conventionally manufactured items as 3D printing has a flexibility that allows designs which are impossible to create using conventional manufacturing methods to be easily achieved.
Additive manufacturing is growing every year and the industry has been achieving an annual growth rate of more than 26.2 percent. By 2016, revenues will reach $3 billion. The technology is already being used in printing dresses, tooth crowns, aircraft landing gears and much more.