Going BIG with 3D Printing

The Days of Thunder and Technology

3D Printing is a technology that came onto the tech scene right around the same time that Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs were working out of garages in Silicon Valley. The first iteration of 3D printing technology was created across the Pacific in Japan in 1981 by a man named Hideo Kodama. Kodama used a layer-by-layer method employed with photosensitive resin and UV light.

Then, a group of researchers in France developed a method of 3D printing using liquid monomers and lasers. Here’s a little chemistry refresher: Monomers are molecules that bond together with other monomers to form a three-dimensional network, known as polymerization.

In 1986, Charles Hull, a furniture manufacturer, was fed up with his inability to find small parts to attach certain pieces. He created the stereolithography method (SLA), which combined the two previous methods, to create parts for his furniture. This became the first patented 3D printing technology officially in 1988. 

In the same year, a method called Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) was developed by Carl Deckard at the University of Texas. Instead of liquid, Deckard’s technology used powder. Then came Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) where a heated nozzle replaced the laser. This has become one of the most popular methods of 3D printing today. 

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing refers to the process of using printing technology to create physical objects through monomers, light, and heat. Since the ’80s, countless new methods have been developed. Some of these include Digital Light Processing, Vat Photopolymerisation, and Continuous Liquid Interface Production.

3D printing gained major popularity in 2008 when the first prosthetic leg was created. Since then, it has been adopted by many engineers and tech professionals to create objects that can be used in a variety of fields from healthcare to ocean research to architecture.

What’s Going on With 3D Printing Now?

One of the most prominent areas that 3D printing technology has come in handy is in the world of healthcare. Technology companies specializing in 3D printing have been making prosthetics, dentures, implants, bone models, and tools.  Dr. Jeffrey Graves, the President & CEO of a company called 3D Systems says,

“Additive Manufacturing has the potential to tighten supply chains allowing hospitals to accelerate time to part in hand and help them more efficiently deliver patient care.”

During Covid, a 3D printing company called BCN3D manufactured face shields for medical workers in Spain. There have been over 10 million hearing aids made with 3D printers around the world.

In addition to medicine, 3D printing has been utilized by people in fields like conservation and construction. A group of researchers at the University of Delaware is printing biodegradable coral reef structures to facilitate coral growth, an essential piece of preserving the biodiversity of the ocean. This could be adopted in other types of species rehabilitation. A different group of researchers is 3D printing bone implants for animals with missing bones. If it is successful for animals, it has the potential to be successful for humans with bone defects and injuries as well. This is called aid regeneration.

There are 3D printers big enough to print out materials for building homes. The tallest 3D-printed building project, a five-story apartment complex, was completed in 2015.

Recently, there has been a major discussion about 3D printing in the department of affordable housing. It could potentially mitigate costs and increase the efficiency of the building process, allowing more affordable homes to be built. This has the potential to create a partial solution to homelessness.

“There are several other potential benefits of 3DCP over conventional concrete construction. These include precise and predictable building outcomes, allocating labor to more skilled tasks, and increasing worker safety,”

says Stefan Ellerbeck from the World Economic Forum.

Companies ICON and Lennar teamed up recently to work on a 100-home construction project in Georgetown, Texas. Using a 3D printer and a portable cement mixer, ICON’s technology manufactures Lavacrete, an extremely strong and versatile building material.

To the Future!

Judging by the wide usage of 3D printers already in the world, this technology is sure to take off in the coming years.

“Acumen Research and Consulting forecasts the global 3D printing market to reach $41 billion by 2026.”

We are only on the brink of possibility with this technology. People are coming up with new uses for 3D printing every day. Along with this, engineers are coming up with ways to fine-tune the process and create highly functional objects that can benefit people and the planet. 

Education and 3D Printing

The current generation of K-12-aged students are going to be the engineers and scientists working with this technology in the future. In STEM education, kids are starting to tinker with 3D printers. At a school in Buffalo, NY,  students are printing name plates for their teacher’s desks and manufacturing pieces for their engineering projects using Woz ED STEM Kits. 

Teaching students how to use 3D printers is going to greatly benefit the world and allow them to explore these endless possibilities for solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. They could enter nursing, conservation, construction, space exploration, or aviation. No matter what their future holds, 3D printing is a key technology to understand and know how to use. 

Published: July 14, 2023


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