If you’re reading this blog you are probably familiar with 3D printing. With home printer kits costing as little as $500, many of our children will grow up thinking that whatever CAD they dream up can simply be printed to become part of their games and adventures. Well this explosion at home is part of a larger manufacturing revolution. Additive manufacturing is poised to change the way we build. Recently the start-up Made In Space won a NASA contract to create a 3D printer that could be used in space to build things that are needed in space. Currently if something breaks on the space station the astronauts have a long wait for a replacement. I know I’d be pretty bummed if my coffee pot broke while I was up orbiting the Earth. Well worry no more, just print a new coffee pot. USC professor Behrokh Khoshnevis is working for NASA on a project to build lunar structures – not homes yet but perhaps the technology could be adapted to replace dwellings after a natural disaster.
Another area where 3D printing has moved from prototype to production is in the airplane industry. Boeing already has over 300 small parts used in their planes. And EADS, parent company to the plane manufacturer Airbus, has a video on their website in which they state they’d like to see the printed plane in about 10 years. In airplanes and also Formula 1 cars the weight of a part makes a huge difference to the performance. So if a structure can be printed in a way that is more complex and structurally sound but with less actual material that can mean drastic reductions in fuel cost and other efficiency improvements.
3D imaging and scanning can also enable the local production of customized parts – so many cute shoes just don’t fit my feet! Currently, 3D printing is still a bit slow for mass producing tens of thousands of items. On the other hand if you wanted to make 100 or even 500 high quality first run pieces then this technology has arrived.