3D Printing, The Next Revolution

3D Printing
A video from the BBC about 3d printing hitting the highstreet, click to watch

You may think that 3D printing is a relatively new idea, but it was originally invented in 1984 by Chuck Hull. He founded 3D Systems Corporation in California and quickly became the only producer of 3D printing. Hull’s version of 3D printing is a little different to what it is today, as he used thin layers of ultraviolet curable material on top of one another. Initially it was used for commercial rapid prototyping, saving companies time and money for prototypes of their products.

3D printers today are different to traditional printing (such as machining techniques) which rely on removal of materials rather than building materials up. The name of the process used is called Additive Manufacturing, this means successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes on top of one another.

Since the beginning of the 21st Century there has been a drop in price, from around $20,000 down to just $1,000, meaning a surge in sales. The price drop makes it possible for self-manufacturing, meaning anyone who can afford the printers can produce products for personal use. This has substantial environmental benefits, as this process will bring down materials that are used with the manufacturing industry, and will reduce distribution needs. However this is not yet a reality that will make a difference to our current environmental state, as these printers are still far and few between.

With the introduction of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) this may change. Companies such as RepRap are producing 3D printers for as little as £400, meaning more and more people and businesses will be able to purchase 3D printers and start manufacturing items for themselves.

3D Printing
Video from Asda showing their 3D printing offering, Click to watch

With this in mind it was only a matter of time before 3D printing made its way into retail. Both Asda and Selfridges will offer this service during the Christmas period this year. Both stores will be offering  a service in which you create a 3d replica figurine of yourself. It will be limited to certain stores, but the idea that 3D printing will be commercially available for you to print what ever you’d like is showing us that it is becoming more and more common in the eye of the public.

However, this isn’t always a good thing. With recent issues in America surrounding 3D printing of weapons, this could open up a whole new type of law. Even though the weapons that would have been produced if they had been allowed to continue would not have been in working order, it still raises questions about security and the freedom we should be allowed to have with these machines.