Manufacturing the Future with 3D Printing

3d printed headA long, long time ago, printing meant carving characters or shapes into a wooden block and stamping the block on paper or another medium. This technique was incredibly popular in East Asia as a way to mass-produce literature and art.

Fragments from woodblocks dating as far back as China’s Han Dynasty have been discovered. Today, as you can see by the printers in your office, we’ve come a long ways from that form of printing (although you might get so angry at your printer at times, you wonder if that’s actually true).

Fast-forward nearly 2,000 years to our century, and we’re still learning methods of mass-producing media. Instead of using woodblocks, however, we’ve come full circle to figuring out how to create the woodblocks… through printing.

3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM), is a method of layering material until it creates a three-dimensional form. With this technology, printers can create 3D shapes like blocks, figurines, tools, building parts, etc.

A 3D printer uses raw material and meticulously layers this material to build any form. As you can imagine, the possibilities are extraordinary. In science fiction movies, spaceship inhabitants routinely make meals by telling a computer to just do it. Are we far from that reality?

GE uses huge, industrial 3D printers, or additive manufacturing systems, to build turbine parts. In the manufacturing industry, these machines have been a reality for some time. Only now are they becoming more accessible to consumers because the technology has become more affordable to produce.

Organizations including DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), universities and private research groups have been spearheading the technology. The research is coming from everywhere because the technology can be applied to so many fields and industries.

One potential application is building tools in space. Should a problem arise while you’re ten thousand miles above the planet, just build the tool to fix it.

What we like is how small businesses are using 3D printing. Manufacturing a prototype has never been easier. The parts and pieces can be assembled through a 3D printer, which saves a lot of costs that might be spent sending designs overseas or crafting items by hand.

Hopefully, there’s a boom as small businesses start using this technology for means beyond what we can conceive now. Amazon recently opened a new online store dedicated to selling customizable, 3D-printed products for consumers. If you’re like us, shop your local small business instead—they’re the innovators and they’ll show us where this technology can go as entrepreneurs seek their help.

Some day, broken office equipment might be as easy to service as ordering the schematics for replacement parts, downloading them to your 3D printer, and waiting until the printer builds the new part (or “additively manufactures” the part). By then, TriTech’s technicians might be serving you through telepresence robots stationed at your office that let the techs videoconference and interact with your employees from our site, exponentially saving time and getting your critical equipment running sooner. Who knows?!

3D printing could be opening the door to a whole new landscape of how people work with technology. The television, the Internet, the cell phone and now 3D printers? We’ll see!