A Study Of 3D Printing. What Is 3D Printer? Should A License Be Mandatory?

Consider your own mini manufacturing plant that does not require any license to set up. Of course you have seen many home based manufacturing industries that don’t require a license. You won’t need a license to buy and use a juicer. If you want to go for commercial usage of 3D printer, we got news that few manufacturing units applied for license for bulk sales. However, that is the case for commercial production and for the output of the printer. You don’t need a license to own a 3D printer and to print things for personal usage.

What Is A 3D Printer

3D printing is the process of converting your digital designs into solid three-dimensional objects. This idea might seem novel to some but it was actually developed in the late nineteenth century and has been widely used for prototyping in several industries. Although what has changed is that this technology has finally opened up to the consumer market and is no longer restricted to manufacturing industries.

Fig 1 - What is 3D Printer

How Does A 3D Printer Work

A set of simple steps needs to be followed to print a three-dimensional prototype.

The first step is to digitally model your idea using any computer aided design (CAD) software. Once a blueprint has been created the application breaks it down into multiple horizontal digital cross-sections in a manner which the printer can understand and reproduce in the exact defined specifications. The completed design is then sent to the 3D printer.

Interestingly enough 3D printing actually employs the “additive” manufacturing process, this means that the solid object is created by adding layers of the raw material as opposed to “subtractive” process used in conventional manufacturing, through which an object is built by selectively removing the raw material to obtain a pre-defined structure.

After this a material is selected which the printer would use to print the object, this can be chosen from a plethora of options including plastic, rubber or metal. The printing process consists of creating the object layer by successive layer. Different printers employ different techniques for creating these layers. The printer continues to deposit layer on top of layer until the completion. The various layers are automatically amalgamated to create the three-dimensional prototype.

The printing process can typically take anywhere between a few hours to entire days depending on the complexity and size of the object to be printed.

What Can A 3D Printer Make

Theoretically anything which can be digitally visualized can be printed. The only limitation at present is the restriction on size and material which can be employed for 3D printing. It is being extensively used for art, industries, space research, health care and across several other varied industries.

Fig 2 - What Can 3D Printer Make

Here are some examples of what a 3D printer can make:

1. In the health care domain 3D printing has been employed to create hearing aids, prosthetics limbs and dental fixtures. Researchers are working on printing human tissues which could be transplanted in human bodies.

2. NASA has employed 3D printing to build parts of rockets and spaceships. Scientists are already working on 3D printers which can be employed in zero gravity to use it on the International Space station.

3. Companies like Boeing are actually using 3D printing to build parts to build an actual airplane. Automotive companies are extensively using 3D printing to build prototypes for engines and other parts of the vehicles.

4. Hobbyists and artists are using 3D printing to creatively express themselves and to create shapes and structures which were previously considered impossible to implement. Toys, sculptures, gifts and jewelry have been created using 3D printing in all shapes and colors.

5. Disturbingly enough 3D printing has been employed to create prototypes of guns which are capable of firing actual bullets. It can also be used for forging jewelry and art.

The Future Of (3D) Printing

3D printing is a disruptive technology having the potential to transform multiple aspects of several industries. The possibilities of 3D printing are limitless. The innovation 3D printing can spur in engineering, healthcare, architecture, construction, consumer electronics, and space research are mind-boggling.

It is true that 3D printing can be adversely employed to create weapons in bulk or can even be used to forge high value art and jewelry. One way to contain illegal usage is to make a manufacturing license mandatory for those buying 3D printers. But then, there are several regulations in place for anti-piracy too.

BOTTOMLINE: The constructive applications (advantages) of 3D printing far outweigh the negative usage possibilities (disadvantages and dangers of 3D printers). I leave it up to you to decide how the industry can be used for more of good than bad.

Please let us know your point of view on the 3D printers in the comment boxes below.

ASSISTED BY: Swagat Karnany.

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN