At the peak of its hype, that machine was capable of printing anything. A miraculous concept that could create everything from nothing. Too much? Yes, it was so promising, some people said it will change the world, and here we are ten years after its appearance and I still can’t have a printer in my room that can print me the gadgets I think of.
Mainly, that was not the real intent of 3D printing, as most inventions are initially military or space targeted. In our case, gravity-free 3D printers were intended to print all the necessary tools and spare parts in space instead of carrying them from earth, as carrying one machine would be more efficient. Nowadays, SpaceX is pushing the limits to the maximum; they will be printing the rockets for commercial space tours. The reduced cost of manufacturing made economical space transportation possible, at least in theory. The advantage of 3D printing is the ability to create a huge variety of shapes in the same object, which was impossible in normal molding or sculpting.
3D printing is now used in prototyping; so instead of paying high costs for a prototype, we can simulate our idea to bring it to life and try it. In this case, this technology economized time and effort for the user. Before 3D printing, they used to prototype using clay or molding, which was time-consuming and expensive. All these advantages come with a cost, like the need for an extensive knowledge of certain software in order to render the object in order to make the machine understand the dimensions and design of the product. Also, the printing process is robotized and it can face lots of flaws and problems. This technology is now widely being used for industrial machinery, for example; one the biggest experts in machinery and engines, General Motors, are using the 3D modeling feature to make parts, that used to be formed by more than 20 separated, smaller parts, using only one part and used them in airplane engines.
The big trend that is this technique was expected to grow again during the time of COVID-19 and quarantine, where instead of going out and buying something, you could print it yourself at home; here pops out a new technology named food 3D printing, the same case as solid printing. Few creative ideas were developed, but none of them saw light. In parallel, 3D printing technology has made lots of improvement in clothing and apparel; Nike had two models of 3D printed sneakers and they showed a better performance and an ultimate unique design.
Speaking of wearables, this technology has made several strides in the manufacture of medical prostheses. In terms of designs and measurements, which differ from one person to another, 3D printing made modifications and customization easier and cheaper. Additionally, the materials used are stronger and have a lighter weight aiming for more access to and availability of medical prostheses and a better performance.
In conclusion, this amazing technology might not have succeeded in what they promised, but it is accomplishing great success in the backstage of some big industries, cutting costs and improving performance. So it’s more likely to find a big 3D printing machine in a factory rather than one next to your microwave. And after this success, the innovation diverted from its original purpose to mostly benefit the big industry. So get ready to see, in the near future, a 3D printed home or maybe a car with amazing designs that “normal” methods of manufacturing cannot get done.