For commercial use, 3D printing can cut shipping and transport costs, offer product customisation and, eventually, provide a less expensive alternative to traditional manufacturing techniques (although this is still some way off). What’s more, it can also utilise recycled printing materials making it a potentially ethical form of production. However, it isn’t just businesses that can benefit. Additive manufacturing, as it is properly known, has already been used for applications as diverse as printing prosthetic limbs and printing multi-tools in the International Space Station.
Researchers are also looking into printing prosthetic organs that are then coated in the recipient’s cells, potentially reducing waiting times, improving the chances of prosthetic organs offering successful transplantation, and saving lives.
3D Printing At Home
3D printing certainly caught consumers’ attention; the capability to print virtually any item from the comfort of your own home certainly holds appeal. Anything from toys to jewellery, and from clothing to household items like hooks, soap dishes, and extremely specialist and useful items.
Whether 3D printers become ubiquitous in the same way as standard printers have remains to be seen, but they will certainly increase in popularity.
3D printers are no longer the thrall of designers and businesses alone. The cost of home printers has dropped considerably.
Generally, the larger the volume of printout, the more expensive the printer, and if you want to print anything other than plastic, then you will have to pay for more expensive printers. At least for the time being, plastic printing is the only affordable option for the home, but what exactly can you print? And what have other people been printing?
It was, arguably, inevitable, that one of the first uses of 3D printing was to create plastic guns, and people didn’t disappoint in this respect. However, plastic is not a reliable enough material and not only does this mean that the guns did not always work, but it meant that injuries were commonplace.
The initial rash of plastic gun production led to many people questioning whether 3D printing should be regulated or governed in some way.
While this type of printing almost certainly continues, it thankfully doesn’t seem as commonplace as it once was. It did, however, help to spread the word about additive manufacturing so we do, perhaps, have something to thank 3D gun printing for.
Robots And Electronics
The heavy reliance on plastic printing means that, strictly speaking, printing electronics and electrical devices remains out of reach of the general consumer. Generally, this means that printing is restricted to decorative items, or to mechanical items, but there are still a great many possible uses.
What’s more, as 3D printers become more affordable and options regarding printing material expand further, it will become an option to print circuit boards and processors, as well as the wires and other components.
This may be some way off for the home 3D printer, but is almost inevitable that it will happen in the future.
Accessories for electronics, on the other hand, could become a major selling point. iPhone cases could be customised to every individual’s taste, and printing a case is likely to cost considerably less than buying one.
Fashion And Design
3D printing can be used to create aesthetically pleasing, good looking items. Toys and mechanical items are one option, and it is already possible to buy 3D printed jewellery and clothing, which means that it is not only possible to design your own but existing plans and designs also exist.
Perhaps one of the most convenient and functional uses of 3D printing in the home is for DIY, and specifically for the replacement of damaged parts and objects. Rather than having to send off for small replacement parts, typically only costing a small amount to buy but becoming increasingly expensive when you include the cost of shipping, you would be able to download the plans and print the item off yourself.
It seems likely that manufacturers will eventually rely on this as a means of offering these parts.
Consumers will be able to print parts off instantly, follow the specifications provided by the manufacturer, and will have the plans readily available as and when they need to replace these parts.
What’s Next For 3D Printing?
The 3D printing of plastic items has already become more accessible and affordable, but we should see increased options in this area. Recyclable materials, devices that enable us to recycle existing 3D printed devices, and access to a greater range of 3D plans will help increase the benefits that 3D home printing offers.
Printers that print metal and other materials will also become accessible and affordable, and once this happens, the possibilities become truly endless, perhaps only limited by our imagination.
While the options might be somewhat limited at the moment, the options do still exist and they are increasing. 3D printing remains an exciting proposition for many of us.
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