Seven Practical Applications of 3D Printing

A few decades ago, nobody thought two-dimensional printing using desktop printers would be possible. But that impossibility eventually became not only possible, but completely normal. And now it’s 3D printers’ turn.

They are slowly becoming part of office networks in some key industries and it will not be long before these printers will find their way into households being used by ordinary consumers.

The concept of 3D printing may sound like something out of science fiction, but by now you know it is definitely real. Basically, it works using inkjet technology, and fine powder such as plaster, resin and cornstarch that is used to build 3D models layer by layer in cross-sections based on a set of digital blueprints that tells the printer what to create. Hundreds of materials are available for printing objects and the technology continues to grow and develop.

But 3D printers wouldn’t be able to catch on unless there are practical applications for what they are able to create. Professionals across many fields of expertise have found practical uses for 3D printing.

A few examples of these practical applications of 3D printing are as follows:

Engineering. Engineers always need to create prototypes of whatever products or designs they are working on. It’s one thing to see your proposed product in a two dimensional drawing (or even a three dimensional computer model on a screen), but it’s quite another to be able to hold it in your hands.

In the old days (yeah, I said it), prototypes could take weeks and a lot of manpower to create because they would be made manually, involving a lot of cutting and piecing together paper, wood and other materials to create the required prototype. Through 3D printing, however, engineers only need to make a 3D graphic image of the design they are working on and have it rendered using a 3D printer in usually just a few hours.

Architecture. Just like with engineers, architects need to create mockups of their designs, which in this case are often huge structures. 3D printers allow them to come up with these mockups in a short period of time and with a higher degree of accuracy than anything they had previously been able to use (often clay). These 3D models, of course, also make it easier to visualize a design rather than just by looking at plans and drawings.

Advertising and marketing. Advertisers and marketers need their clients to have a solid idea of the products they are selling. And what better way to make sure an idea is concrete in someone’s mind than by giving them the ability to hold it (or a model of it, anyway). Creating 3D models of their products gives them an edge that can boost their sales by just giving them something they can hold. Hey, touch is a powerful thing.

Education. Learning needs to be not only visual, but tactile in order to become effective, especially in subjects such as chemistry, engineering, history, physics and general science. 3D printing allows teachers to create more accurate visual aids for their lessons, and these visual aids can entice students to learn more about the subject matter. And how cool would it be for a teacher to be talking about something one day (maybe the ships that brought Christopher Columbus to America, for example) and then the next day actually have a physical representation of that ship for the kids to hold! And not one ordered from a catalogue or something, just one that was printed … right there in the classroom … on the teacher’s desk, maybe. You may never hear kids complain about school again!

Medicine. There are many medical cases where surgical procedures can be a touch-and-go thing. These procedures can be so complicated that a single error could lead to failure and, ultimately, loss of life for the patient. Many surgeons now use 3D renderings of the part of their patient’s body that they need to operate on to practice the procedure they need to perform before actually performing it.

This gives them more confidence to do the procedure and increases their chances of success in the operation by helping them to visualize the organ or other body part because they’ve actually been able to handle it outside of the body and see all sides of it.

Archaeology and paleontology. These two fields both deal with relics and remains that are often too delicate and valuable to handle. In order to prevent damage to these relics and remains when they are being handled or studied, 3D replicas are made instead. And 3D printing is much easier than making plaster casts of relics/bones, although this method is still widely used. Using a 3D printed models also allows more scientists to study a single object at the same time.

Forensic pathology. Those of us who are fans of crime shows such as CSI and NCIS know that investigating a crime scene and examining evidence can be a very complicated process (in reality it’s much much much more difficult than is presented in these slick and quick TV shows). 3D printing helps a lot in such forensic investigations by enabling investigators print models of evidence to use in re-enactments etc. without having to use the actual evidence.

There are so many applications of 3D printing today. They may have been part of yesterday’s science fiction, but now, they are certainly part of our reality and will continue to be even more in the future.

This Article is written by John C Arkin, contributor of PrintCountry Articles.

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