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We are entering a new epoch of 3-D printing

3D-printers will change our lives

We live on the brink of a new epoch ― the epoch of 3-D printing, where unusual 3D-printers don’t print texts, but rather manufacture three-dimensional objects. In the foreseeable future they will change our lives just like the Internet and mobile phones did.

What is a 3D-printer?A 3D-printer is a printing device able to create a three-dimensional model from a design project, and to bring it into the real world by means of special materials. The printing process usually involves laying layers of material one over another. It’s similar to Lego pieces: you place them on a foundation and build higher and higher until the construction is completed. Thus any object gets embodied in three dimensions. The revolutionary aspect of 3D-printing is that it creates volume rather than surface.

During the 3D-printing process layers are laid graduallyDuring the 3D-printing process layers are laid gradually, photo WEB

There are different types of 3D-printers. At present, the most common process is creating objects layer-by-layer. The layers are laid gradually; starting with the foundation they cover the entire height of an object being manufactured. In this case, the procedure is fulfilled through the additive production technology, the so-called SLS ― selective laser sintering.

Another way to do it involves heating of appropriate materials. As a rule, the process utilizes metal powders or thermoplastic substances, which should be positioned accordingly. This technique is called FDM — fused deposition modeling. Coiled plastic or metal threads are gradually unwinding in the course of printing. Industrial processes also make use of the laminating technique ― laminated object manufacturing. During this process, the upper layer undergoes laser etching before being placed onto the lower layer.

Within the recent years, the need has arisen to make 3D-printing less expensive and miniaturized mechanical components has been developed; these advances made the printing process much simpler.

The materials primarily used for printing include thermoplastics (for FDM) and photopolymers. Laser sintering (SLS) is often implemented by means of metal-based compounds that ensure the durability of the resulting objects.

Technological development has rapidly led to developing such novel materials as carbon fibers. It is also important to differentiate between the materials abbreviated as PLA and ABS. PLA ― PolyLactic Acid ― is a biodegradable material derived from corn starch. ABS ― Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene ― is a product of crude oil processing with superior mechanical durability.

PolyLactic Acid thread for 3D-printersPolyLactic Acid thread for 3D-printers, photo WEB

Generally, 3D-printer cartridges include fibers used for printing. Pricing of such cartridges is extremely diverse. The cost of printing is estimated as several euros per square centimeter, although size and complexity of a model can have decisive influence on the final production cost for a particular object.

Initially, 3D-printers proved valuable for industrial purposes. Fast and affordable prototype manufacturing grants engineers and designers an ability to touch and study their creations without having to launch an actual production process. The recent years has brought a slight change. 3D-printing is becoming a wide-spread domestic convenience; its capabilities are limited by designer’s imagination and the size of an available printer. Sometimes this technology serves as an artistic medium. For instance, Iris van Herpen, a designer from the Netherlands, has dressed her models in fully 3D-printed clothes.

Clothes by Iris van Herpen from the Netherlands is 3D-printedClothes by Iris van Herpen from the Netherlands is 3D-printed, photo WEB

What is more, these technologies are becoming a point of interest for medical implementation ― it is now possible to print prosthetic devices and even entire artificial organs. Already the studies have been conducted addressing tissue and blood vessels reproduction for implantation procedures in cases when traditional methods are ineffective.

In the future, houses will also be 3D-printed. Such projects seem “extraterrestrial”, but Apis Cor and PIK Group have already erected the first 3D-printed house in Stupino, Moscow region. So the house exists, and in 2016 the hardware startup of Apis Cor was recognized as the best project, winning the Startup of the Year award of the Higher School of Economics University. Thus, we can colonize Mars in an easier and less expensive manner!

In Russia, Apis Cor and PIK Group have printed the first houseIn Russia, Apis Cor and PIK Group have printed the first house, photo WEB

3D-printers continue to evolve and they will be used on a grander scale due to further cost reduction. And once the market is saturated, the production of cartridges will take the leading role just as it happened with conventional printers.

Soon, the quality of objects will be determined by creative potential, while it will be possible to manufacture anything by a single push of a button. Well, the time will tell if we are right!

Compiled and translated from Italian by Giulia Ilina