29 Aug 2013

You’ve probably already heard of 3D printing, a phenomena that stands poised to take over the future of manufacturing. 3D printing is exactly what it sounds like: the use of a machine to “print” single pieces in three dimensions by the use of extruded material. First, a designer uses a graphics program to draw a shape. Then they send the design to the printer, and makes some specifications. Then, as the layers of material stack up, they form a solid object.

3D printing can be used to make objects out of almost any material. Everything from circuits to action figures are possible. Recently, a 3D-printed stent saved a two-month old baby’s life by supporting his windpipe.

How did all this begin? In the 1980’s, 3D printing was a method of rapid prototyping, a practise that companies used to examine and play with different designs. What shape and size of button would best fit a human finger on a remote control? Would a new doorknob still be useful to people with arthritis? 3D printing could help designers find those answers in real life.

The only trouble was the expense. Early in its history, 3D printing was an expensive proposition, and only major corporations and university labs had them. But that’s all changed with the advent of open-source 3D printing. When the developers of the RepRap and Makerbot decided to open up the software and blueprints for their printers, they opened the space up for tinkerers and makers who wanted to take a more DIY approach to 3D printing. The open-source approach allows anyone to play around with the code and the design of the printer, which means that there can be all sorts of innovations in printing. In fact, the printers can even print themselves!

At TLAC, we work with a Stratasys 3D Printer that was developed in collaboration with MIT.  It uses 3D designed files like STL, OBJ, and CAD to create a tangible model. “We aim to use it for medical, real estate, and small business projects with the goal of bringing our clients a full service design, prototype, and mass printing solution.” says Miraz, CTO of TLAC

For more on the exciting possibilities of 3D printing, check out this video: