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May 31, 2012

Future Tech: 3D Printing

Here at Nokia Connects there was a little confusion when I mentioned 3D printing. “What’s that?” and “How does it work?” were just two of many questions I heard. I’ll admit, it was a bit of a mystery to me until I started looking into it. And it is brilliant.

What would you make with a 3D printer? Here’s our vision (printer image via kakissel)

To understand the world of 3D printing a little better, I turned to John Biehler – a Vancouver resident who has embraced the technology and all it has to offer. I asked him how much a typical ‘thing’ costs to print:

‘[It] really depends on what you include in the costing. For something small, it can cost 10 cents to print but take 10 hours to design’

John says he typically budgets around $70-80CAD per kg of plastic used if he has already designed the part. He makes some pretty awesome stuff, he’s a ‘very talented amateur’ (my description). Huge props given to him for printing this:

via John Biehler

But what about the professionals? I turned to N.A.S.A. for more, and this look at their tool lab, where they use extremely high tech equipment (it’s N.A.S.A. what did I expect?) to manufacture tools that might be used in space. The idea is that one of these printers could be sent up on the space station, and astronauts will be able to design and manufacture tools for any job. This technology uses a powder base, not a plastic, for the manufacture:

via National Geographic

So what else is out there in the world of 3D printing? People are using nylon and even light to refine the process and make even more accurate prints.

There are many uses for 3D printing in the real world (away from tools in space and Yoda heads). Custom-fit prosthetics that are millimeter perfect instead of the old ‘it’s close enough, it will have to do’ method of fitting are actually being produced. I have heard of 3D printed hip replacements. And it is so cheap, with so little waste, that I have to say I can see it being used for every medical purpose very soon indeed.

So what do you think? What would you print if you had a shot? Let me know in the comments, or tweet your thoughts to @Nokia_Connects.