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What Do You Know About 3D Printing?

December 18, 2014

3D PrintingThough it’s been around for nearly three decades, 3D printing is finally getting the mainstream exposure it deserves. There’s a reason for that: As the technology has evolved, it’s gotten incredibly easier to print high-quality products that have virtually endless real-life applications.

Here’s how it works: At a very basic level, the 3D printing process begins with a virtual blueprint of an object. While anyone can create these plans, those who have less design skills might prefer to buy them from specialists or choose open source blueprints instead.

Once a design is selected, it’s sent to the physical 3D printing machine. You then choose what kind of material you’d like to make the object out of: plastic, metal, rubber, etc.

Since designs can be so specific, virtually any imaginable item can be created. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the global 3D printing market—which includes printer sales, materials and other services—is expected to generate $3.8 billion this year. And by 2018, that number is projected to skyrocket to $16.2 billion, growing by over 500 percent in five short years.

The growth is even easier to understand when you consider some of the technology’s applications:

  • A 16-year-old Kansas teen built a prosthetic hand for a 9-year-old family friend. The youngster was born with just a thumb and some partially-formed fingers so could only do so much with his right hand. Thanks to 3D printing technology, he can now even hold a pencil.
  • 3D printing has helped Derby, a rescue dog born with deformed legs, to run with a puppy’s excitement. Derby was rescued by an employee of a 3D printing company. The designers there wasted no time in building metal cradles and blades that help him get around like any other four-legged friend.

But the applications of 3D printing technology don’t stop there. For example, NASA is considering how 3D printing can transform life in space and assist potential colonies. On the other end of the spectrum, a Dutch company lets you create 3D models of your future kitchen prior to construction.

If you’re looking to tinker with the technology on your own, 3D printers start at about $400. The sky is the limit in terms of how much you could spend on the upper end.

But you don’t have to have your own printer to take advantage of the technology. There are companies who will print your designs for you. A quick Google search should do the trick to find the closest vendors.

Who knows? It might be time to start thinking about how 3D printing can improve your professional life, your personal life or both.

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