We mentioned in our 2014 Tech Trends analysis that 3D printing was set to be a hot topic this year, with the cost of the technology finally dipping low enough that companies and consumers alike have begun experimenting with and pushing the limits of these devices. We're only a month into 2014, and already this has been a very exciting year for 3D printers, as evidenced by the following links:
- 3D Printer manufacturer MarkForged, seeking a better way of producing racecar parts, has invented a device capable of printing with carbon fiber, fiberglass, nylon, and thermoplastic
The main advantage of the Mark One: It can print parts 20 times stiffer and five times stronger than ABS, according to the company. It even has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than CNC-machined aluminum. The racecar wing supports, for example, are printed with a nylon outershell and honeycomb structure, with a carbon fiber reinforced core. Mark says that he imagines this machine is for anybody who wants to print in a material as strong as aluminum. Beyond racecars, it could be useful to industries like prosthetics.
All we want to know is: how long until we can print a 3D printer using a 3D printer?
One thing we can do in the meantime, thanks to Honda, is print our own Acura concept cars:
- Honda makes printing files of past concept cars available for download
The company is offering 3D printing data for five of its concept cars for free. The options include the recent NSX concept to the FSR Concept that dates back to 1994.
Printer manufacturer MakerBot made two big breakthroughs this week:
- First, the company has teamed up with Dell to begin selling their Replicator 3D line of printers alongside Dell's Precision workstation brand to businesses of all sizes
The PC maker has announced a deal in which it will resell MakerBot's Replicator 3D printers and scanners to small and medium-sized businesses.Andy Rhodes, executive director for Dell's Precision workstation brand, noted in the announcement that these advanced printers will be lined up with its machines typically targeted at professionals in architecture, engineering, and digital entertainment production.
- Second, they've launched a new printer capable of printing multiple colors and materials at once
Where normal 3D printers use a single stream of material, Objet500 Connex3 uses jets that can deliver three different liquefied resins. These can be combined in different proportions to create a range of rubbers and plastics with different levels of rigidity and flexibility.The proportions can be altered mid-print, in effect creating a single printed object made up of different materials.
So 3D printing is set to revolutionize the way we create durable goods, but what about something more... edible?
- 3D food printers have been prototyped before, but mechanical engineer Anjan Contractor has demoed one such printer that cooks ingredients as it dispenses them, and hopes the design will be used in space to give astronauts a wider array of menu choices. Video below, final product after:
What's really impressive, though, is how consumers are utilizing 3D printing to improve quality of life, especially for those with disabilities.
- Disabled persons are embracing 3D printing to create and share designs for durable, yet inexpensive wheelchair ramps, pen-holders, and other custom-tailored assistive devices
Special equipment can often be expensive as demand is relatively small. Raul Krauthausen says: "It's better to be able to print a wheelchair cup holder and make it available for 10 euros." He suggests that currently you can find yourself paying something like 100 euros for a small piece of specialist equipment manufactured and sold in the old way.
While this is great news, it's sure to spark some debate:
- ZDNet's Toby Wolpe investigates the potential political, moral, and financial ramifications of a 3D printing revolution
"The very factors that foster innovation — crowdsourcing, R&D pooling and funding of startups — coupled with shorter product life cycles, provide a fertile ground for intellectual property theft using 3D printers," Basiliere said.
"Already, it's possible to 3D print many items, including toys, machine and automotive parts, and even weapons."
In the report 3D printing at the inflection point, Gartner argues that 3D printing could create an environment where businesses and their IP licensees will struggle to make money out of their inventions.
Find any cool IT links this week? Tell us in the comments or Tweet us @NetopTech!