Three-dimensional printing has finally become affordable to where nearly anyone can have one in their home. The trouble is that inexpensive versions are still limited to fabricating small objects made from thermoplastics. Fortunately, expiring patents on alternative printing technologies means greater versatility for less money while more materials are exploited to create a profusion of new creations. Here’s some of the wilder ideas with promising futures.
Get It Together
One future trend that’s already taking shape is the idea of creating pre-assembled parts with multiple components. The two goals of this technology are to eliminate time and money-consuming assemblage and to improve object strength through the use of solid, movable interlocking parts. A simple illustration would be a ball-and-socket joint that’s currently made with either a two-piece socket built around the ball or the ball pressed into a shallow socket. 3D printing can create the finished product fully formed.
While 3D-printed clothing modeled on the old concept of chain mail along with accessories has been happening for several years now, the process is just now being effectively applied to running shoes. It’s not hard to see the advantage in constructing shoes tailored to an individual’s foot shape and movement pattern. What’s revolutionary is 3D printing also generates soles that are lightweight and supply uniform cushioning through micro-structures that can’t be produced with traditional casting techniques.
One 3D printer that won’t fit on a desktop is the Big Delta. Built in Italy, the 39 foot structure is one of many printers meant for home construction. This machine, like some others in the experimental stage, works as an enlarged version of the fused deposition modeling printer. The difference is that it deposits lumps of clay, mortar, or adobe to form walls. The intent is providing inexpensive shelter in poorer countries. Other companies are focused on using bricks or blocks.
If the house can be 3D printed, why not the car in the driveway? An experimental model was just recently printed from carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic. The vehicle, named the Strati, is a joint project between a private company and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Using an electric golf cart motor for propulsion, the car has the advantages of being highly customizable and fabricated with an extra-strong unified body instead of the typical body on frame construction of other vehicles. The plans are to ultimately produce the cars at multiple micro-factories instead of a few concentrated facilities.
There’s already a wide array of 3D printers being used for culinary purposes. Machines like the ChefJet, Choc Edge, and Foodini specialize in certain materials. Food items as diverse as chocolate, tomato paste, gelatin, and cake dough are easily handled by a printer’s nozzle since they’re viscous by nature. Even things like fruits and vegetables can be adapted by softening them. More ambitious future plans focus on things like meat using living cells as raw material.