Weekend Coffee: The 3D Printing Revolution
For a mental health break, this weekend I wanted to write about something extremely cool: 3D printing, an emerging technological trend that's been covered by, among others, the Telegraph, the Economist, PC World, as well as right here at Big Think's IdeaFeed.
As opposed to traditional "subtractive" methods of carving or sculpting, 3D printing is an "additive" method of manufacturing that builds up solid objects one thin layer at a time. The basic concept is the same as an inkjet printer, only instead of spraying ink onto paper, 3D printers use liquids that solidify or set. Liquid plastic or resin are the usual materials, but there are others: for example, industrial 3D printers can make metal objects by laying down a pattern of metal powder and then fusing it with a high-powered laser or electron beam. You can 3D print in ceramic, glass, or concrete or other composite materials by depositing layers of sand or gravel and then spraying a binding agent. One engineering company is exploring this technology as a way to print houses. Medical research companies are developing "bio-printers" that print human tissues like blood vessels and even whole organs, one layer of cells at a time.
3D printing has long been used in industry as a means of rapid prototyping, but it's increasingly migrating into the mass market as smaller devices like the MakerBot make their way into the hands of hobbyists. Granted, the majority of 3D-printed objects so far are plastic tchotchkes, but the technology has far greater potential. 3D printers can print objects with moving parts; with separated solid parts, like a chain; with complex porous or lattice structures; or "impossible" objects, like a solid ball inside a seamless sphere. Medical labs are using them to print artificial limbs, dental implants (including a titanium jaw implant), and shells for hearing aids. The RepRap is an open-source initiative to design a 3D printer that can print copies of itself. There's even an application called Trimensional that allows you to use an iPhone to make 3D scans of objects for later printing.
Truly revolutionary advances often come quietly at first, and I believe this is one of these. 3D printing as a technology is in its very early stages, but even in what it's accomplished so far, we can glimpse the contours of the future. What the Internet has done to the publishing industry, this technology promises to do for manufacturing: a leveling and democratizing that unleashes an explosion of creativity and innovation.
Imagine a future when every household has an advanced 3D printer on their desktop: a machine that can churn out everything from kitchen implements, to household tools, to furniture, to musical instruments, to electronics like a flash drive, an MP3 player or a smartphone. And it wouldn't just be a smartphone in one of the few models designed by Apple or the other major manufacturers, but any of thousands of models designed and customized by individuals and distributed in digital prototype files spread across the Internet. Imagine if making almost anything you could ever want for your own home was as simple as browsing a website and downloading a blueprint. It's a world we may well live to see, and I'm eagerly looking forward to it!
A new study estimated the untapped potential of wind energy across Europe.
- A new report calculated how much electricity Europe could generate if it built onshore wind farms on all of its exploitable land.
- The results indicated that European onshore wind farms could supply the whole world with electricity from now until 2050.
- Wind farms come with a few complications, but the researchers noted that their study was meant to highlight the untapped potential of the renewable energy source in Europe.
French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
- The French government initially invested in a rural solar roadway in 2016.
- French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
- Solar panel "paved" roadways are proving to be inefficient and too expensive.
You want one. Now you may be able to survive one.
Photo credit: Jie Zhao / Getty contributor
- Cats live in a quarter of Western households.
- Allergies to them are common and can be dangerous.
- A new approach targets the primary trouble-causing allergen.