By Andrew Nemeth
I’ve always been watching tech news since I was a kid. My oldest brother subscribed to received annual subscriptions to Popular Science, a magazine that covered the revolved entirely on what was new in the world of science. Being the little brother, of course, I had to steal these since computers were still restricted to just business access by my parents, and hitting each other with sticks is only entertaining for so long. So as a small act of annoyance, I stole his magazines and read them because there wasn’t much else to do. Stories of the latest technology and wonders, things that seemed insane and futuristic fascinated me. One such technology that captivated my adolescent mind was three dimensional printing.
The ability to construct anything that comes to mind through a complex computer program and a bit bout of patience. This technology truly changed the landscape of fabrication, and has captured the minds of other millennials who desire to as a way to bring their ideas to life in a way that no other technology could. This technology has allowed makers and do-it-yourselfers to create custom parts.
One such example lies in a friend of mine who is absolutely obsessed with audio equipment. Anything produced in the ‘80s or ‘90s suits him more than modern technology. However the problem with this older technology is that few people still make parts for them, and any spare parts on the market sell for ridiculous amounts of money. So in order to fix one of his favorite boomboxes, he got in contact with a maker that had the required equipment to print out parts. For a modest fee got a entirely new, 3-D printed gear to fix his antiquated device.
Engineers no longer rely on pen and paper to draw up models, but can craft a prototype in a matter of minutes with Computer Aided Design programs. CAD combined with 3D printing anyone can design and produce a product. However, this process isn’t just for businesses and industrial engineers. The technology is rapidly advancing, and anyone willing to pay a few hundred dollars can pick up a beginner’s 3-D printer and get started almost immediately printing out anything from phone cases to statuettes. These basic printers use a cheap plastic that the machine melts and lays down in thin sheets according to the designer’s specifications. The layers build up as they dry eventually creating the finished model.
The simplest form of the technology has been readily adopted by hobbyists, allowing for people to experiment at home and download builds from others off websites such as Thingiverse.com. People there have engineered drone frames and sunglasses, but also items to help those with disabilities such as low budget prosthetics or handles to help with gripping various objects such as pens or keys.
3-D printing provides a promising basis for millennials to start up their own companies for a relatively cheap cost. Originally designed for cheap prototyping, 3-D printing has flourished in industrial applications allowing for businesses to fabricate objects to a specific individual’s needs. Two key examples of custom products are Feetz, a San Diego based company that produces 3-D printed shoes custom fit to a customer’s feet, and ArchForm. ArchForm allows Orthodontists to create clear teeth aligners (commonly referred to as Invisalign) perfectly designed for customers for a fraction of the cost of common aligners.
On a larger scale, printed cars are rolling out in China. XEV and Polymaker are working together to bring the first fully electric printed car to market. However, the small design and low top speed reported by CNBC suggest it’s only intended for city use.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has even experimented with 3-D printing tools for the International Space Station, creating tools that would otherwise need to be delivered to the station. NASA released a publication about the testing that states, “3-D printing serves as a fast and inexpensive way to manufacture parts on-site and on-demand, reducing the need for costly spares.”
Printing has not been restricted to just a few space flight tools. A startup company based out of Los Angeles plans to take manufacturing a step further. Relativity Space plans to take full advantage of the autonomy of 3-D printing by constructing entire rockets using their 15 foot tall metal printer dubbed “Stargate.” The goal of the company is to be able to build and launch a new rocket in less than 60 days, which would beat any other commercial spaceflight company by a matter of months.
The technology is versatile and affordable for the modern millennial and this generation is in the perfect place to create and build with it. Fabrication is no longer just restricted to high level engineers. With a bit of practice and the right programs, anyone can have their ideas print into reality.