Technology in the 21st century continues to make us think twice before we actually can believe it is in fact there. The latest trend being 3D printers, and yes, you read that right. Scientists and engineers have invented a product that can help print out something very similar to the real deal. Here’s how it works: the machine reads the design from an .stl file and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, paper or sheet material to build the model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross sections from the CAD model, are joined or automatically fused to create the final shape. The primary advantage of this technique is its ability to create almost any shape or geometric feature. Visually it looks like a like a hot-glue gun attached to a robotic arm. But instead of squeezing out glue, the tube extrudes plastic.
Now you may be wondering about how much the average 3D printer might be. The estimated cost is about $300,000. However Jonathan Fincher, a writer for Gizmag.com, doesn’t think this will be the case for long. As of right now Fincher explains 3D printers are only accessible from “specialist stores and online shops” and that you couldn’t just “waltz into your local office supply store and pick one up along with a pack of manila folders and paperclips.”
Until prices start to decrease, the average American household will only be able to read about this new trend. NASA has been on board with this new technology from day one. They are preparing a launch of a 3D printer into space next year. The printer is the size of a toaster oven. It also greatly reduces the need for astronauts to load up with every tool, spare part or supply they might ever need. “Any time we realize we can 3D print something in space, it’s like Christmas,” inventor Andrew Filo said, who is consulting with NASA on the project. “You can get rid of concepts like rationing, scarce or irreplaceable.” The idea of a machine that could shrink the size of valuable space tools for astronauts is a huge breakthrough in science.
The price of a 3D printer could be beneficial for society as a whole. This technology is a good thing if used for the right cause, but it can also be used in a negative way. Cody Wilson, a Texan law student, actually created a 3D gun replica. The United States Army immediately called for the tutorial to be removed online. It was removed after being downloaded over 100,000 times. Imagine if a terrorist group received the right information to produce not only hand guns but nuclear warfare. The result could be catastrophic. The United States needs to monitor where these printers are being sold and for what reasons.
Properly sold, these printers can begin to take a giant step forward in fighting world hunger. Hod Lipson, a Cornell engineering professor and 3D expert, conducted an experiment. His idea was to create his very own 3D meal, to create plates, forks, place mats, napkins rings, candlesticks — and, of course, 3D-printed food. The only problem is expenses; each piece of plastic cost about 50 dollars. The machine tends to overheat so the amount of objects you can print out will depend on how your machine reacts to its job.
Lipson also believes that if used properly, the new Facebook trend will be to replicate yourself. The social network would explode with the idea that you can replicate anything that comes to mind. The entire 3D printer is fascinating. If used properly, many problems around the world could be solved by a simple click of the button. The negative of that is all of the world’s problems could be started with one simple click as well. Technology is growing to benefit human life. We need to take advantage of that privilege and combat problems not create them.