If you talk to most engineering experts, they will tell you that 3D printing represents one of the most significant developments ever seen in the manufacturing industry.

For those who are still unsure about 3D printing or as it’s more professionally called, additive manufacturing, the following quote, perhaps, provides the best possible explanation.

“3D printing moves us away from the Henry Ford era mass production line and will bring us to a new reality of customizable, one-off production.”

It makes sense. Rather than making something by sticking lots of small parts together, a 3D printer can build complicated items in one piece.

Still confused? Well, here’s a brief explanation of what 3D printing is all about.

Had your washing machine have broken down in years gone by, your first job would be to  place an order for a new part, with your repairman. In turn, the repairman would request the part from the distributor. The distributor gets the part shipped from China, where they mass-produced thousands of them at once, probably injection-moulded from a very expensive mould.

Those days are fast giving way to a far more simple solution. For those with a 3D printer, you can simply 3D print the part in your own home, from a CAD file you downloaded.

What is a 3D printer

3D printers use a variety of very different types of additive manufacturing technologies, but they all share one core thing in common. 3D printing creates a three dimensional object by building it layer by successive layer, until the entire object is complete. It’s much like printing in two dimensions on a sheet of paper, but with an added third dimension.

Each of these printed layers is a thinly-sliced, horizontal cross-section of the eventual object. Imagine a multi-layer cake, with the baker laying down each layer one at a time until the entire cake is formed.

3D printing in the future

Two food-creating 3D printers that will launch later this year have already been unveiled in Las Vegas.

The machines make chocolate and sugar-based confectionery shaped in ways that would be difficult to produce using traditional methods.

The smaller one, Chefjet, is limited to monochrome creations, but the larger Chefjet Pro can create multicoloured objects. US firm 3D Systems has been showing off the machines at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Exciting times for the industry.

What’s your view of where 3D priniting is going? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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