3D printing is a technology that has completely revolutionized business markets

3D printing is a technology that has completely revolutionized business markets, the medical field, and so much more. Over the years, it has become more commercialized, and readily available to the general public. There is a plethora of mixed opinions on where the future of the technology is headed. Some think that it is a science that will completely reshape our future, and some think that is nothing but a mere overpriced toy. This article will discuss 3D printing—what it is, how it works, what applications it can be used for, safety issues related to the technology, and even my own opinion regarding 3D printing. (106 words)
What is 3D printing? When we print something, we often think of printing something that is flat—two dimensional— much like we would an essay on a piece of paper to turn in to our professors. 3D printing is a technology that allows us to utilize certain materials to build or print solid, three-dimensional objects. 3D printing was developed by Michael Sima and Emanuel Sachs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The original intent of the development was to revolutionize the manufacturing industry by giving entrepreneurs, inventors, and scientists a cheaper and more available way to construct prototypes of their ideas. The technology is an inverted twist on the traditional process of manufacturing prototypes where a machine takes a large piece of material that is then sculpted down into the intended design—this process is called subtractive manufacturing. The process that is used by the 3D printing technology is called additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing works in reverse to that of subtractive manufacturing, meaning opposed to carving an object out of a solid piece of material, it is built from the ground up by adding thin layers of material on top of each other until the design is created. For example, A three-dimensional design or representation of an object is taken and uploaded into a computer software, that design is then manipulated into small horizontal sections and sent to the printer. The printer then takes the design and creates a three-dimensional solid object of the design by adding consecutive layers of a liquid basin on top of a layer of powder material in which the object is made. The powder material and the liquid basin are bound together forming the solid object. The glue-like substance is added to the powder layer by layer on a horizontal X and Y axis until the final product of the digital design is complete. Even though the original intent of the 3D printer was invented as an innovative way to prototype, it has since been licensed and developed to function and be used in an abundance of different ways. (345 words)
3D printing is used in a variety of fields and professions. These include fields such as the following: the automotive industry, healthcare, business, manufacturing, engineering, etc. One application of 3D printing is being conducted on the International Space Station in coordination with the Made in Space and Marshall Space Flight Program. In September of 2014, NASA set up a special zero-gravity 3D printing machine on the International Space Station. As you could imagine the International Space Station doesn’t access to things like Amazon or eBay or any kind of retailer where they can order replacement parts and have them delivered in 2-3 business days. So, the purpose of this machine is to build replacement parts for important equipment on the space station, all while it floats through the endlessness of outer space. This technology makes it extremely convenient and cost-effective for NASA to make repairs on the International Space Station while they are orbiting the Earth. Secondly, 3D printing has made its way into the healthcare field as well. For example, a research engineer has developed a pediatric robotic exoskeleton. More specifically a Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX—pictured at the beginning of the paragraph). The device named after the place from which it was designed—the Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in New Castle County, Delaware. The WREX is a device made of hinged metal bars and resistance bands that fit to children born with the inability to move on their own. The WREX is just one of many examples. Devices such as the WREX will allow children that were born with certain disabilities a chance at normalcy and an enhanced quality of life that they would have had otherwise. Lastly, one of the largest uses of the 3D printing technology comes from the business and manufacturing industry. In business, 3D printing is being used to build tools and fixtures that can then be used to construct other products and appliances. The types of appliances that are being created with 3D printing are being used to make the manufacturing and assembly process much easier and more efficient. These fixtures can be printed out in a small volume and run through a trial where it is tested, and if it passes the test trial, it can then be committed to mass production. Productions of these fixtures can cost millions of dollars, and if it ends up not working after it has already been committed to mass production it can be quite costly for companies. So, being able to commit it to production on a small scale and have a test trial ran on it is much more cost effective for companies in the long run—you see companies such as General Electric engaging in this process with 3D printing. As you can see, 3D printing has a variety of applications and can make things in certain fields and industries much more efficient in many ways. (485 words)
Like with most technology, certain hazards, safety and environmental issues can become a problem. So, what are some safety issues, and the hazards associated with 3D printing? Do the downfalls of this technology outweigh its benefits? One article writes that since 3D printing technology has made its way into the homes of many people for personal use, you have almost a weekly array of stories coming out regarding the hazards associated with 3D printing. One hazard associated with this technology happens during the printing process. In some forms of 3D printing, during the jetting process of the where the ink or liquid basin that binds to the other supporting material which eventually gives you your finished product, undergoes a step where it is exposed to ultraviolet light polymerization that can cause hazardous decomposition materials to be released in to the air, in which it can then be breathed in by those nearby. There have also been other reports of extremely small, ultrafine particles and chemicals related to the utilization of 3D printing that has presented certain adverse side effects upon ongoing exposure to those certain materials/chemicals. Although only limited air samples have been taken and reported— there are known potential environmental risk factors associated with commercial grade 3D printing. Apart from hazardous materials associated with commercial 3D printing affecting the air quality around those who use it, issues and hazards can also arise from personal misuse of 3D printing machines. An example of this can be 3D printing being used to create weapons, such as guns. Many current news stories have reported a rise in 3d printers being used to create firearms recently. While an American’s right to bear arms is protected under the United States’ Constitution; 3D printing a gun for personal use can violate many state and federal gun laws, and possibly allow a gun to get into the hands of someone with impure motives. Although the quality of these guns being printed is not yet great—handling a firearm of any kind can be dangerous without proper technique and safety training. In conclusion, there are certain environmental hazards associated with the use of a 3D printer, but I believe larger hazards arise from the misuse of 3D printing technology—much like the ones that arise when objects such as firearms are being printed, not only does it violate most of the state, and federal guidelines to purchasing a gun, but handling something like a firearm without the proper training needed to operate it safely can result in serious injury and bodily harm in the person misusing the weapon and the people around it. (436 words)
In closing, the technology of 3D printing has refashioned business and manufacturing in America, and globally. In my own personal opinion, it is a limitless technology, and it will continue to reshape the way we do things, but it isn’t a foolproof technology. However, with the innovation that is being brought out from markets all over the world—the quality and applications for 3D printing will only grow. The idea of 3D printing was thought of originally to restructure manufacturing, and allow the process of creating prototypes to become more efficient—and it did—but it has since advanced and made its way into healthcare, aerospace engineering, and entrepreneurial markets and matured the way they operate as well. Although environmental and safety issues have arisen from the widespread use of 3D printing, these can be minimized with proper regulation and safety precautions, so that our economy and community can benefit from the use of this brilliant technology. The future is bright for 3D printing, and with proper guidance, this technology will continue to transform the world around us. (178 Words)(Total word count: 1,550)