byWill-BBY03-06-201612:05 PM - edited 03-09-201607:34 AM
Whether seeing the doctors on Grey’s Anatomy 3D print organs, or having your kid bring home a school project that they designed and printed themselves, chances are you’ve seen or maybe even tried out a 3D printer. As 3D printing becomes cheaper more and more people are getting their own 3D printers to work on their own home projects and hobbies.
Since 3D printing was first implemented in the 1980’s it has become increasingly popular due to the broad range of uses that it has. An increasing number of professional industries have been using 3D printing more and more to get work done. Engineers can use it to build models or proof of concept prototypes, architects for smaller replicas of their buildings for demonstration or modeling, contractors for small replaceable parts, even the medical industry for organ diagrams and perhaps someday fully functional complex organs like hearts or livers.
The consumer industry is no stranger to the uses of 3D printers either, many are finding out how useful a 3D printer can be in the home. Gaming hobbyists will use them to print figures for games, computer enthusiasts can create cases for smaller projects like Raspberry Pi servers or phone cases, DIYers print movable parts or custom pieces for their projects, stand and shelving for organization, replacement handles and parts for standard household items, you can even print toys and figures for yourself or your child.
The first things I said to myself when first researching 3D printing were “the cost is most likely too high,” and “isn’t this a bit too complicated to get into?” Both of these are very great questions, and for the most part the answers are no! As 3D printers keep getting more popular the price keeps getting lower for high quality printers. Right now consumer grade models can range anywhere from $349.99 to $3,000. With the cost of a roll of filament (3D printers “ink”) typically being under $50 3D printing is in some cases comparable with Inkjet printers in terms of cost and maintenance. Since this and a computer are the only things you need to get started, you can be up and running for less than that new Drone or Camera setup that you were looking at.
While the learning curve for making your own designs can be a little difficult, especially if you’re planning on making full model/piece yourself and don’t have experience with a CAD program. For the typical user there are tons of online resources like Thingiverse or YouMagine. Most of the time (as is the case with these two sites) these repositories are offered for free by the printer manufacturers themselves to help get you printing as soon as possible. With some printers like the Makerbot you can even pick a design from their site on your phone and start printing without the need for a computer. In the event that you want to print a copy of something that you already have you can pick up a 3D scanner so you don’t have to go through the hassle of making or finding a design.
3D printing has been advancing at an exponential rate and is growing more and more useful as time goes on. Even now developers are looking into ways to 3D print food, batteries, electronics, and high end medical solutions. Maybe someday we’ll even have the famous Star Trek replicators. I can’t wait to see what kind of advances are made next.