3D printers, the most popular form of industrial manufacturing, are poised to reach a tipping point in the near future.
In the next few years, companies such as HP, 3D Systems, and Stratasys are set to introduce the world’s first commercially viable 3D printer that can produce complex objects at scale and at low cost.
However, the potential of 3D-printing machines is limited by the high cost of components.
Now, though, a group of researchers is proposing a new approach to 3D print that could allow us to create 3D models of complex objects with ease.
Called “sketchbook-like” printing, the researchers have created a new, low-cost, low friction 3D laser printer that could help create more complex objects.
The team, led by James F. Miller, a professor at Harvard University and director of the Center for Industrial and Engineering Innovation at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Engineering, has proposed a technique to make 3D objects by “scraping” the filament from a printer’s motor, creating an object by simply “firing” it.
The printer’s power is converted into electrical energy that is then used to heat a molten plastic filament, creating the object.
The result is a new type of printer that, unlike existing 3D manufacturing, can create objects with no 3D modeling software or pre-made designs.
“It’s a new kind of 3d printing, and I think it’s going to change how we build, design, and manufacture things,” said Miller.
“If you can get a new 3D printed object, that’s a game-changer.”
The researchers say the method they have developed can also be used to create objects that have been previously created using traditional 3D technologies such as 3D scanning.
A previous study in the journal Nature Materials used the same method to create a 3D model of a model of the human brain, a process that took weeks and required extensive work.
“We’ve taken a lot of concepts that we’ve studied for many years and we’ve brought them to the 3D space,” said J.T. Johnson, a graduate student in Miller’s lab who was the lead author of the paper.
“This allows us to bring those concepts into the 3d space.
This is a very powerful new technology that we hope to be able to bring into the world.”
The current printer is a $1,200 device, but a new design would cost $10,000.
The researchers suggest the printer could be adapted to create complex 3D object at low-power levels, but they also acknowledge that a lot will have to change to make this new type effective.
“The technology is a long way from being perfect,” said Johnson.
“But I think this is an important step forward.
I’m very excited about the prospect of making these objects with the current 3D technology.”
The next step for the researchers is to test the method in a large-scale project, and to test it in a variety of industrial applications, including printing medical devices.
The technology could also help improve the efficiency of 3-D printing in other industries.
“These printers will allow us for the first time to print things like a prosthetic limb, or something that’s already there in the lab,” said Dr. James M. Fenn, a senior fellow in engineering at the MIT Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
“Imagine a future where we can print 3D prints of prosthetic limbs or other objects that don’t require any special technology.
The possibilities are endless.”
This is the latest in a series of research papers that have explored the potential for 3D 3D Printing to transform industrial manufacturing.
In this study, the team showed that they could 3D create complex objects using a single nozzle and a single filament.
It’s an exciting new technology and one that we can’t wait to see in the future.
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More from National Geographic: The Power of the New 3D Printers: A History of the 3-Way Printing Revolution article