The world is changing, as it always has and technology is often at the forefront of this change and 3D printing technology is helping to move the needle forward. Through the recent paradigm shift that is COVID-19, 3D printing has gained the recognition that has brought it into the spotlight as an adaptive technology. The use of 3D printers to help provide essential workers (health-care professionals) with face shields and ear-savers and mask housings has been documented and praised by local and national media outlets. These and other useful 3D printing products are most often the work of those within the 3D printing community, a community which is numerous and strong. Various sites such as Thingiverse, My Mini-Factory, National Institute of Health (NIH) and Instructables provides the end user with prints that are functional and ready to print. Check out All3DP which provides an extensive list of sites to visit.
In a recent VICE News episode, the topic centered on 3D printing and how it is changing the way in which manufaction and production is happening. The episode also looks at the advancement of human tissue/organs being developed with specialized 3D printers that utilize cellular materials taken from the patient. Since the 2009, when the patent for key 3D printing methodology expired, the race was then on to create cheaper, smaller 3D printing devices. Though we may still be a ways away from having the small 3D printer, that can print anything in the home on demand, the expanse of 3D printing in product development and manufacturing is becoming ubiquitous. The use of 3D printers in industry and commercial manufactiong is allowing product development to happen at faster intervals favoring rapid prototyping which can provide almost instant feedback concerning design, capability, strength and cost. This will allow companies to look at mass production under one roof which will also provide cost saving opportunities and provide smaller start-ups with options to increase their initial success .
One of the key aspects of what is being touted as the 4th industrial revolution falls under the umbrella of accessible advanced material 3D printing. Designers/engineers now have the capability to use machine learning to help design parts and components based on efficiency and strength. Often the resulting designs mimic biological shapes based on where materials will need to be distributed to provide the best fit. These designs will give way to new forms and alternative engineering designs that until now were previously unattainable through mass production, now can be produced through the use of metal 3D printing.
So where do we go from here...? To Mars of course! The use of 3D printers will be paramount to the success of manned missions to Mars and beyond. Currently there is a 3D printer on the International Space Station that astronauts use to 3D print tools that they may need to use in maintenance and repairs. The machine also recycles the tools to reuse the filament to produce new/different tools as needed. This closed-loop of 3D printing efficiency is one of the most attractive components for it's use at the space station and future planetary missions. NASA is 100% behind the use of 3D printing as an essential component to our exploration beyond low Earth orbit. That's quite an endorsement!
In the past 10+ years the "futuristic" 3D printer/device has begun to grow up and become a staple in advancing manufacturing, health, space exploration, safety, education, gaming and entertainment. With the continued engagement of a dedicated 3D printing community, industrial,
and medical applications, the future of 3D printing is solid!