3D printers: every home should have one
Mark Prigg, Science and Technology Editor
16 Jan 2012
It is the technological revolution that could put a tiny factory in each living room. 3D printers can be used to make everything from a new necklace to a replacement car part – all without having to leave the house.
Owners can either replicate the item they want by taking pictures of it, or use a 3D scanner to create a highly accurate model to copy. However, 3D printers are about far more than just replicating items, and owners can also create items from scratch using 3D design software on their computer, or download from thousands of pre-made designs online.
The gadgets work like a normal inkjet printer but, rather than ink, use cartridges of plastic. When heated up, the molten plastic is sprayed on to a base in a very thin layer. Once it has cooled, another layer is printed on top, and the process repeated until your item gradually emerges, layer by layer. Experts say the process can be used for almost anything. Dearer printers can even produce objects made of glass, metal and ceramics.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, several firms were showing their latest printers, from the 850 Cubify to the 1,200 Makerbot replicator. D Systems, which makes the Cubify, says the printers could end up everywhere, and aims to create a 350 printer. Makerbot’s 320x467x381mm Replicator weighs 3.6kg and prints in two colours.
And if you can’t afford your own printer, there are several firms who can print it for you and post it.
French firm Sculpteo has invested heavily in industrial 3D printers that use not just glass but also ceramics.
It even has an iPhone app for creating your designs, and can make a vase based on the profile of a user’s head. Online printing firm Shapeways also has a catalogue of thousands of objects, from iPhone cases to toys that people can order, tweak, then print.
However, 3D printing does have more practical uses. Mark Frame, an orthopedic surgical trainee at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, recently used 3D printing firm Shapeways and CT-scan information to create a 3D model of a fractured forearm to practise an operation.
Instead of the normal 780, the Shapeways model cost just 78, and Frame was able to complete the surgery successfully.
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