3D printing creates physical objects from digital 3D models, usually by laying down layers of material.
This process is often called additive manufacturing, or AM for short.
3D printed objects begin as models created in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file.
Many such models can be freely downloaded from the internet.
3D printing is exploding in the popular consciousness, and is even in the movies.
Tony Stark of Iron Man owns a Dimension Elite printer, and many of the movie props were made with 3D printing.
The global market for 3D printers and services is at
Revenue from 3D printer sales is expected to rise in the next 3 years.
Shipments of 3D printers are expected to rise 95 percent by 2017.
Over 50,000 people currently benefit from customized surgical equipment made with 3D printers.
A 3D printer is a kind of industrial robot that deposits powdered raw materials in layers, similar to a paper inkjet printer.
The printer “cuts” the digital model into 2D slices and then assembles the object slice by slice.
There are several different technologies used in 3D printing:
Selective laser sintering (SLS) uses lasers to fuse particles of plastic, metal, ceramic or glass into three-dimensional shapes.
Fused deposition modelling (FDM) unwinds plastic filament or metal wire from a coil, which then melts and is extruded to form layers.
Stereolithography (SLA) uses a vat of resin and an ultraviolet laser to build objects one at a time. The laser traces a pattern on the surface of the resin, and the exposure to UV light causes the resin to solidify into a 3D shape.
Aerospace, architecture, automotive and defence companies use 3D printers to build replacement parts. For example, General Electric uses a high-end printer to build turbine parts.
The Leap engine printed with this technology is several hundred pounds lighter than an average turbine, meaning reduced fuel consumption of 15%.
3D printing is used in rapid prototyping by many industries.
Companies like Nokia have released 3D designs for its phone cases so users can have custom phone cases printed.
Companies such as MYKITA use 3D printing to customise eyewear for their customers, generating 20 percent of its revenue ($4.8 million/ approximately £3.1 million) from 3D printed eyewear.
Organizations like Cornell Creative Machines Lab are experimenting with 3D printed food, which is squeezed out of extruders into custom shapes.
3D printing has been used to manufacture custom prosthetics for humans and animals, such as a 3D printed foot that let a duckling walk again and a 3D printed prosthetic hand for a girl in the UK. A 3D printed heart also aided in a heart surgery performed on an infant in New York.
Chinese company WinSun 3D printed a five-story apartment building, which took a day to print and five days to assemble.
WinSun also printed a 12,000 square foot mansion using recycled stone and construction waste.
As a follow-up in March 2014, WinSun 3D printed ten houses in one day.
WinSun followed up again by printing an entire apartment building with six floors and a villa, 1100 square meters large.
20 feet tall
33 feet wide
132 feet long
(3d Printer dimensions)
If traditional construction methods were used it would take 30 people three months. Costs are halved.
Researchers in Berkeley are working on a 3D printing method for building a 2500 foot house in 20 hours.
In March of 2015, the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design created the first and largest (to date) powder-based 3D printed cement structure, made from 840 precisely printed bricks.
In July 2014, Dutch company DUS Architects claimed to be building the first 3D printed canal house using bio-plastics made from rapeseeds. The company is using the KamerMaker, a shipping container-sized printer that can print entire rooms at once.
Dutch architect has designed an “endless” 3D printed house in the shape of a Mobius strip, inspired by Escher, which would cost $5.3 million (£3.5million) to construct.
Former Google SketchUp developer Eric Schimelpfenig has created WikiHouse, an open source construction kit that allows users to download, customize, and print their own house.
A California company called Emerging Objects has created an earthquake-resistant pillar using 3D printing.
Swiss project “Digital Grotesque” is an 11-ton, 16 square meter room 3D printed entirely out of sand. It features 260 million surfaces and took 13 months to complete.
Industrial machines, such as those used by GE, cost upward of $500,000 (approximately £335,000) apiece.
Six years ago, the average home 3D printer cost £20,000, some well above £60,000. Today, one can get a 3D printer for around £1000.
Companies such as RepRap produce free, open-source 3D printers for consumer use.
RepRap machines can print their own replacement parts, and the plans for RepRaps are open-source and free, meaning an owner of a RepRap can print another RepRap.
US 3D printing experts predict a growth of $3.1 billion in 3D printing by 2016, with the UK placing as the fifth largest country for 3D printer usage.
Currently, mass-produced parts made with injection molding are made much faster than 3D printed parts... a few seconds as compared to hours or as much as a day.
Additive manufacturing raw materials produce less waste, weigh less, and are less costly to produce and transport than traditional manufacturing methods.
3D printing is currently cheaper and faster on a small scale, but more expensive and slower on a large scale. For example:
5000 x = 121 DAYS (3D printing $1.03/£0.67 per part)
15 DAYS (Traditional injection moulding and only $0.85/£0.55 per part)
There isn’t much hard data yet on how 3D-printed products compare to traditionally manufactured ones in terms of energy use, transportation costs, pollution and other potential environmental impacts over their lifetime.
Much of the current 3D printing stock is currently reliant on non-recycled plastic. Organizations like the Michigan Technological University's Open Sustainability Technology research group has found that using materials like recycled milk jugs for printing stock takes only 1/10th the energy required to make commercial filament.
The Dutch canal house project is undergoing study and testing to find “green” materials for its construction. They plan to construct the building with a filament made of 80% vegetable oil.
Italian designer Massimo Moretti is developing a printer that will create a sustainable house from powdered earth.
3D printed construction is still only as sustainable as the raw materials used in construction, and more studies into the long-term sustainability must still be done.
The first SLA (stereolithographic apparatus) is produced by 3D Systems.
The machine can produce complex machine parts overnight.
The first lab-grown organ, created with a 3D-printed synthetic scaffold, is implanted in a human.
Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute 3D print working kidney tissue.
Laser sintering (SLS) machines enter use in the industrial sector.
The first self-replicating printer is released by RepRap.
Engineers at University of Southampton design and fly the first 3D-printed aircraft.
National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Ohio is awarded $30 million from President Obama.
3Dprinting.com – What is 3D printing
3D printer.net– free 3D models
3D printer.net - 3D printing to make jet engines lighter, more efficient
Bbc.co.uk - Nokia backs 3D printing for mobile phone cases
Bbc.co.uk - Inverness girl Hayley Fraser gets 3D-printed hand
Bloomberg.com - A Guide to All the Food That's Fit to 3D Print (So Far)
Cfr.org - 3D Printing: Challenges and Opportunities for International Relations
Createitreal.com - 3D printing process
Edie.net - 3D printing and sustainability: the jury is out
Efunda.com - Rapid prototyping
Ehow.com - How does 3D printing work?
Find3dprinter.com - 3D printing in movies
Firstamericanplastic.com - 10 3D printing statistics
Forbes.com - Custom Eyewear: The Next Focal Point For 3D Printing?
Ge.com - Additive manufacturing
Iflscience.com - 3D-Printed Heart Helps Save A Newborn Baby's Life
Mashable.com - 3D-Printed Foot Lets Crippled Duck Walk Again
Nydailynews.com - Chinese company uses 3D printers to build houses, mansions
Theengineer.co.uk - The rise of additive manufacturing
Wikipedia.com - 3D printing
archdaily.com - Why 3D Printing Is Not As Sustainable As Its Defenders Say
3dprinting.com - WinSun 3D Printed Giant Apartment Building and Villa
3dprinting.com - Future Talk: 3D Printing An Entire House In Only 20 Hours
3dprinting.com - This 3D Printed Column Can Withstand an Earthquake
3dprinting.com - Architects Create Artistic Room Using a 3D Printer
3Dprinthq.com - 3D Printer Prices are Lowering
Ce.org – The History of 3D printing
blog.odysen.com - 10 Interesting facts about 3D Printing
earthisland.org - Can We 3D Print our Way to Sustainability?
ecomagination.com - A Sustainability Scorecard for 3D Printing
greenbuildingelements.com - Introducing the 3D Printed Sustainable Home
industrialmold.com - Injection Molding vs. 3D Printing
Inhabitat.com - 12,000-square-foot 3D-printed mansion pops up in China
Inhabitat.com - UC Berkeley unveils 3D-printed "Bloom" building made of powdered cement
Inhabitat.com World’s First 3D-Printed House is Being Built In Amsterdam
Inhabitat.com SketchUp's Open-Source 3D-Printable WikiHouse Snaps Together Like Lego Bricks
nydailynews.com - Dutch architect to build house with 3D printer
trowe.com - A brief history of 3D printing
Reprap.org - RepRap
Redorbit.com - The History of 3D Printing - http://bit.ly/1lJW7Zo
Theguardian.com - 3D-printed cities: is this the future? http://bit.ly/1FYs4KB