If You Could Print the World in 3D . . .

What would you recreate? What would you create? Imagine scanning some object in the physical world and then using a 3D printer to copy it layer by layer. Imagine creating an object in the virtual world and then bringing it to life through 3D printing.

Today, people are using 3D printing for creating customized prosthetics, jewelry . . . even kidneys, albeit not fully functional. The original King Tut has been cloned, and the copy has been displayed in New York. Architectural remnants are being scanned for posterity and countries such as Sweden are being measured through 3D scanning.  Imagine if you could go online right now and print a model of the ancient plaza through which Socrates walked.

3D Printer

3D printing has arrived; and per Scott Summit, co-founder of Bespoke Innovations, we may be less than a year away from seeing this technology at our local printers. The 3D printing process, on the surface, is fairly simple to understand:

  • Use a 3D scanner to get a physical object into digital form.
  • Manipulate the data as wanted. If you are creating something that doesn’t yet exist, use a software program to do it.
  • Use the data to instruct the 3D printer how to build the object layer by layer using materials such as resins, powders, paper, glass, metals, ceramics and others.

The technology can be as easy as using two digital cameras connected by shareware (e.g., photomodeler.com) to scan an object like you would spray paint it; using open-source software such as Blender (www.blender.com) or SketchUp (www.sketchup.com) to manipulate the data you collected; and sending your data to an online site to create your 3D model (e.g. www.shapeways.com). It can also be a lot more sophisticated and expensive – higher-end 3D scanners can cost over $100K and higher-end 3D printers, over $800K.

3D Printed Headphones

3D printing is already an influence in the marketplace and an alternative in many situations to traditional manufacturing, especially when it comes to prototyping. It offers unprecedented opportunities since design complexity does not come at a cost.

When 3D printers become as common as office copiers and desktop printers, what will you recreate or create?  What possibilities can you think of for using this technology in science, education, business, and various other areas to positively influence the quality of our lives?

In short, what kind of world would you print in 3D?

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