The Twilight Zone TV show took us through a dimension of sight and sound.
The rock group “The Fifth Dimension” gave us some cool music back in the 1960s. The plot of a bad mystery story is said to be only one dimensional, but I am talking about 3 dimensions better known today as 3-D. We now have much more realistic 3-D movies. The real revolution though is in 3-D printing. The concept may be complicated, but the results are nothing short of miraculous.
You may ask who could come up with such an incredible idea and the answer is Charles “Chuck” Hull. The best resource for the details of his work is the website of his company 3-D Systems. They explain that back in 1983 the newest technology being sold to the public was camcorders and CDs. That is also the year that Hull invented stereolithography which is more commonly known today as 3-D printing. He started his company, 3-D Systems in 1986.
Was there really a need for his invention? Here is how it is explained on the company website: “When stereolithography was developed there was no such thing as rapid prototyping – creating a concept model, let alone a functional prototype took months and cost thousands of dollars. And while designers and engineers were using computer aided design and manufacturing software there was no method for that software to communicate to what became the very first Rapid Prototyping System, SLA-1. So Chuck and and 3-D Systems also developed the .stl format, still in use today, to complete the electronic “handshake” from the CAD software and transmit files for the printing of 3D objects.”
There were problems in developing the 3D printer. One was the fact that the lasers they used needed substantial power supplies and water cooling towers. Again from 3-D Systems website “when solid state lasers became an option, issues of wavelength compatibility persisted so Chuck took another calculated risk and reformulated the materials to launch the first Solid State Stereolithography System in 1996.” They also had to uses specialized materials in a liquid or gel form that could be extruded into the 3D product that was to be made. That took some serious chemistry to accomplish.
CAD, or computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) is the use of computer technology for design and and design documentation. CAD software replaces manual drafting with an automated process. That means the software could print the designs, but another means had to be used to actually make the prototype. Hull’s 3D printer eliminated that problem.
There are many uses for 3D printing and the one that stands out the most to me is in the medical field. A story from 3D printing.com published February 26, 2015 and written by Bertalan Mesko, MD, PhD lists “12 Things We Can 3D Print in Medicine Right Now.” Here are those 12 things. 1) Tissues with blood vessels,
2) Low-Cost Prosthetic Parts, 3) Drugs, 4) Tailor-made sensors,
5) Medical Models, 6) Bone, 7) Heart Valve,
8) Ear cartilage, 9) Medical equipment 10) Cranium Replacement, 11) Synthetic skin, 12) Organs.
Where will this technology eventually take us? I guess as far as the creative minds developing and using it can go. It has been said that they are looking toward the time when anyone will be able to have their own 3D printer just as we now have regular printers connected to our home computers. Considering how far this technology has come so far the future of 3D printing and fabricating looks limitless.
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