Jewelry, egg cups, vases or piggy banks – just “print” and presto, you’ve got a real, three-dimensional object. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s actually possible with a 3D printer. And one day, they might be as common as mobile phones.
The 3D printer is on the rise. More and more companies in the Netherlands, such as Shapeways in Eindhoven, see the convenience and practicality of using a printer to create a three-dimensional object. And they’re not just for big corporations, a 3D printer might just be coming to a home near you.
And then this conversation might not be so far-fetched:
Him: "Honey, the guests are almost here, is everything ready?"
Her: "The food is in the oven, the table is set, but I'm looking for something to tie it all together."
Him: “Why don’t you print out a new chandelier? Maybe put our names on it, that would be cool! "
A 3D print job begins with a model that you create on your computer. If you're creative enough, you can design your own items with free software like Google SketchUp or Blender. If you’re a little less tech-savvy, you can adapt an existing model - for example, by adding your own text.
Think outside the mould
The model is then printed out, layer by layer. Each layer is 0.1 millimetre thick and is printed on the layer below, until the object is complete. One benefit of the 3D printer is that it allows you to make plastic items that could never be made the normal way using a mould.
The birdcage in the video above is one example. But there are even hearing aids and crowns printed in 3D. Depending on the equipment, objects can be printed in different materials – nylon, sand, glass or even gold!
Right now, if you want to have something printed in 3D, you can have it made and delivered by a professional company like Shapeways or ProtonSpace. It’s also possible to buy your own home printer, but they’re still pretty pricey; the HP 3D printers start at € 13,000.
For DIYers, there will soon be another solution: the Ultimaker kit – not yet on the market – will allow you to assemble your own 3D printer. At € 1200 it might not be cheap, but it’s a lot more accessible for the average enthusiast.