3-D printing has taken the world by storm recently with many cool things emerging from 3-D printers. These 3-D prints can make solid copies of digital images which is impressive, and these solid copies can be then used for many reasons.
Many amazing things have been made using 3-D printers which seem so real its almost hard to believe! For example, in 2015, a Chinese Company WinSun successfully printed a five-story apartment building and a 1100-meter square villa, using a huge 3D printer. The best part about this was that the material used for this was industrial waste. Thus, not only was waste being reused, but this process also produced less waste than regular construction waste and reduced production times by 50-70% as well.
The world’s first 3-D printed office also opened in Dubai in 2016. It was built in under 3 weeks. Although the printer used for this task was huge, it only needed one person to ensure it worked perfectly, just think about how much production cost was saved this way, not to mention it took only 3 weeks to make!
Another great 3-D printing feat was the creation of the world’s first 3-D printed bike bridge which was opened to cyclists in Netherlands. According to its designers, it could take the weight of 40 trucks. The advantage of printing this bridge was that less concrete was needed to make this bridge compared to the regular way of making a bridge.
A company called Natural Machines introduced a 3-D printer that can ‘print’ food. This printer can successfully print edible food. This is an amazing breakthrough in technology as the time is coming where you can almost 3-D print anything.
A few years ago, a high school student was able to 3-D print a fully working robotic prosthetic arm. Not just that but nowadays 3-D printed jaw bones have also become a reality in addition to real working guns, medical models and facial prosthetics.
So, what is 3-D printing?
3-D printing is the process by which you convert a digital file into a three-dimensional solid. The creation of a 3-D printed object is not so simple. It’s done using additive processes. In said processes, a solid object is made by adding layers of material until the object is created. Each layer can be considered as slices or fractions of the full object. The advantage of 3-D printing is that it uses less material to make complex structures as compared to conventional methods of manufacturing. It’s the opposite of conventional manufacturing methods which involve cutting out a piece of material with a machine for example with a milling machine.
How does 3-D printing work?
The first step is to create a digital model of what you want to print in a computer. A 3-D model of the digital design of the intended object is made using 3-D modelling software. A 3-D scanner can also be used which then creates a three-dimensional digital copy of the object.
Once the 3-D model is ready, the model must go through the process of ‘slicing’. The slicing process divides the 3-D model into many layers (horizontal layers), this is done through slicing software. Some 3-D modelling software also offer the slicing feature too.
Once the model is sliced, now it is ready for 3-D printing. The 3-D model can be fed to the 3-D printer using either USB, Wi-Fi, or through an SD card (it depends on the type of printer). When the file is loaded into the 3-D printer, it can then be printed layer by layer.
One of the main benefits of 3-D printing is the making of prototypes. One can materialize their ideas for creating new things and see any possible design flaws if there are any. This is particularly useful for firms that sell products which must also be physically attractive (such as game consoles, large consoles usually turn customers away). 3-D printing can also help make prosthetics.
Different types of 3-D printing and processes
There are many different technologies and ways to print in 3-D. Most of the differences are in the layering, all of them are still additive processes. Some methods use melting or softening materials to make layers. Others use a laser for the layers. There are a total of seven different processes or different type of technologies or as some call them different type of 3-D printers.
- Stereolithography (SLA)
- Digital Light Processing (DLP)
- Fused deposition modelling (FDM)
- Selective Layer Sintering (SLS)
- Selective Laser Melting (SLM)
- Electronic Beam Melting (EBM)
- Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM)
Although 3-D printing is revolutionary and has many uses. What does 3-D printing mean for the future? How will it affect firms in the future and their methods of production? More importantly its effect on the employment of labor.
As 3-D printing becomes more mainstream its price will certainly go down making it accessible to not only big firms but also smaller firms as well. The main concern is replacing manual labor with machinery. Employment of labor is already at a decline with machines taking over most of the production processes.
As mentioned earlier, the office printed in Dubai only required one staffer to make sure the printer was working thus the introduction of 3-D printers to the production product will also affect labor employability.
There might not be a big change on the total demand for labor however the requirements by firms will change. Firms will now need workers with higher level of skill to operate the 3-D printers and oversee the entire process. Although this potentially creates new high-tech jobs for many people, this also hurts the lower skilled labor force.
However, this will give these lower skilled workers an incentive to acquire these new skills with their livelihood on the line thus improving the overall quality of labor which would then help the workers earn more as well.
Thus 3-D printing has its highs and lows regarding future employment opportunities. It could be beneficial to the low-skilled worker but also be harmful at the same time. 3-D printing will hurt many jobs including retail with people just downloading and printing the designs they like (for example shoes).
3-D printing has its benefits as it can create things much faster than current conventional methods as well as significantly reduce costs. However, these factors contribute towards better use of resources, yes, but they also point towards a lower standard of living for many economies as it will most likely increase unemployment. The negative impact 3-D printing will have on society thus cannot be neglected.
Government intervention would be required in the future to make sure there’s a balance otherwise a lot of people will suffer because of 3-D printing.