Monday 25th September 2017

    3D Printing is sneaking up on us again!

    3D Printing originated in the 1980s, with pioneers like Chuck Hull, who patented the stereolithography fabrication system. Such a machine allows a product to be designed on a computer screen and then "printed" as a solid object by building up successive layers of material. Stereolithography is among dozens of approaches to 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing). Printing has become a popular way of producing one-off prototypes, because changes are more easily and cheaply made by tweaking a 3D printer's software than by resetting lots of tools in a factory. That means the technology is ideal for low-volume production, such as turning out craft items like jewellery, or for customising products, such as prosthetics. Skeptics say that 3D printers are too slow and too expensive - it can take two days to create a complex object. However, some of the new methods of 3D printing now emerging show that its shortcomings can be overcome. Adidas, for one, has started to use a remarkable form of it called "digital light synthesis" to produce the soles of trainers, pulling them fully formed from a vat of liquid polymer. The technique will be used in a couple of new and highly automated factories in Germany and America to bring 1 million pairs of shoes annually to market much more quickly than by conventional processes. A new technique called bound-metal deposition has the potential to change the economics of metal printing, too, by building objects at a rate of 500 cubic inches an hour, compared with 1-2 cubic inches an hour using a typical laser-based metal printer. Are we entering the age of additive manufacturing? More here.


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