5 things you didn’t know about 3D printing


Not so long ago, the idea of printing solid objects was as unimaginable as the idea that the earth is spherical once was. But the future has not only arrived, it is already in the past now. Did you know that 3D printing has been a reality for over three decades now?

Image : shutterstock

In the 1980s, a process known as Stereolihography was first introduced, where layers of material could be added atop each other with the help of UV lasers. 3D printing was born with this ‘additive technology’ and has come a long way since then as it is now used to make almost anything, be it organs for medical research, art, jewellery, cars, airplanes, or even food.

It was mostly unheard of in India simply because of the exorbitant price of this then novel toy. About a decade ago, 3D printers set foot in the country and even then, only for the manufacture of industry grade equipment. The scenario has changed quite a bit now, especially with the RepRap project that initiated the development of 3D printers which can print most of their own components. This played a pivotal role in reducing the costs of 3D printers and the emergence of many local manufacturers – enough that now DIY kits are sold to artists, hobbyists, and students even.

As 3D printing is becoming a booming business that is here to stay, here are a few facts that can you can make use of.

You can fax objects through 3D printers

3D printers now come with scanners that, through an in-built network, can fax objects to other similarly equipped 3D printing machines. MakerBot, a global leader in the 3D printing industry, introduced its Desktop Digitizer 3D scanner which was also intended to eliminate a dependence on an expert while designing 3D models. For instance, an object to be replaced could simply be scanned and then printed without having to contact a manufacturer. AIO Robotics also announced the release of Zeus, which was the first printer that promised an in-built scanner.

Hard as a Lego, sweet as corn

Ever wonder why stepping on a Lego piece is so excruciatingly painful? Legos are made of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), a thermoplastic polymer which is also used in a 3D printing process called Fused Deposit Modelling (FDS). This method is the most prevalent in the Indian industry for obtaining 3D printed material of industrial strength. The process of 3D printing also uses Polylactic Acid (PLA) which is derived from corn starch, which is used in making corn syrup and other sugars. This is the reason for the sweet aroma that diffuses during printing.

No limit to materials

In 2015, MakerBot announced the use of a whole new set of materials like iron, bronze, limestone, and maple, thereby exponentially expanding the scope of 3D printing. Because they combined the base PLA filament with the actual physical and chemical components of these materials, the 3D printed materials will have all the properties of the original materials. 3D printed metals can now conduct electricity, and wood can now be shaped and stained. These advancements have unlocked multiple doors of possibilities, bringing us closer to the future.

Printers that feed you

3D printing food, although still in its early stages, is developing quickly. It has now grown from using single-ingredient pastes, powders, and purees to crystallising fine-grained sugar and dispensing food in various shapes and textures. It is now possible to load fresh ingredients in the form of puree to create a wide variety of dishes. FoodInk, a restaurant in London, is the world’s first 3D printing restaurant that 3D prints even its utensils and furniture. Currently in Netherlands, all microwave pancakes available in supermarkets are 3D printed. One can now print cheese, chocolate, candies, pasta, and pizzas and can make customised cake.

Sounds, communication, and – wait for it – beat boxing

With 3D printing technology, it is now possible to create devices of complex structures needed to produce sounds, which earlier could not be created using conventional techniques. Terahertz devices have been created that produce terahertz frequencies, which were often called ‘unclaimed territory’ because no devices have existed to produce frequencies in that rage. These terahertz 3D printed devises can advance technologies in defence, biomedicine, and communication.

Beatboxer Janine Carr created the first 3D printed vocal percussion which could play soundwaves using laser. This also gave rise to vocalised emotions that can help people suffering from autism spectrum disorders in identifying emotions.

3D printing technology is taking the world into a new era. Like with any technology, this too has a few drawbacks to address such as its current environmental impacts and hazards, and its undesirable effect on the intellectual property rights market. One cannot deny the fact, however, that it is currently, the business to be in.


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