When bringing up the term 3D printing, many will state that it is a technology that has only been around for the last decade. But it turns out that it was been possible since as early as 1981. Although, of course, the methods have advanced drastically in recent years, but the same basic principals have been in use for decades.
However, as of up until just recently, the only practical use for this impressive technology has been extremely limited, used mainly by hobbyists and designers for rapidly creating prototypes. Which is to say; board game figurine designers are amongst the most popular users of modern 3D printers, which pretty much puts the whole industry into perspective.
This may all be about to change, however, with 3D metal printing set to become a broad reality in the near future.
Just how far reaching are the implications of this new 3D printing technology?
Metal Printing Limitations
Metal 3D printing has itself been around for a while, but it has had serious limitations that are only recently being overcome. The biggest major limitations have been cost and time, both of which have made metal printing only within reach of major industries, with NASA being one of the most recognised organisations to use it on a regular basis.
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In a nutshell; metal printing is possible, and widely recognised as the superior way to create intricate, complicated metal parts. But with the cost of creating these parts being astronomical, and the time needed to make each part being far from efficient, the instances in which 3D metal printing was relied on were generally limited to design, and not mass production.
But all this, it seems, is set to change.
A Revolution Of Epic Proportions
If you’ve ever had work done on your car and had the mechanic tell you that the part you need has to be ordered, the correct reaction would be to sigh and slump your shoulders in defeat. It generally means that you will be waiting days or even weeks for your car to be back in working condition.
But imagine if the mechanic could simply print the part needed, and have you back on the road in 30 minutes. This is the sort of convenience that 3D metal printing offers. The implications are enormous, with manufacturers suddenly needing only one room with a 3D printer, instead of enormous warehouses with spare parts stacked from floor to ceiling.
But this is only scratching the surface. Parts printed in this fashion would also be stronger, lighter, and otherwise superior in every way that metal parts made the traditional way.
How Far Along Are We?
Cold-Spray metal printing is widely recognised as the most promising 3D printing system, which uses a system of firing metal particles at a solid surface, which builds up a physical object as it goes. It is this technology that is used by NASA, and has recently been employed by a 3D printer more widely available to the public.
In 2017 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory made a stunning announcement, declaring that they had created a 3D printing metal system that, reliably, could generate stainless steel objects that were at least twice as strong as those made via traditional methods. In the same year MarkForged made available a metal printer for under $100,000.
Which is to say that the metal printing revolution is now breaking, and that it likely won’t be too long before it is a great deal more common. As to when car mechanics are printing parts remains to be seen, but it might not be as far into the future as you’re thinking.