I am behind on my technical reading.

When did we suddenly become able to do sh*t like this?

I mean, that’s some Ultra-Tech sh*t, there: when did we start merchandising it?


  • countrydoc says:

    But how good is the printing powder. How much heat and stress could it withstand and still be a ball bearing? I suspect its one of those neat but impracticable concepts.

  • Matt says:

    They are also working on 3d printers that can make human organs.

  • Murgatroyd says:

    Countrydoc, it’s very practical! Rapid prototyping has been in general commercial use in aerospace and other high-tech industrial fields for about two decades. (I saw my first unit, at UC San Diego, in 1995.) Often the best use of the technology in industry is to make the first, proof-of-concept part for a new design, and then if it works out a manufacturer can set up the machining to chug out production parts in mass quantities.

    Molecular biologists love these things. Viewing and holding solid models is often the only way they can get a real understanding of the configuration of complex organic molecules like proteins.

    By the way, there are other rapid prototyping technologies to build parts that need to withstand heat and stress that sinter metal powder with a laser instead of by spraying epoxy into plaster powder. And other types of rapid prototyping fabricators can produce models made from wax or other easily liquefied materials, which then can be used in a “lost wax” process to produce the mold for casting durable metal parts.

    These things are frakkin’ neat. They’re fascinating to see in operation. Check with your local university’s Engineering department — they might have one available for visitors to watch.

  • Ric Locke says:

    It’s not “suddenly”. As Murgatroyd points out, 3D printers have been around for twenty years or more. The only thing that’s really sudden is the recent order-of-magnitude drop in price, which has put them within the reach of people other than aerospace industry engineers.

    The amazing thing here is not that it could produce a ball bearing; it’s that its resolution is fine enough to produce a ball bearing that works. Pixel-jaggies are distracting in an image. Voxel[1]-jaggies in a 3D ball bearing make it run rough, and that defeats the purpose.

    Matt is partly wrong. 3D printers won’t produce replacement organs. What they will do, not long from now, is produce what the researchers are calling “scaffolding”, upon which cells can be placed so that they grow together into an organ. Before that, though, they’ll be using the same technique to make steaks, pork chops, and the like that were never part of a living animal — the SF “vat-grown meat” that’s only been in books up to now.

    I suspect they’ll never be apt for large production runs, for the same reason you’d rather have a laser printer than an inkjet if you print a lot of pages. The ones that use lasers to sinter powdered metal will probably always be too expensive for the general public. Machine tools won’t go away for general manufacturing, though if we ever build a starship I reckon there’ll be one of these machines in one of the holds, with programs for all the parts ready in the computer system.

    Interesting times.

    [1] “Volume element”, as “pixel” is “picture element”. It should be “volel” by direct analogy, but that doesn’t sound good, plus putting the “x” in there is, well, cool.

  • Rob Crawford says:

    I know a few miniature figure companies (as in figures for wargames) use rapid-prototyping to produce their masters. All the “sculpting” is done in CAD, and once they like a model, they get a prototype “printed” and then make the molds from it.

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