Step back and look around the world of manufacturing: What’s the most astonishing thing you’ve seen? If you’re like most people and you don’t own a 3D printer, it’s likely you haven’t seen anything as brilliant as what you’re about to see.
True, 3D printers, and indeed additive manufacturing technology in general, are still relatively new in the world of manufacturing and production. But it’s been at least 10 years since we’ve seen this kind of 3D printing at the production level. It’s a global phenomenon, and most interestingly of all, it seems to have influenced the way people think about and use other manufacturing process improvements, and these are astonishing improvements all by themselves:
1. Better Preserving Human Metal
Monstrosities of metallic waste gathering in landfill
In his first point, we have to deal with the fact that many countries cannot legally cull the amount of metal that they’ve created. Brazil, for example, ended up exporting 30,000 tons of metal scrap and realized a loss of nearly $400 million in 2016. The cost of shipping metal, with its high emissions per ton, exceeds the cost of keeping it local.
It’s one of the hardest parts of the 3D printing model to figure out and it takes a lot of persistence to even understand the scale of the problem. We’re talking about a world of wastelands of metallic waste, chucked in with everything else and used as landfill.
Some scientists thought they had found the ideal way to recycle all of that metal in a matter of days. But things quickly took a turn for the worse. They found that their corrosion (their most common byproduct) could be killed using pricey industrial finishing that even today tends to be the more expensive way to put together a 3D printer. The frustratingly costly result was a sorry failure. More on this later.
2. Dramatically Improvements to Commercially Sourced Parts
3D printing made it possible to pull tools from catalogs, workshop doorways, from the bottom of black boxes or (literally) from outside companies’ offices.
Then it was time to do something different. These companies needed to manufacture their own parts, and all of their parts needed to be 3D printed as cheaply as possible to run and maintain the machines in which they were being produced. Those costs were highly compounded when parts, like rotary parts, could not be made at large scale through mass-production techniques.
Manufacturers have figured out how to make parts fast, cheaply and within strict quality requirements. No more needing to soak their metal in chlorine chemicals to prevent corrosion – the next step in stainless steel manufacturing is to come up with the right balancing of strength, corrosion resistance and corrosion resistance for stainless steel components.
3. Printing Beautiful Structure
It’s easier to look at 3D printed sculptures than it is to create an appreciably fine work of art.
When asked if he has a favorite piece of 3D printed art, David Garbutt replied: “Yes, and it’s one of the objects I’ve made: a finger that I called Functioning House. The finger was installed in the kitchen of the Four Seasons Hotel in New York in January 2013. Three years later, I was commissioned to create a 3D printed model of the building and its foundation with one of the original steel columns that had been installed in the early 1960s to support it. It is as beautiful as can be, even if you don’t want to replace a century’s of period heirloom with this exciting new technology.”
4. The Ivory Wood Book Maker
Architecture imitates sculpture.
Many argue that real pieces of sculpture start when a 3D printer, instead of an actual human, draws the final architectural shape from wood or a similar material. They start with a few thin slices of wood, but slowly grow and eventually produce a structure.
The impact of 3D printing in creating beautifully sculptural woodwork can be seen in the practice of Morris Lapidus, who, in 1925, used a 3D printer in order to produce the newly coined term “super-giant replica” – a foldable paper book that he printed with a wooden veneer.
Now Lapidus’ son Hans notes: “The intention was to model an entire structure – with its roof, interior, and floor – on a picture that could be read in the wrong perspective, so it’s impossible to criticise [his father’s] architectural style. Instead, the elephant in the room is not the architectural form, but the accompanying text that concludes the book: ‘The figures are also not made up