Blogger Themes

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Personal Manufacturing: Researchers take a step toward bringing three-dimensional printers to the masses

American Chemical Society
Nov 14, 2011

Product development firms such as Morris Technologies, in Ohio, make parts like this for customers. This piece, a combustor that mixes fuel with air, took seven days to fabricate from a cobalt chromium alloy via laser sintering.
Credit: Morris Technologies

It would be hard to imagine life today without personal computing devices such as iPads and smartphones. Conceptualizing these handheld computers, though, would have required an even larger leap of the imagination in the 1960s, when computers took up entire rooms and needed punch cards to store data.

“Even the most ambitious, forward-looking people back then couldn’t have predicted all the things computers would be used for in 2011,” says Hod Lipson, director of the Creative Machines Lab at Cornell University. But thanks to visionaries such as the late Steve Jobs, a personal computing revolution began in the late 1970s that brought desktop computers into people’s homes and, eventually, into their pockets.

Lipson thinks that three-dimensional printers—those robotic machines that build solid objects layer by layer from powders, liquids, and pastes—are sitting on the verge of a parallel personal manufacturing revolution. “In 20 years, many people will have a 3-D printer in their kitchen for printing designer foods and other products,” says Lipson, who works with the technology. A surgeon could have one in the operating room for printing bone grafts or replacement blood vessels, and a chef might have one in the restaurant for printing gourmet meals with varying textures and tastes. “In 40 years, we’ll have a hard time explaining to our grandchildren how we lived without one.”

Although Lipson doesn’t see 3-D printers ever being able to compete with mass production facilities in terms of cost-effectiveness and manufacturing speed, he says that right now “there are a lot of things we don’t make because they’re not viable in small quantities.” Manufacturing objects with 3-D printing offers people the opportunity to design custom-made pieces—lampshades, jewelry, artistic knobs, and furniture—with complex geometries.

Fabrication of some everyday objects that are now being mass produced could even shift into the realm of 3-D printing. Eye-glass frames, for instance, are pumped out of factories in large quantities. Based on a head scan, however, consumers could use modeling software to design and print custom-fit frames at home, Lipson says. “Once you do that, why would you want ill-fitting mass-produced frames anymore—ever?”

Before this personal manufacturing revolution can take place, though, researchers will need to develop a broader array of robust printing materials and, of course, low-cost printers with user-friendly software. Some machines printing at low resolution with simple materials are now available for less than $4,000 on websites such as But as it was in the personal computing revolution, a lot of the initial, exciting materials development and testing will be carried out on high-end (>$50,000) machines in industry and academia.
To read more click here...


Post a Comment