When the world is still getting to grips with understanding just what 3D Printing is, new stories appear about the 3D printing of a fully operational car and launching a new technology in 4D Printing, suggesting that this fast paced field of innovation really is moving into top gear.
3D Printing is described as additive manufacturing. This term is used to explain the process of blending of materials & fluids, then jetting, through an inkjet head to form a 3D object. One can create anything, seemingly only your imagination can limit the possibilities.
The manufacturing or modelling process that we have used up to now is subtractive, removing substances, by shaping a raw piece of material until it reaches a desired shape or form, then assembling a product using multiple pieces or components through a manufacturing line. 3D turns this on its head by forming an object through adding together substances that form in one process.
The reason that this technology, in manufacturing, remains confined mainly to prototyping is because the jetting of different materials isn't as easy as it appears. Surely it isn't?
To print 3D components for a car, that are of sufficient strength and quality, isn't straightforward, you would assume.
Simply plugging a 3D Print machine to a piece of CAD software doesn't mean you can print out a component that will be able to work and deliver the kind of performance required to exist in the production line of a car manufacturing plant. Yet.
It’s true, the technology hasn't been embraced or been developed to this stage yet, although we are, according to experts, moving towards a time where 3D technology will be deployed in a production line to do the jobs traditional processes currently do.
But 3D can already manufacture products, albeit produced and designed in a different way. Take a look at this story about the 3D printed car in Wired.
Wired.com reported that Kor said: "The thesis we’re following is to take small parts from a big car and make them single large pieces."
The Urbee is entirely made from molten polymer and is as strong as steel. This exciting new process enables the designer to create large pieces of the body work of that would not be possible with conventional methods meaning, simply put, that more of the car's body work is made from single pieces, making it lighter than a normal car and more radical in appearance.
At 1,200 pounds, it is more of the weight of a high performance motorcycle than a car. Ok so, 3D doesn't print metal, and is unlikely to be used is the production line of a conventional BMW. Yet.
But what happens when a large car manufacturer decides to create its own 3D Printed car? Then the 3D Printing process tips into a mainstream manufacturing process. And this is an exciting prospect.
4D printing goes one step further. Utilising inkjet technology, again this system forms 3D objects via an additive process, this time, utilising the right chemistry, the materials used can contribute to the object self-regulating. For example, a fish tank that is 4D printed can self-regulate, by cleaning itself, or creating the right conditions for plants to grow on the surface of the water. This exciting new technology was launched at TED last week and is providing yet another set of opportunities previously considered impossible.
So technological innovation continues to develop at a pace that far outstrips humanities ability to keep up with it, and 3D certainly appears to have shifted into top gear.