Diverse dimensions of 3D printing

Aug 29 2013, 01:21 IST
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SummaryIt will democratise access to goods, thereby devaluing the overpriced. Concurrently, it will make the bad and the ugly accessible along with the good

If cvan Gogh’s Sunflowers is. Fujifilm has tied up with Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum to reproduce Dutch masterpieces. Its Relievo technology identically reproduces textures, brushstrokes, frames and even museum notations on the back of the canvas. The former leader in camera film has made art infinitely replicable, and this is going to play hell with the market.

The new 3D printing technology is actually old hat—at least as old as the CT scan, with which it shares key traits. Like the tomographic technology which revolutionised diagnostic medicine in the 1970s, 3D scanners are used to break down objects—like filigree jewellery, say—into thin slices of data, which are distributed over the internet. Then, 3D printers supplied with dyed plastics in place of inks print out the slices to reconstruct the object. Microsoft has signalled that the technology is ready to roll out much more than costume jewellery. Windows 8.1, already supplied to hardware vendors and due for general release on October 18, includes a 3D manufacturing format called 3MF. The company has chosen to emulate 2D printing canons, which means that printing in 3D will be as easy as printing your air ticket. In turn, this means that Microsoft believes that 3D printing will be standard for desktop users very soon.

Indeed, the number of materials which can be used for 3D printing has been going up rapidly and the technology will get a leg up in February next year, when patents covering laser sintering expire. This technology, which is currently too expensive except for outsourced bulk printers like Shapeways, should be available for home use next year, replacing the fused deposition home printers now offered by companies like the trailblazer Makerbot. The time when you can order an Alfa Romeo online and print it out in your garage would still be far away, but substantially closer than it is today.

Already, lots of things can be printed out. Chinese-like gift items are routine, printed off machines which are already second generation in the US and are being knocked off themselves by Chinese manufacturers. Unusual objects like SLR lens caps, which are difficult to reorder if they are lost, can be downloaded and printed off. Buttons that have popped off clothes worn with immoderate pride can be similarly replaced. But when I looked at the design requests on the forums of Defcad.com, the first search engine focused on 3D designs (it’s still in alpha),

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