Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

It's Printing Jim, but Not as We Know It

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

It's Printing Jim, but Not as We Know It

Article excerpt

Byline: BARNEY HAWKINS

REMINISCENT of the 'replicator' in Star Trek that could reproduce an object at will, the 3D printer is one of the most exciting developments in design and manufacturing technology and has the potential to be a real game changer in the 21st century.

Once the preserve of large engineering companies and commanding a price of several hundred thousand pounds, 3D printers have rapidly come down in price.

3D printers work by taking a virtual model designed on a computer and then, using a laser and powdered plastic resin, creating, layer by layer, a solid three dimensional object of the virtual design.

Advances in their development have expanded the range of materials available so that metal, ceramic material, synthetic wood and even waste paper can be used.

Hitherto, their main use has been in preparing models and prototypes. 3D printing greatly reduces the time it takes to produce an accurate mould from which to make a cast. However, as the price has come down, so the number of applications has grown and rather than being part of the manufacturing process 3D printing could become the manufacturing process.

Aeroplane manufacturers are exploring the possibility of printing an aircraft wing and other major components while Audi used 3D printing to form the body of its latest concept car. As well as new vehicles, owners of classic cars could soon be ordering new, bespoke, components for discontinued marques long after the production of spare parts has ceased.

One can see the attractions. Manufacturing would be on demand so there would be no overproduction, no waste, no need for costly storage. Without unsold stock to shift, marketing costs would be lower. The lack of manual labour involved in the process would make it more cost effective. The ability to make things locally would cut down on transport costs.

Even more fascinating is the application of 3D printing in the medical arena. …

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