Printing in 3D

Imagine your trusted HP deskjet dishing out scaled down models of your favorite cars and planes. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? That is essentially what 3D printing is. A 3D printer is a device that creates 3-dimentional objects from digital files fed into it, just like a regular printer prints out physical copies of digital documents. So if you take one of your sem 2 CAD drawings and pop them into a 3D printer, you’ll have a physical 3D model of the drawing.

The next question that comes to mind is, how exactly does something like this work? Essentially, the digital 3D drawing is divided into a large number of 2D slices. For example, to print a 3D cube, the printer will divide the cube into a large number of thin layers of squares. Once the 3D image is divided into numerous 2D images, the printer deposits material layer by layer from the ground up and eventually creates the required 3D model. Imagine building a wall brick by brick, except here the brick layers are the layers of material deposited by the printer.

3D printing is the Benedict Cumberbatch of the technology world. Everybody’s talking about it, and for good reason. Once the process has been streamlined, it could bring manufacturing costs down greatly. Imagine having everything from your phone to your sunglasses being manufactured using 3D printing technology. Imagine dentists making dentures using 3D printers instead of turning part-time sculptors. Imagine 3D printed heart valves for patients with heart conditions. Archaeologists could create fossil replicas and architects could print models of buildings. In the future, prototypes of everything from cars to rockets and satellites could be 3D printed. The possibilities are endless, and that is why today 3D printing has everybody, from Wall Street to Silicon Valley jumping about like a kid in a candy store.

By now you probably have a fair idea of how groundbreaking this is. 3D printing is the future, and the future cannot look any brighter. Except it could, courtesy of a bunch of geniuses at MIT. They call their technology 4D printing. No, the 4th D is not time, but the ability to change the other three ‘D’s. 4D printing aims at creating ‘smart’ objects that can respond to external stimuli and changes in the environment. Imagine having shoes that adjusted to the curves of your feet to fit you just right, t-shirts that don’t need ironing. Think water pipes that can adjust to the volume of water flowing through to keep the force of water constant. And that’s not even the most amazing part. One would naturally think that the material would need to be some sort of bionic, semi-living futuristic material. But the beauty of the design is the simplicity. The code simply uses the angles to which the material can bend in such a way that it is flexible only upto a certain limit, and thus provides a sort of loosely rigid structure. This synergy between flexibility and rigidity gives the 4D material its property to adapt, yet retain its overall characteristics.

Technology is making strides like never before and we will continue to see stuff that tickles the mind’s imagination and satisfies man’s need for the awesome.


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