Many different technological routes can be taken to reach the same goal. In one variation, nozzles spray liquid material into layers. Another method, which produces even better results, aims laser beams at finely powdered material, causing the grains to fuse together at precisely the spot where the beam hits. All 3-D printing techniques, however, follow the same principle: The object grows layer by layer, each one just a few hundredths of a millimeter thick, until it acquires the desired shape. This technique can be applied to steel, plastic, titanium, aluminum and many other metals.
Assembling, screwing together, adhering, welding—all these processes are rendered obsolete when even the most complex shapes can be produced by a single machine using this casting technique. The end result can be an artificial hip, a hearing aid, a cell phone case, customized footwear or even the Urbee, a prototype car that has been making a splash.
Some of the German 3-D printing specialists are growing at a rate that has some industry experts hoping this nascent digital industrial age will finally see the emergence of new innovation drivers “made in Germany.” German companies are seen as leaders, especially when it comes to 3-D printing of metals.
The possibilities in this field are theoretically unlimited, since in principle almost any object can be printed as long as precise digital data for it exist. Most of these printers are turned to industrial uses, massive machines that can cost €1 million or more, but there is also a growing amateur scene of hobbyists who print toy figurines, spare parts for their coffee machines or even individually designed coffee cups, working out of their basements and using printers they assemble themselves for €500 ($650).
The only limits are set by the selection of materials, the space needed for each individual printed object and one other very important factor: time. Three-dimensional printing as currently practiced is a long, slow process.
This technology is in its infancy, but the parallels to the emerging computer industry of the 1970s are hard to miss. Then, too, the first machines were clunky and their operation complicated, but their evolution happened quickly and in giant leaps.
Significant progress has also been made in the materials that can be used in 3-D printing, with even objects made from organic matter now possible. Scientists are working on assembling human cells in 3-D printers, composed from materials that the human body uses, such as sugar. Biologists have also been able to print veins and working heart tissue. Eventually the production of entire organs may be possible.
Some even see 3-D printing technology as an opportunity for Europe and the US to reclaim at least certain areas of industrial manufacturing from Asia. These miniature factories require both less material and fewer employees to run them, which makes the production process cheaper. One or two skilled workers are enough to run a professional-grade printer.
The next big step will be clothing produced by 3-D printers, tailored exactly to fit each customer’s individual figure. And of course shoes, custom-made for each pair of feet.
-www.spiegel.de, 4 January 2013
What will they think of next? There will be a more sophisticated world, better products, longer life, greater health, and more power to the people. Where will it all lead? Answer: man’s independence from God. Mankind will be then able to point to his success and shout, “Peace and security.” Then a man will come to confirm the success of man, and proclaim that he himself is “God.” To prove his claim, he will cause fire to come down from heaven in the sight of man. That will convince the world’s population that he is “God”; subsequently, they will worship him. The Church, however, will then be taken out of the way.
(For more on this subject, read The Great Mystery of the Rapture, Item 1038.)