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3-D Printers: Johannes Gutenberg Would Be Impressed

Posted on by Colin Haley

During the holiday season I was plugging in my Christmas lights for my tree and the faulty lights blew out my electrical socket.  Now, it was an easy fix with some wizardry in the fuse box, but the socket cover was torched.  Though a seriously minor inconvenience (some would say this is a first world problem), I still had to go to the hardware store and purchase a new one.  But, what if there was a way to simply produce a socket cover on my own?  Well, if I had a 3-D printer, I could.

A 3-D Printer produces a model race car.The development and rise of 3-D printing is fascinating.  Previously, these printers were used primarily for manufacturing yet are now becoming more advanced in their capabilities and cheaper, which has allowed even consumers to begin using them for everyday needs. Their current uses are broad, from simple coat hangers and door stops to guns and footwear.  In the business world, architects use them to create elaborate models and corporations are using them to directly manufacture components that otherwise had to be purchased through specialized companies.  However, this is just the beginning.  Programs, sophistication, and speed of these devices will, like many technologies these days, advance at a rapid rate.  In a recent New York Times article, the writer depicted a scenario where 3-D printers could be “the home appliance of the future,” where someone “. . .breaks the hour hand on their clock or loses the cap to the shampoo bottle- and simply prints the replacement part.”

Locally there have many discussions about bringing the technology of 3-D printing to Maine communities in hopes of spurring innovation, creation, and economic development.  As a Biddeford based in company, we are excited about the local efforts of Tammy Ackerman, Executive Director of Engine, to bring a digital fabrication shop to the city.  Tammy has partnered with Sarah Boisvert to bring the venture, known as Maine FabLab, to Biddeford.  With an emphasis on rapid prototyping, one of the goals of Tammy and Sarah’s efforts is to allow people to invent and innovate new things and give creative individuals the opportunity to prototype cheaply on a small scale with the possibility of mass production in the future.

The question becomes, if these printers are available and can do so much, why aren’t more people using them?  There are multiple answers including costs of the printers and speed of the printing.  Some have stated that it can take multiple print efforts to get the right product.  One also requires a high-speed, reliable Internet connection in order to download or upload sophisticated CAD files.  However, these impediments can be overcome as the technology matures and network speeds increase in coming years.

From the food industry to manufacturing, to the arts, to the sciences, 3-D printing could have an enormous impact on how we operate on a daily basis.  To think that there are printers that, by printing thin layers of plastic or metal on top of one another, can create intricate and customized objects is amazing.    So, keep your ears open and your eyes-peeled about 3-D printing because one day, you may be living in a house created by a 3-D printer.


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