By far the most common use of 3D printing is rapid prototyping. Using CAD software and a 3D printer this Boeing engineer experiments with a design for a fighter jet. 3D printing cannot yet compete in speed with traditional mass production techniques, but it is ideal for printing one-offs, rapid prototyping, and creating custom objects. 3D printing will likely lead to a new generation of customized products.
For inventors and designers who don't have a couple hundred thousand dollars laying around, Companies like Shapeways are available to print your creations for you. Shapeways will even allow you to sell your printed creations in its online store.
3D printing is also liberating creativity and bringing new processes to age-old practices. 3D printers are being used to create ceramics. Using Granular Materials Binding, layers of ceramic powder are fused in specific locations on the x/y plane using a liquid binder. The platform is lowered over the z access, until the object is finished. The ceramic object is then excavated from the center of the clay powder cube. Finally the object is place in a kiln to bake.
Another method of creating clay pottery is to use wet clay, and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). Here the clay is extruded to the printing platform to create a coil pot. Once printed the pot can be shaped by human hands to accomplish the artist's vision. Artists and sculptors are utilizing 3D printing for all types of artistic work.
3D printing is also being used in construction. Here wall segments are being printed with concrete. Electrical and plumbing components can be integrated right into the block. These blocks can open new possibilities for architects.
The Contour Crafting company is working on technologies to 3D print homes. They are beginning with printers that can print walls. The process will allow homes to be created with straight or curved walls. Imagine homes with no corners. The company envisions huge 3D printers installed on property that work with gantries to "3D print" all components of a house.
3D printers are also being used to forge steel support structures in mid air. Imagine the custom furnishings that could be made utilizing this technique.
3D printing has also impacted medical and biological research. Here a researcher uses a standard inkjet printer to distribute heart cells to create a heart. Several hours later you see the heart muscle cells contracting. Printing with cells is referred to as bio-printing. Bio-printing has been used to create a functional kidney. While this research is still in early stages, it provides great optimism in the area of organ transplant.
Believe it or not, researchers are also using 3D printers to fabricate meet from cow stem-cells. Imagine being able to enjoy hamburgers, steaks, and even leather products without one cow having to give its life.
Speaking of food, dietitians and chefs are turning to 3D printing to create custom food. Specific nutritional and flavorful ingredients can be combined and printed in unique shapes for healthful snacks. Chocolate can be printed into custom detailed shapes.
3D printing has been embraced by the fashion industry as a method of creating unique and highly detailed hats, garments, jewelry, bags and shoes.
3D printing is also being used in education, to print classroom lab equipment at a fraction of the typical cost. Museums are also making rare objects in their collections available to the public to be printed and explored.
From what you've learned in this three part video, I'm sure you will agree that 3D printing is disrupting just about every industry and will have an even larger impact as the price of the technology decreases.