Also called additive manufacturing (AM), the term 3D printing is a widely recognized and ‘relatively new’ technology.  With less waste, no tooling or machining and the ability to uniquely customize each product through digital modeling, it is very much differentiated from traditional manufacturing processes.

3D is a process for making an object from a three-dimensional model using a computer and 3D printer to join or solidify a material by laying down successive thin layers of material until the item is complete.  This can be a very simple or extremely complex design.

The application of 3D printing runs the gamut of industries – from simple devices for kid’s arts and crafts to high tech automotive and aerospace applications, to life-saving medical products.  Although the primary material currently used is plastics, other materials such as metals, ceramics, sand, nylon and even foods like chocolate and sugar are possible. The possibilities are endless; limited only by what your mind can conjure up.

The advantages of 3D printing go beyond the human world, too.  Animals bring such joy to our lives, and it is difficult to see them suffer from traumatic injury.  So often the only option was to euthanize the animal. But with the endless possibilities of 3D printing, many of these animals can be saved.  There is nothing more majestic than the bald eagle. One such bird was shot in the face by poachers in Alaska and lost most of her beak. Without help, she would not have survived.  Luckily she was rescued and given a new chance at life with a 3D printed beak. Named Beauty, thanks to the life-saving prosthetic beak, her natural beak has since regenerated enough that she no longer needs the prosthetic beak.  You can see images of her before and after and read her story Beauty and the Beak: A Bald Eagle Rescue Story.

The possibilities are truly endless.  For a comprehensive explanation of 3D printing, from the basics, its history, materials, applications, benefits and more, you can check out this beginners guide to 3D printing by 3DPI, one of the industry’s leading authorities in 3D technology.