Soon you may be able to create a kidney with a copy machine. How would you like to download a coffee table? Or at least a digital model of a coffee table that you could customize any way you like so it fit perfectly in your living room and then you just print it out. I'm not talking about a picture of a coffee table. I'm talking about an actual, physical three-dimensional object that lives in your living room. Well it's all possible. It's the world of 3D printing and it's going to change everything. It'll redefine the way we think about innovation, design, manufacturing, distribution. Everything about buying and selling tangible goods from here to Mars.
Simply put, 3D printing is the process of making three-dimensional, solid objects out of 1's and 0's from a digital file. 3D printers bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds. It uses very thin layers of plastic, measuring just a few microns, as thin as a sheet of copy paper, to build an object from the bottom up.
This is additive manufacturing. It creates a new item by adding only what is needed. Unlike other forms of manufacturing where the excess is carved, cut or melted away, leaving a ton of waste. And 3D printing isn't limited to plastics. Already, you can print stuff to glass, metal, food, organs - I'm not talking about the musical instrument, I'm talking about human tissue. I kid you not! A couple of years ago there was a guy who demonstrated he could print human kidneys using living cells as ink. We're talking about the ability to create transplant organs with a 3D printer. And this isn't the future we're talking about - we're talking about right now!
I mean we've come a long way from the 1980s when a bunch of do-it-yourself nuts decided to kickstart 3D printing. Today, you and I, you know, people who have real jobs, we can actually go out and buy one of these things for like, a thousand bucks. Forbes estimates that it'll be a five billion dollar industry by the year 2020. And as these printers become more popular, the price comes down, which means consumers like me and you can afford to buy one ourselves.
Or have a friend print one out for us.
Once we get to the point where we can print circuitry directly, you print one printer that prints another printer, and it's game over. We're talking limitless customization.
You could even scan your entire body and print out your own action figure. Or in my case, an inaction figure.
NASA's using 3D printers to make repairs on space equipment. They use a process called selective laser melting, or SLM, that they use to create a nickel alloy to repair everything like the J2 rocket engine.
I mean, this is the promise of 3D printing! We can make our lives as customized as we want, print any object you can imagine, and have it in your hand in just a matter of hours. And in the immediate future, it could mean that astronauts are able to print our repair parts for space craft or space stations, which are pretty important when you're months away from a rescue mission. I mean, imagine what it would've been like if Apollo 13 had a 3D printer on board.
But then we wouldn't have had Tom Hanks in space...