3D Printing – Just for Customized Toys?

EngineeringContributed by Pam Schumacher, Drafting and Engineering Technology instructor, Globe University

3D printing is the latest advance in technology to get a big buzz.  The President spoke about it in the State of the Union address.  A professor from Cornell was interviewed and demonstrated the process on CBS This Morning: Saturday.  A 3D printer even made an appearance on an episode of my favorite nerdy sitcom, Big Bang Theory (aired January 21, 2013). 

In the Big Bang Theory episode, Howard and Raj bought a used 3D printer to print action figures of themselves.  Howard goes on and on about 3D printing and how it will reclaim manufacturing from China – that is until Raj notices the 3D printer was made in China.  What Howard and Raj printed seems like what everyone is using the machines for – toys.  First they printed a whistle which you can buy at the store for 25 cents (only took 3 hours to print), then a customized action figure to look like themselves.

They poke fun at the 3D printing industry – but are customized toys the only things that these high tech printers will be used for?Engineering

I remember when the Internet was born ( yes I am that old).  I logged onto www.Yahoo.com after hours at work and thought “okay, that’s cool”.  I browsed around a little and thought it was novel and fun, but didn’t really understand what it would be used for in practical terms.  Years later there are some applications of the Internet which are toy-like, but we use it every day for much more than entertainment.

That’s how I see the 3D printing industry.  Right now, it is in its infant stages – so people aren’t sure what to print, but they want to print something – so they end up printing a toy or gadget of some type.   As the printers become more sophisticated, cheaper and able to use with a variety of materials, people will begin to use these printers for much more practical things than just toys. 

Learn more about the future of 3D printing at Globe University.