Rapid prototyping, or 3-D printing, has been used to create all kinds of amazing objects in a variety of media, but a team working under EADS in the UK wants to print something heretofore unheard of: the entire wing of an airliner. Working at the same facility where Concordes were once built, researchers there are already printing landing gear brackets and other aircraft components in hopes that one day they'll be able to print out many of the critical parts for an entire aircraft.
This marks just one of many recent developments that are quickly rendering "rapid prototyping" an obsolete term. Once used to churn out prototype parts in plastics and resins before actual objects were machined from metal blocks, experts in the field now say 20 percent of the output of the world's 3-D printers is final products, and that's expected to rise to 50 percent by 2020. In other words, people are prototyping and manufacturing on the same machines.
This is chiefly due to developments that allow modern 3-D printers to turn out finished objects in media ranging from the high-grade titanium alloys necessary for aircraft construction to glass, plastics, concrete, and even frosting. Printing finished parts saves on production costs because there is dramatically less waste (especially in the case of airframe components, which can leave up to 90 percent of a block of pricey titanium on the machine shop floor) and it allows manufacturers to tweak designs or customize parts at a fraction of the cost of re-tooling a machining process.
But printing a jetliner wing is something else altogether. If EADS (the maker of Airbus) figures out how to print their airframes, wings, and other components in a way that's demonstrably as safe as machining their parts, they could build significantly lighter, more efficient aircraft at lower costs. It's also within the realm of possibility that the company could build an entire aircraft--piece by piece--in one place, sidestepping some of the supply-chain problems that have delayed the Airbus A380.
Of course, what's good for EADS could be good for a variety of manufacturing enterprises; if you could print an airline wing that can stand up to wind-tunnel tests, you could print just about anything. 3-D printing lowers the cost of entry into manufacturing for any number of enterprises and simplifies what's possible with a good design program and a good idea. But don't take it from us. As aspiring innovator Schuyler St. Leger explains below, there's a lot to love about the explosion of 3-D printing technology.
This technology has to be China's worst nightmare, what a better way to hollow out their manufacturing and manpower advantages. This tech should be fast tracked and heavily subsidized by the U.S. government. Private corporations have only one master, profit and hence will continue to strip the U.S. of all strategic industry until you cant make even a 2x4 without an foreign manufacturing consultant. Airplane wings are a great start, should be easy to print an M-16 after that.
its a double edged sword from a manufacturing stand point Ian1108. a printer spitting out parts that are ready to go eliminates the people who would otherwise be making that product.
aside from that this is quite intriguing. will be very interesting to see where they can take this and if they can get large scale use off the ground.
Actually if manufacturing costs can be brought down through this process then some businesses might return seeing as they do not have the added expense of shipping it from China. Currently we manufacture next to nothing so the jobs that are lost will be the ones overseas. TS for them. I doubt a single Chinese worker loses any sleep about us losing jobs, nor should they, we all have our own priorities. He loves his kids more than he loves mine and if he can steal an apple from my son to feed his he will. On a larger scale if they want the worlds resources to feed their people and they have 80% of the manufacturing capability in the world and 5 times the manpower of the US, they'll take it. I'll @#$% the Chinese any chance I get.
The first industrial revolution built large, or just imposing machines, the locomotive and later w/the advent of “hey, why don’t we make 100,000 not just 100 lightbulbs"? etc the first consumer age. The grime and danger quite frankly has given the “age of industrialization” an understandably bad rap. But it opened the door to people other then the rich, robber barons, (and just plain obscene levels of consumption) to not just the few. (I guess that means we all got to be obsessive-compulsive buyers, or as obscene…) So you drive a car that pretty much is not to different then mine. So do a gazillion other people as we all look “hopeful", like Merkats for the next great toy. (Merkats of course look “hopeful", and to me cute but their just trying not to be eaten…)
Few people appreciate what will be remembered historically as the next great industrial-consumer epoch. (Were “post industrial when we can make things happen by what might appear to be magic.) Were not to far off actually. But the 3D Printer is also emblematic of the age of individual uniqueness as consumers. Not only can I have something utterly different in appearance and function but also a “one person-specific technology”. Before long, if you can explain or draw on you computer interface screen field (look for 2D images in the air in front of you, the tech incorporated as flexible-polymer threads in clothing) you can have it made. Think of your computer saying things like: “Want the slope greater?, maybe a more natural texture? “You might want to stay w/naturals (biodegradable organics). You can then re-use the material later…” OK, I’ll shut up Dave…"
Also 3D printers can be designed (and are being) to generate organic structures; custom hart valves, in time limbs, not to long from now…etc. As you can tell, I’m really excited about the things will do no one can think of yet. Oh well. When I was 5 my Uncle died who was a dealer in precious stones and watches; and he left me optical lenses, tools for very fine detail work, ham radio equipment, and a chemistry set. My parents still hate that man after 45 years...
I just have to say, well done kid, well done. Complete understanding at his age, with anologies and humor to boot.
I'm surprised that nobody has said this yet. But 3D printers WILL be coming to the home near you. It will be like TVs when TVs starting appearing in the 50s. Rich people will have them first and eventually everyone will have one. Sure rich people will still have better ones.
The sizes will start small like the size of a toaster oven. They will get bigger though as time goes on.
Imagine printing out your Lexus or Mercedes or Hyundai in your garage with a 3D plotter. Just buy the design and the materials and press on the Go button. You could even pick out the color seats, etc., that you wanted. All custom tailored just the you one want it. It could literally be one in a million.
The next really cool thing will be the grinder (I'm serious). It will take you product and grind it down into tiny little bits and separate them somewhere in the process. The materials could then be used for a new product, like a new car.
Speaking of cars. Get in a wreck? Print out what you need to replace the broken parts or just grind down the car and print it out again.
Note: I think Apple Corp (almost said Apple Computer, Inc) will be one of the first big companies to mass produce gadgets with 3D printers.
Imagine them doing this in American with 3D printers! I believe they will do it as soon as they can. They have done many amazing things in the last 10 years that people didn't think they could do at an affordable price. Like C&Cing laptop and iPad cases out of one piece of aluminum (not counting the internals, etc.
@OlsonBW: Actually there was a big craze of home builders making there own mechanical TVs back in the late 20's into the 30's. The great depression happened and knocked out most of the broadcasters and then the advent of electronic TV did the rest. Not too easy to make those even if you are a glass-blower who knows electronics.
Anyway, that is the stage we see now; Tinkerers making their own creaky, low-resolution Fabs. Hopefully we will soon see several quick cycles of improvement where lateral inspiration drives, informs, then benefits from top-down Apple style innovation. Combined with the current upsurge of pro-democratic and anti-corruption sentiment just about everywhere... This could get kind of epic.
I'm trying to follow the last bit of what you said there. Top-down innovation for democracy? The 3D printers available to consumers right now are tinkery, yes, and they're open source. When HP takes over (and it will be HP, because they're actually working toward this goal, unlike the other corporations listed) then the technology will become more accessible (never cheap, in objective terms, but cheaper and easier to use) but also have limitations specific to that model (think DRM and proprietary formats.) Even if it has the potential to involve more people, I don't know that that's actually more "democratic."
I’ve been following the idea of 3D printing for years, it is intriguing. Along with all of the good that will come of it however, we will lose some control when this technology hits main street. The possibilities are endless and becasue of this, it is worrisome.
With complicated manufacturing processes comes security. If a part is difficult to make, fewer people are able to manufacture it and the easier it is to monitor. When everyone can just create or buy plans and start printing out what they want, we are going to start seeing things like weapons and other devices being created. This technology will be exploited by the good and the bad and there is a lot of potential for the bad.
Great stuff, I can't wait for it to improve. Just hope we start thinking about what it opens people up to before we find out the hard way.
Print a car? You ever try to put a kid's bike together? You realize that the directions for putting all those (very heavy) parts you printed into a car are going to be written by someone who had two semesters of English in college, right?
Also, the polimers used for most printing are not simple recyclables. Recycling (apart from metal) almost never means "turning old back into new." It means "finding a use for crap." Paper is turned into cardboard. Plastic is shredded into carpet fiber. Etc. You are not going to be able to print a plate, break it, and then turn it into base stock for the next plate.
Finally, press, stamp, and injection molding are still cheaper and faster. So, while R&D might be printing out stuff left and right, the assembly line production will likel stay more traditional. Printing makes sense when you are making 5 or 100 of something, not 100,000.