3D Printing

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Definition: What is it?

3D printing also referred to as 3D modeling or additive manufacturing is a process of creating tangible 3D objects using a digital file that contains the details about that object in question. The details in the digital file includes specifications such as dimensions, thickness, shapes and overall appearance.

This process achieves its name of additive manufacturing through the method it creates the designs. These objects are created via successive layers of a desired material, starting from ground up and building into a specified shape.

The opposite of this method is subtractive manufacturing which has been the prominent method of sculpting in the past where rather than building, the desired object was achieved by removing layers.

Process: How it works?

There are two major ways to begin the construction of a 3D printed model. First one is to create an imagined abstract on a software such as CAD where the designer has the freedom to depict their creativity into whatever they want created into a tangible item. The second method is to scan a real-life object with a special 3D scanner which captures precise dimensions of a given object, the software then carefully studies it and then sends the data to the printer where it begins the process of secreting material as the basis to construct that model. Turning a 3D CAD drawing into a model.

Now once the design is ready in the software, it is now the printer’s responsibility to receive the accurate data and create the desired design. The data is received by the printer as a cluster of thousands of 2D slices or layers. These minute layers eventually stick together using the inbuilt adhesive in the material resulting in a smooth 3D model identical to the original design. Depending on the material used, the object can be as delicate as a milk chocolate that melts in the mouth upon biting or as rigid as a multi-million-dollar sport car’s turbo engine.

The method of layering one slice over another to create an object upwards is referred to as depositional modeling (FDM). This works like a typical inkjet printer where several prints are produces and placed on over another. Now, if the inkjet ink were to be used, the object would never reach completion. Therefore, the process is similar to printing from an inkjet but the material used is complex and significantly more voluminous. An example of such a material would be molten plastic or powder which then fuse together by either adhesive or ultraviolet light.

The Software Used

As a reality, the quality of your print or how accurate the result is depends upon the software you are using. Each software comes with distinct features ranging from modelling to sculpting to customising.
This enables the designer to with various abilities ranging from modelling to rendering to concepting and finally showcasing to the clients. Additional some features are also offered by a lot of software which make it convenient for a designer to print his/her design anywhere around the world, using the cloud database capabilities.

In its beginning phase, the software for 3D printing were exorbitantly expensive; they could range anywhere between thousands and tens of thousands. After advances in this technology and people getting to learn and understand the processes, designers and software engineers have been able to create ample amount of software which are now open source.

The market has grown so vast that there are layers of free software available on the cloud now ranging from beginner level to advanced professionals. Some prominent software from 2019 would be Cura and 3D printer OS for beginners; Slic3r and ThinkerCAD from Intermediaries; MeshLab and FreeCAD for professionals.



  • Prosthetics:

    Prosthetics creation has always been an expensive process and not-so-affordable for everyone, especially in the developing countries. Also, there is a next to no room for modification to the original piece that is created. To fight with the tradition, researchers from University of Toronto, in collaboration with Autodesk Research and CBM Canada, created 3D printed prosthetic sockets at cheaper costs to serve the patients in developing countries. In a similar way, an organization named Not-So-Impossible took up an operation to help the war victims in Sudan with cheap prosthetic limbs. Its founder, Mick Ebeling, started a program to train the locals on how to operate this 3D machinery.

  • Tissue and blood vessels: At Harvard University, researchers are in process of bioprinting blood vessels: printing tissues with a blood supply. The material used for the prints is made of dissolving ink that replicates the creation of a tissue containing skin cells.
  • Organs:

    A medical organization, Organovo is utilizing 3D printing to replicate an organ tissue, especially liver. This tissue is being used as fluid to create a liver. As of now, this 3D printed liver has a maximum life of 40 days and is primarily being used for testing purposes. However, the company has predicted that within a decade, using its R&D, they would be able to create the tissues which will produce a liver that may be used for transplant purpose.

  • Bone: From Washington State University, Prof. Susmita Bose, experimented by modifying an existing 3D printer, ProMetal 3D to bind chemicals to a ceramic powder. Prof. Bose’s aim is to create a product using the 3D printer that may have a bone growth factor.
  • Drug:

    A Chemist from University of Glasgow, Lee Cronin has introduced a prototype that is capable of combining chemical compounds at molecular level. Lee’s vision is that the patient would visit an online platform and will submit his/her prescription in the database, as a result, they would receive a blueprint of the components required to create that medicine at home using the material and printer at home.

  • Ear: Lawrence Bonassar from Cornell used 3D photos of human ear to replicate the complex model. He created that using gel containing bovine cartilage cells suspended in collagen. Getting practiced and gaining more experience, Bonnassar along with team chose 3D printing option. Similar to Bonassar from Cornell, Princeton researchers have 3D printed an ear; they have differentiated themselves by assembling an built-in electronic components for superhuman hearing.


    The introduction of 3D printing has increased excitement and curiosity in students. They are now encouraged and are also able to express their imagination in a tangible form. This has proved to be a positive change as the students are more and more willing to explore the subject and increase their understanding in it. That is, the education is not just limited to books and screens now, it can be attained by creating physical article and understanding it more practically. This also increases the students’ activity as rather than listening or reading the theory. They can have hands on experience on a particular subject.

    3D printing encourages the students to keep trying until success is achieved. It helps them see a physical product and they are the judge to analyze if this is what they imagined, if not, then they try again to achieve the closest possible result. This further increased their immunity to failure and passes on the attitude that failure is the ladder to success. Hence, increasing the confidence.

    Additionally, 3D printing organizations are lending their printers to the schools for no cost. In return of lending these printers, all they need is the teachers’ feedback on what response they get from the students on this technology and how could they improve both the product as well its training modules.


    3D printing in fashion is a self-explanatory term, that is, wearables that are printed through 3D printers. Now as amazing it sounds it is an extremely complex concept. The reason being that traditionally 3D printing was introduced for non-flexible items, more like parts for machinery or monuments. Due to this complexity, the manufacturing of 3D printed clothes is an expensive operation and, at present, is only limited to fashion shows as concept models. Most of theses are created using mesh systems. Danit Peleg, an isreali fashion designer, specializes in such a genre of fashion. Another example would be Adidas Futurecraft 4D shoe.


    While 3D printing in itself is a tremendous innovation, when it comes to 3D printed foods, it sounds unbelievable. Various culinary organizations have been trying their hand in this additive manufacturing technique. One of the most common material used in such processing is chocolate. This is especially used in creating esthetically pleasing patterns that are edible as well. Foodini from, is an example of such an organization.

    Additionally, this technology is used in a German nursing homes where the produced result is categorized as Smoothfoods which is a combination of mashed peas, carrot and broccoli.

    Furthermore, Culinary Institute of America made a partnership with 3D Systems, the inventor of the ChefJet for beta testing their 3D food printers. The CIA plans on using 3D food printing in their internship and fellowship programs.


    3D technology has been appreciated by the automotive industry since its early stages in innovation. It has proved a beneficial method in this industry by allowing for newer designs, reduced lead times, and decreased costs.

    Some major manufacturers that rely on this technology are as follows:

  • Audi:

    Audi recently introduced its 3D printing centre in Ingolstadt where it is working in collaboration with SLM Solutions Group AG who has its expertise in metal additive manufacturing.

    It has proved beneficial to Audi as when it comes to building rare or complex parts, traditional manufacturing for these parts is extremely expensive. Also, it gives the designer more freedom for design to serve a multi-purpose.

  • Rolls Royce: English luxury car manufacturer, Rolls Royce is also adopting 3D printing as a technique to increase the number of cars to be produced. Traditionally, it takes roughly six to seven months to create a single Rolls Royce model; 3D printing would enable this make to produce more efficiently. Recently BMW 3D printed 10,000 components for Rolls Royce’s Phantom model. Although currently 3D printing is limited to manufacturing parts of a car, Rolls Royce’s CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös anticipates that soon these printers would be able to produce majority of the car components, including the body.
  • Porsche:

    Similar to Audi, Porsche has also collaborated with SLM for 3D printing its parts, especially the rare ones for its classic models. The storage of parts for the Porsche models on the road would have been impractical for the company. To tackle this, 3D printing has enabled the company to manufacture parts based on the client’s needs.


  • Sand layers Linked Together An Italian architect, Enrico Dini, who got famous with a title, “the man who 3D prints houses”, demonstrated a 3D printing process using a distinct ‘D-Shape’ 3D printer. It creates structures by binding layers of powered sand in the form of a solution which becomes rock solid upon drying. These printers are 4X4 metre in dimension and have a capability of creating up to 6 cubic metres structure.
  • Metal for Solid Structures A Dutch company MX3D introduced a construction method called WAAM (Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing). This method enables a compatible printer to produce 3D metal structures. These printers are equipped with a welder and a nozzle to weld, layer-by-layer, metal rods.
  • World's Tallest 3D Printed Building: Advances of 3D printing have gone as far as creating a whole building. Chinese company WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co became the first to produce such a building and by far is the tallest 3D printed structure. The material for its construction was formed by creating bricks using the debris from old demolished buildings; hence reducing the waste and promoting recycling in manufacturing.


    3D manufacturing is advancing on earth at a drastic rate. To take this a step further, this technology is now also used for space projects. Most of it is to create cost effective parts for space technology. Now, when most of the printing is done on earth, there are some advance printers which hold the capability of printing directly in the space. This printing in space is a challenge as there are several factors that need to be kept in mind including gravity and the resistant material.

    Ground-Breaking Innovation:

    A legally blind couple from Brazil always dreamt of seeing their child in the ultrasound images; instead, they got to feel it. Thanks to Dr. Heron Werner, a gynecologist and obstetrician working in Rio de Janeiro, who uses a 3D printer to make lifelike models from images obtained by a GE ultrasound machine. Dr. Werner got inspired to make 3D models by his visit to a local museum which had an Egyptian exhibit that mentioned about preserving bodies. It was a great gift for the couple. Through this model, they were insured that the baby was growing healthy. Doctors can use this technology to help parents better understand defects such as cleft lips, abnormal extremities etc. It can also serve as an educational tool.

    The Future:

    Speed Increment by 50 to 100 X:

    3D printing in itself is a very amazing technology; however, a typical printer exerts an immense amount of force and heat and the time it takes to manufacture is quite a lot. A group of researchers at MIT were successful in creating a prototype that is roughly 50 to 100 times faster than a traditional desktop 3D printer. As an example, this prototype could create a pair of eye glasses in 3.6 minutes.

    Metal to replace Plastic:

    Creating figures using plastic releases a large amount of waste post its manufacture. To counter this, large companies like Google and GE are planning to invest in metal releasing 3D printers. This will enable a construction of more durable items at a low cost of waste that it may release.

    Edibles on Earth as well as in Space:

    Population is growing and solutions are required to meet their dietary requirement. Not enough is available for everybody based on our current dietary habits. 3D printed, plant-based protein will provide a more sustainable solution to handle this issue. Current consumption of meats leads to an uncontrollable amounts of gas house emission. This plant based meat would provide the consumer a similar amount of satisfaction at no cost of greenhouse gas emission. It is predicted that over the next 5 years, the costs of these plant based meats would reduce and the texture would improve as well.

    Sustainable Neighbourhoods:

    The construction and Real Estate industry would face a drastic drop in pricing with adoption of this technology. The reason for this is that 3D printed homes offers cheaper and environment-friendly alternatives to traditional homes. The need for such houses was first felt in the Dutch city of Eindhoven where this city was facing lack of bricklayers compared to the population’s housing demands. Also, this manufacturing techniques leads to lesser cement waste. With addition to that, recently a Startup company NewStory was able to create 100 homes in 8 months at a cost of around $6000 each.

    Design on Command:

    In the age of smart homes and smart cities, 3D printing is also on the road to get smarter. Getting an item created via 3D printer on a verbal command is the new path that this technology is taking. These printers will have AI-powered generative designs. An example of such a phrase would be “Hi Cogni, create a pair of shoes, 8.5 medium…”.

    Implications offered by 3D Printing:

    Save time and effort: The major factor in this is the ability of perfection and accuracy. Once inserted in the software, the printer would produce exactly what is ordered, eliminating any scope of human error, leading to conservation of time. An example would be 3D printed homes (constructed in around a month Vs. 8 months with traditional methods)

    Personalized reproducible Nutrients: Terms like high in protein and low in fat would now be customizable. Consumers would be able to order plant-based meats with desired amount of macronutrient (based on government allowance)

    Impact of 3D printing on Business Model:

    Historically, products were designed to be made with high efficiency and low cost, hence, every customer received the same thing as every other customer did. Now each customer would be able to choose or even create a customized product and the company will manufacture the product based on the customers need.

    Enterprise-class 3D printers are available for a wide and growing range of providers, who are offering improved performance at lower cost. For example, Admatec, Desktop Metal, Formlabs and Markforged have introduced 3D printers that work with metals or ceramics in an office environment.

    3D printing transforms customer relationships from “product push” by marketing to new on-demand “product pull” models. Customer relationships become more agile with 3D printing as they call for on-demand solutions tailored to their exact specifications. Hence, lesser inventory to be stored by the business.

    With addition to that, a major cost cutting that 3D printing brings is through eliminating the supply chain. In a traditional manufacturing business, the final product reaches the consumer after going through several intermediaries. These intermediaries include supplier, distributor, transportation etc. All these factors get eliminated when 3D printing gets used.

    Gartner’s Hype Cycle:

    Annually, Gartner Institute publishes its predictions for the new technologies in the market. This helps the manufacturing companies to make an estimate of what should be contracted next to meet the consumers’ needs. For 3D printing, the most recent one was published in Mid-December of 2018 as a prediction for 2019.

    While 3D printing is expected to continue its growth, its advanced version 4D printing has come into play. It is now at the first phase of the hype cycle. It is being recognized for its dynamic capabilities. Currently it is being developed and researched by some companies such as Airbus, HP and Stratasys. This technology of 3D and 4D printing is expected to reach its plateau in about ten years. It is also being predicted that by 2023, this technology is expected to capture around $300 million in venture capital.













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