Early this year, San Francisco-based startup company Apis Cor built a house in just 24 hours.
The secret? A mobile 3-D printer.
According to a TIME report, Apis Cor built a 400-square foot home with a bedroom, bathroom and hallway through the magic of 3-D printing technology. This house, located in Moscow, can withstand a heavy snowfall and is predicted to last for 175 years. What’s more amazing is that the house costs only $10,134, and that’s using what Apis Cor claims as the highest quality materials. This means that with the use of just the average materials, the cost would be much less. Watch this video to see how the house was built using the 3-D printing technology.
The construction of this house is just the latest in what is already a long list of innovations that was brought about by 3-D printing. And the possibilities for new ones are endless.
But what exactly is 3-D printing?
3-D printing is defined as an additive manufacturing process of producing three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. In layman’s terms, this means taking a file of a design, say a cartoon character, a leg prosthetic or a car and then simply printing it, using a special type of printer, to produce the object. Going back to the Apis Cor example, a house design was digitally fed to a special mobile crane-like 3-D printer which then served as the trigger to build the house, its walls and partitions.
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Currently, there are various types of 3-D printers available, from the cheapest to the most complex and highly expensive ones. According to Manufacturing Global, the beauty of the 3-D printing technology is that it is able to create nearly any geometric form with the help of design software. This means that whatever type of material you need to create, there is an available printer for it, or at the very least, the technology to enable you to print it.
This is the reason why there are now a lot of materials that are being 3-D printed. Take for example Adidas’ Futurecraft 3-D shoes and the Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit which have both been produced using the 3-D printing technology. Currently, 3-D printing is both being experimented and used in various sectors such as manufacturing, fashion, engineering, architecture, design and most especially in the medical field. Its uses are so immense its led McKinsey Quarterly to report that 3-D printers can not only handle materials ranging from titanium to human cartilage but also produce fully functional components, including complex mechanisms, batteries, transistors and LEDs. In fact, a BBC report noted that UK’s Royal Air Force jets are equipped with 3-D printed parts which has helped in cutting costs, and that NASA sent a 3-D printer into space for astronauts to use in manufacturing parts and tools.
Here are just a few of the benefits that 3-D printing has enabled:
1. Product development and manufacturing time has been cut and made more efficient.
Turnaround time for product development and manufacturing have been accelerated. 3-D printing has made it very easy to create prototypes, test them and even get immediate customer feedback. It has also enabled the possibility of customization and individual designs. What’s more, it has also allowed for the production and manufacturing of more products according to demand.
2. 3-D printing provides the opportunity to cut costs.
While the initial set up of 3-D printing will definitely be expensive, it will still redound to lower costs in the long term. This is due to the efficiency in research and development and even less requirement for workers hired to do manual labor. 3-D printing will also enable manufacturers to just produce materials that are needed on demand and to produce them locally, hence cutting costs in terms of logistics, and even storage.
3. 3-D printing has positive outlooks for the environment.
While there is still an ongoing debate on the impact of 3-D printing to the environment because it can spawn the creation of useless products that will eventually end up in landfills, a Michigan Technological University study shows that it is actually environmentally friendly. According to the results of the study, a 3-D printer uses less energy—and therefore releases less carbon dioxide – than producing it en masse in a factory and shipping it to a warehouse. Also, there is significantly less wastage in 3-D printing, and if properly designed, the material produced can be easily reused or recycled.
4. It has fueled significant progress in the medical field.
The contributions of 3-D printing to medicine cannot be understated. Fortune Magazine reports that it has totally transformed the prosthetics business. It has also helped in customizing various medical needs such as dental crowns, hip joints and hearing aid shells according to Manufacturing Global. Another possibility that is being looked into is what Green Garage Blog reported as the potential of doctors to build and replace critical organs quickly without the risk of donor rejection. This is because organs will be 3-D printed according to the DNA of the patient.
5. It creates opportunities for new players in the manufacturing industry and more jobs.
3-D printing opens up a wealth of opportunities for new players to enter the manufacturing industry, serve up customized products or collaborate with big companies. It also provides employment for designers, artists, engineers and technicians, innovators, among others who can work in this new industry.
However, it must be said while new prospects are cropping up because of this new technology, it can also have negative impacts on the people whose livelihoods are dependent on manufacturing, as 3-D printers are expected to do the labour-intensive work historically done by humans. There is also the real possibility of creating useless materials that will eventually find its way into landfills and the current limitations of the technology in terms of materials used, among others.
The point is, 3-D printing is still in its development stage. This means that there are still various aspects of it that needs to be addressed. The most important consideration is how to respond to the possibility that some workers will be displaced and unemployed because of the technology. In the meantime, further research must continue to refine 3-D printers and consider its long-term effects on sustainability.
What do you think about the impact of 3-D printing? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below.