If we consider the statement ‘power of an idea can be expressed in words’ is correct, then the opposite is also true. All development sprouts from a thought or an idea that is then described in words. Through exploring the power of those words, we can understand the idea behind it.
With the new concept/idea of 3D printing coming to life, new words are being coined, to express the utilities of the idea. Most of these have never been heard before. All of them either directly or indirectly represent the multitude of capabilities of 3D printing that are possible today or will be possible in future, in the world of 3D printing. So let us explore this emerging terminology to understand what these new terms are or what they mean.
Additive manufacturing: Actually this can be treated as the root word of this technology. By definition it is a process of adding required materials to derive the desired structure. Additive manufacturing involves adding thin layers of material one upon other, either by melting a form of material or gluing thin layers of materials, depending on the size of the end product. (click here to read more about Additive manufacturing)
Virtual/Digital manufacturing: Most of our manufacturing needs are first achieved by designing them in a virtual digital world using softwares like AutoCAD or Sketch-up that are capable of producing 3D designs on the screen and even animating the mechanical actions of machines. Once the design is done, a series of parts are produced and then put together using different techniques (moulding, casting, forging, milling etc)
In the new 3D printing world, once a digital design is conceived, additive manufacturing makes it possible to produce the entire effort of manufacturing an object by one 3D printing machine that is capable of producing embedded components with complex compositions. This is an automated process. Unlike the traditional manufacturing environment where skilled labour is high, 3D printing requires very minimal knowledge. The process is comparable to using a printer to print a document.
With the manufacturing aspect made simple and user friendly, the focus of creating an object becomes primarily embedded on designing it in a digital world. Simply put, manufacturing is being completely ported to a digital world as the new world of digital manufacturing is coming to life. This is akin to wrapping up manufacturing activity into a box called 3D printing machine and the input to the machine is a digitally manufactured object. The entire complexity of managing the manufacturing process is condensed to a virtual or digital activity.
3D Printing: The traditional world of printing that we knew dates back to AD200 starting from Woodblock printing. Developments that followed include printing press, offset printing, digital printing. (Source: Wikipedia – History of Printing)
There is one thing common in all the above technologies, they print two dimensional impressions. The impression may have variations in colour and depth giving a view of three dimensions but they are in the form of an impression. The outputs are not real objects.
The outputs of 3D printers have all three dimensions length, height & width. Let’s say you have asked an architect to design your dream home. He comes up with a design. When you print it on a traditional printer, the image is imposed or an impression of the design is made on paper or cardboard etc. However if you print it in a 3D printer the output is formed in its true shape. You can touch and feel the desktop model of your home and keep the model for years to come, as a miniature of your dream home.
Desk top manufacturing (DTM): The ability of designing in virtual world using 3D softwares and being able to make a physical prototype is the new process of desk top manufacturing. This is an extended derivative of Desk to publishing (DTP). While DTP is creating books in virtual world sitting at your desk, DTM is manufacturing or creating objects while sitting at your desk.
Rapid Prototyping: 3D printing makes life easier by taking away the ordeal of manufacturing. 3D printing can create prototypes that look and feels like real life object but smaller in size. Once again a good example here is an architectural model of your new home. Once the design is finalised, the current practice is to manually create a model or a prototype by deployed skilled labour to create a model out of different materials (cardboard, plaster, colours, glue etc.). If this needs to be replicated, the whole process needs to be repeated which consumes time and resources. However, in 3D printing the design of the home can be quickly turned into a physical prototype by just sending the print command to a 3D printing machine, for as many models as required, at the click of a keystroke. It is easy, fast and efficient. This capability of delivering prototypes rapidly is ‘Rapid Prototyping’. This capability of 3D printing is equally good when extended to industrial engineering or product engineering.
Click to manufacture: 3D printing brings the manufacturing process to just a click away. All that the manufacturer needs to do is to store a design in virtual world. Just like we browse the required product on the internet a buyer selects the item he wants and once he clicks the confirmation the manufacturing is done by 3D printing.
Distributed manufacturing: Today manufacturing activities are concentrated at one place. This is predominantly done with a view of achieving the scale to keep the costs down. The massive cost of machinery that makes up the majority of the costs of production houses limits the number of manufacturing units we can have.
This could change once advancements are made in 3D printing technology. 3D printing machines are capable of producing various forms, shapes, materials. If we consider them as manufacturing machines, they are generic in nature. They can be located anywhere. The manufacturing can be done at the point of sale or at a local business. In some cases it can be done at a shop around the corner in others at your home. In other words, manufacturing can be Distributed across different locations and cater to different scales, small, medium or large.
Bio printing: Advancement in the 3D printing technologies have added the capability of printing human parts or bio compatible parts. Application of this in dental science is already in use. Research is underway to extend this technology for printing skeletal structures like bones, parts of skull etc. More research is done on other parts of the body like kidneys (Source: article from bbc).
Digital Blacksmiths: Proliferation of 3D Printing services in line with current paper printing services is expected to generate a new profession called ‘Digital Blacksmiths’. As manufacturing become a task of a machine available in the form of widespread services, designers need no further services of making an object from traditional manufacturing techniques – called Blacksmith in good old days. Designers will embrace the new avatar of becoming the ‘Digital’ designers who can make objects without the need of traditional ‘Blacksmiths’. Bridging the gap is what the new profession of ‘Digital Blacksmiths’ will be.