3D Printing (or additive manufacturing) has been gaining a lot of press in the industry lately and rightly so. The 3D printing industry is expected to change nearly every industry it touches, completely disrupting the traditional manufacturing process. The industry is expected to grow 300% in the next seven years, from $1.3 billion in 2012 to over $5.2 billion by 2020, as shown by the graph via Mashable.com below.
3D printing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital model. Using additive processes, an object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printing is considered distinct from traditional machining techniques (subtractive processes) which mostly rely on the removal of material by drilling, cutting etc.
3D printing is usually performed by a materials printer using digital technology. Some printers can utilize over 100 types of materials, such as rubber, hard plastics, ceramic, metals, concrete, and biological substances. There has been a large growth in the sales of these machines, and their price dropped substantially. Click for a cool graphic by 3D printing service Sculpteo called “3D printing is the future of manufacturing.”
Researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a low-cost, lightweight robotic hand based on additive manufacturing. This robot hand combines fluid power with additive manufacturing technologies and costs approximately 10 times less than similar devices.
Using additive manufacturing process scientists could integrate all of the fluid components (pistons, pump, motor housing, cams, fluid passages, etc.) directly with the mesh structure.
This process could reduce material consumption, waste streams, large investments into metal tooling, weight, energy used to fuse the material. This project has exciting implications for manufacturers of not only prosthetics, but a wide variety of fluid power products.
Click here to read the complete and very informative article in 3ders.org. Mashable also has a great article On How 3D Printing Actually Works with great video and a lot of links. To view a great overview on 3D printing, check out the following CNNMoney video.