3D or not 3D that is the future

February 17, 2013

`Australian farmers have always been an innovative bunch, it'll be exciting to see what they can do once they get hold of this stuff,' ­ Mark Pestkowski.
IF the hype is to be believed, developing technologies are set to drag the digital revolution out of computers and smartphones and into the real world.

3D printing is a relatively new set of techniques for building solid objects out of digital patterns, providing the ability to manufacture a dizzying array of objects, from small parts through to an entire car.

Local firm, Ultracut, already deals with cuttingedge tool fabrication technologies and boast aerospace firms on their client list. Mechanical designer, Darcy Miller said Ultracut was keenly watching the 3D printing space.

“We've been experimenting with 3D printing, mocking up a few objects ... it's exciting stuff,“ he said.

“It hasn't quite reached the level where we can use it commercially. But I'm fairly confident it won't be long before the technology matures.“

3D printers use a range of different materials to `print' three dimensional objects, from soft plastics through to titanium using an additive, rather than traditional subtractive process.

Objects are built up layer by layer using liquid material of varying types. Digital patterns created in existing computer programs such as CAD and 3D Studio Max, designate what type of object is produced. Mark Pestkowski, a 3D printing expert based in Melbourne, said the future of the technology looked bright for rural areas.

“Australian farmers have always been an innovative bunch, it'll be exciting to see what they can do once they get hold of this stuff,“ Mr Pestkowski.

“I was recently contacted by a company that is developing agricultural machinery. Currently they produce a model and then outsource the prototype to China. The lead times are very long ... with 3D printing they can make their own products and constantly adjust the finished product as it suits them.“

In recent years the price of 3D printers, which can range up to $50,000 for high end models, dropped below $1000, bringing them within reach of the domestic user.

Mr Pestkowski said several factors had led to the technology becoming widely available. “About three years ago one of the patents expired for a popular layer technique ...
combined with break-throughs and a rush of hobbyist interest, 3D printers have exploded in popularity,“ he said.

There are many practical uses for the technology in rural areas according to Mr Pestkowski.

“Scanning broken parts, fixing them digitally and printing out a new one will probably be fairly popular,“ he said.

“I broke a speaker case on the weekend and an hour later had manufactured a copy and replaced it. That's inconceivable a few years ago.“

Dozens of websites already exist dedicated to cataloguing patterns ready to download and print.

Practical applications include working smallscale windmills that generate power, quirky items such as jewellery, through to problematic objects like gun parts.

3D printing also has the potential to open up new fronts in online piracy. Popular file-sharing site, The Pirate Bay, put up a section to host 3D printing patterns several years ago.

And if all of that seems too much, consider Mr Pestkowski's parting comment, “One of the most popular applications for 3D printers at the moment is printing parts for 3D printers“.

source: hamiltonspectator.spec.com.auby MYLES PETERSON  

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