If you haven’t seen a 3-D printer being demonstrated in person, it can sound a little bit "Terminator 2: Judgement Day". Futuristic, complicated to operate, costly materials, these are all things that may come to the forefront of your mind. But in reality, they are straightforward pieces of technology. The possibilities for use are quite exciting, ranging from useful (the function to fabricate small medical parts for example) to the seemingly more trivial (Needing a small-scale replica of the Bat Mobile that you can't find in stores? Done). The question pertinent to you is: Should you get one for your workplace? The argument for 3-D printers for everyday office use is still up in the air and depends on your industry. While they’re getting more affordable, it seems like it’s a niche market- for now. Assuming its eventual graduation from the hobbyist market, here are some examples of the very functional use of 3-D printers in the workplace:
- Medical use: 3-D printing has been used to make a human kidney. Surgeon Anthony Atala from Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine showed off a printed kidney at a 2011 TED conference. The 3-D printer used living cells. The kidney recipient joined Dr. Atala on the TED stage, testifying that his life has improved greatly since the transplant.
- One word: Chocolate. In 3D chocolate printing, chocolate is melted, tempered and deposited into 2D cross-section on a substance like a printer printing a 2D image onto paper. The substance is then lowered. Thickness and the deposition process repeat layer-by-layer to form a solid 3D chocolate product that is designed by a 3D computer design. Cost-efficiency comes in when the need for intricate molds are replaced with 3-D printing technology. The result can be the same decorative and delicious chocolates sold at specialty chocolatiers!
- Architects and designers have spoken up about how 3-D printers could be used to replace paper waste in their small-scale model proposals shown to clients. The long-term benefits of using recycled plastic and saving trees will have you feeling environmentally guilt-free.
The question remains if the 3-D printer revolution will come to your home or office first. But being in the very beginning stages of this revolution, it’s fair to say that we should all pay attention to the developments of this exciting new addition to technology.