Engineering and computer-aided design (CAD) software often go hand in hand. As an example of this relationship, the CAD drafting company CAD-Sourcing recently formed a partnership with Industrial Manufacturing and Installations (IMI), a millwright engineering and design contracting business.
CAD-Sourcing has been tasked with preparing all of the structural metal fabrication shop drawings that will be used by IMI in its latest project - modifying the Materials Testing Facility in Littleton, Colorado, for the defense and security company Lockheed Martin.
The project is likely to be lucrative for both IMI and CAD-Sourcing, since Lockheed Martin is widely known to be one of the premier manufacturers of advanced security products, including aerospace technologies. The Materials Testing Facility is a small branch of Lockheed's operation, which employs approximately 126,000 workers across the globe.
Bryan Luoma, the co-founder of CAD-Sourcing, expressed excitement about the potential of the partnership with IMI.
"We anticipate working with IMI, Inc. to provide detailed CAD shop drawings for the various metal fabrication and steel detailing requirements of the project in a quick and timely fashion," Luoma said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that the aerospace manufacturing industry employed a total of 503,900 wage and salary workers in 2008.
The future of industries like the computer-aided design (CAD) and STEM fields relies on an educated and creative base of employees. With regard to the field of advanced design technologies, the computer aided design (CAD) software developer SolidWorks is doing its part to promote the education of young women in these industries through its support of the Women's Technology Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
According to DesignNews, this program is being offered by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based college to girls currently in their junior year of high school. The initiative targets a demographic that, perhaps unfairly, is not always associated with an avid interest in technology. SolidWorks is supplying free software to benefit the Women's Technology Program.
The news source reports that a total of 60 participants, from high schools all over the United States, will be picked from a much larger applicant pool to take advantage of the program's benefits. To be eligible, interested young women must be top-performing students in the subjects of science and mathematics.
During the program, which will take place over four weeks, participants will be able to learn about a number of subjects important to the field. These include mechanical engineering, computer science and electrical engineering.
MIT states that applications for the program will be available in November, open to students who are juniors in fall of 2011.
The applications for 3D printing in the fields of scientific and medical research are numerous. Continuing this trend, a high-end 3D printer is being used at the 3D Virtual and Solid Visualization Laboratory of Lehman College in New York City to create convincing reconstructions of animal fossils from prehistoric times.
According to Scientific American, a 3D printer in this laboratory can form simulated versions of ancient animal remains that never actually fossilized, using data of all that is known about a given creature. Lehman College staff can manipulate the reconstructed fossils in a variety of ways - changing their size and adjusting them so researchers can examine them according to their needs.
The news source reports that liquid blue plastic is used in the school's 3D printer to form the fossil replicas. The printer's advanced capabilities allow scientists to create, for example a highly detailed reconstruction of a prehistoric australopith primate. For particularly large projects, printing can take up to 48 hours.
Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist and professor at Lehman College, is the founder of the 3D Virtual and Solid Visualization Laboratory, in addition to being co-director of the anthropology, biology and chemistry department at the school.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has done a great deal to earn its reputation as one of the premier colleges for highly advanced technology and engineering studies. It recently came up with a project that fused the principles of 3D printing, which has become prevalent in today's tech world, and sustainability by devising a 3D printer that works with recycled materials, according to Geek.
The news source reports that these printers use recycled plastic and other materials as a substitute for standing 3D printing materials. For example, the devices can use milk containers that have been broken up into smaller pieces to create the plastic necessary for their operation.
MIT's role in the development of this creation and other 3D printing projects can be seen as fitting, given the educational institution's status as the school where 3D printing was invented, nearly two decades ago.
These new printers are being used for a number of purposes. One of them is the creating of concrete-based designs with variable density at different points throughout the object.
The MIT Media Lab, where the printer was designed, is led by a dedicated research staff of 40 faculty members, senior researchers, scholars, research affiliates and visiting scientists.
The field of medical science is one of the areas in which 3D printing can be a considerably useful resource to researchers. Recently, a project at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology, in Stuttgart, Germany, used this technology in conjunction with the techniques of multi-photon polymerization to work toward creating artificial blood vessels.
According to Eureka Magazine, the methods employed allowed the scientists, led by Dr. Gunter Tovar, to envision the creation of detailed elastic structures with a 3D design plan. Although there is still a significant amount of work to be done, Fraunhofer Institute staff are hopeful about the prospects of this technique leading to the design of entirely synthetic organs with artificial blood vessels for supplying nutrients.
The news source reports that laser impulses were focused on the material, stimulating the molecules and facilitating their necessary cross-linking. Dr. Tovar expressed his positivity regarding the team's results.
"The individual techniques are already functioning and they are presently working in the test phase - the prototype for the combined system is being built," he said.
According to BBC News, this development could greatly advance efforts to create and engineer artificial tissue and organs to save the lives of patients in urgent need of transplants.
3D software and technology are already being employed in a wide variety of industrial fields, and new uses are continually emerging. In the last few years, teachers at schools throughout the U.S. have been adopting the technology in a variety of ways to enhance the learning experiences of their students.
According to the Wall Street Journal, after initial trial efforts with various 3D technologies proved fairly successful in a number of different schools, the technology began to be much more widely circulated. One of the most common applications of 3D is in the form of projectors that display visuals students can see as tangible objects, making the learning experience noticeably more interactive.
The news source reports that approximately 185,000 of these 3D projectors will be incorporated into American schools throughout the remainder of the year, at grade levels ranging from kindergarten to 12 as well as at several colleges.
A number of studies comparing the educational value of 3D projection against its 2D counterpart found that test scores increased significantly more for students taught with the former method rather than the latter.
3D projection is widely used in engineering, which as of 2008 took up 1.6 million jobs in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
For the members of the maker movement, the wide-scale adoption of 3D printing and rapid prototyping techniques has always been a question of not if but when. Over the last few months, there has been a flurry of activity within the industry itself, ranging from the merging of leading companies within the sector to innovations that have brought the technology to mainstream media attention.
While the market remains relatively small in terms of revenue earned, one of the concerns has always been that the price of desktop 3D printers themselves may prove to be a stumbling block in terms of wider consumer acceptance.
However, an over-funded project on popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter could be the answer. According to CNet, a Canadian start-up is offering backers the chance to purchase a 3D printer for $116, a price threshold that would certainly make it an affordable option for interested consumers and one that has already seen the original research and development funding goal of $50,000 exceeded by over $450,000 in less than a week.
3D printing innovation
What allegedly sets this cost-effective device apart from its competition is the fact that it relies on an innovative combination of photo-lithographic printing and a salt-water based drip process to create an object from an audio wave or sound file. According to the news source, the "Peachy Printer" uses a controlled beam of light to turn light-sensitive resin into 3D printed objects, with the installed software turning a CAD 3D file into a format that can be listened to by the printer, which then allows the drip feed to calculate the depth level required.
What this means in simple terms is that the Peachy Printer - which it should be noted is still in the prototype stage and unlikely to be shipped much before summer 2014 - uses less materials then conventional printers and, ultimately, allows even those with limited CAD skills to create an item. One drawback is that the light-sensitive resin is of a slightly lower quality than other 3D printing materials on the market, but for those who want to experiment with the technique at a low financial commitment, it could be an intriguing entry point.
"We didn't actually market it," said Rylan Greyston, the 28-year-old inventor of the 3D printer, in an interview with Canadian radio show News Talk 980. "We just sort of posted it, and it was shocking that it just sort of spread like wildfire on its own. I think it'll perform competitively with these $3500 versions. I've just made some groundbreaking changes to how you can make a 3D printer."
NASA has announced that it will be launching a desktop 3D printer into space in 2014, with the agency advising that the technology will be carried to the International Space Station as part of a proof-of-concept flight.
The confirmation that astronauts aboard the orbiting research facility will be able to utilize 3D printing and rapid prototyping as part of their daily routine has been on the cards for some time, but up until now the actual details of the mission remained under wraps. NASA has made no secret of it desire to use the technology in a variety of additive manufacturing roles, and the actual deployment of a 3D printer in a micro-gravity environment should provide the agency with the answers to questions about long-term feasibility and usage.
Speaking at the recent Maker Faire in New York, Mike Chen, the co-founder of Made in Space and the designated manufacturer of the 3D printer, told attendees that the plan was to allow the scientists to create spare parts and tools at first, with a permanent version potentially installed in 2015.
"Once our printer is there, we're going to be opening it up to the world to print things in space," said Chen, according to the Christian Science Monitor. "The paradigm shift that we want everyone to understand is: instead of launching things to space, just print it there. Why would you go through all the energy to build it here and launch it, when you can just build it there?"
Strength and accuracy testing
According to USA Today, applications of the technology will be limited in the initial stages, with testing for strength and accuracy expected to be at the top of the agenda. One other concern is that the device itself will have to withstand a tremendous pressure and vibration when launched, coupled with the potential limitations of traditional 3D printing material in a weightless environment.
However, according to one of the lead consultants on the project, the possibilities for 3D printing and rapid prototyping in space are unlimited. In an interview with the news source, Andrew Filo noted that it would get rid of concepts such as "rationing, scarce or irreplaceable," a scenario that is very much in the minds of the designers of the device itself.
"Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair on the International Space Station," said Aaron Kemmer, CEO of Made in Space, according to USA Today. "Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3-D printed when they needed them?"
Oral hygiene may not be considered one of the benefits of 3D printing, but a revolutionary new toothbrush could soon be making its mark in the dental sector.
According to The Independent, the Blizzident bears an uncanny resemblance to an instrument of torture, but its creators have claimed that it can reduce brush time from an average of 3 minutes down to less than six seconds. Not only would this be great news for any parent who faces a daily battle to persuade children that brushing teeth is an essential part of a healthy mouth, but it would also allow for dental hygienists to personalize oral care.
Simply biting down and chewing on the "brush" for under 10 seconds is enough to provide a through cleaning experience, with the global team of dentists and computer scientists behind Blizzident using a 3D model of a user's teeth to create the device. Once the mouth has been scanned, a 3D printed model is produced, with over 400 individual bristles being attached in areas where they are needed most.
"Because you are brushing all your teeth at the same time, you are brushing extremely quickly," said a spokesman for the company, according to the BBC. "You brush all the difficult-to-reach and interdental regions without even having to think about it."
The brush itself currently costs around $400 to produce, and is designed to be an exact fit. However, maintaining healthy teeth and gums also comes with a hefty price tag, with replacement Blizzidents - which are obviously produced using the same CAD 3D files - expected to retail at just over $200.
Obviously if the 3D printed customized brush becomes popular in the consumer marketplace, that price will drop, however anything that encourages cleaner teeth and healthy mouths is bound to be popular with the dental industry.
The global market for additive manufacturing will increase significantly in the coming years, with 3D printing and rapid prototyping believed to impact a number of industry sectors.
According to a recent report by Research and Markets, revenue is expected to increase from $1,843 million in 2012 to an estimated $3,471 million by 2017. The research shows that the automotive industry will retain the lion's share of the market in that time, with consumer products and healthcare applications also seen as potential areas for 3D printing growth.
With computer aided design an integral part of the 3D printing process, manufacturing sectors that utilize the technology will be prime targets for companies that can provide design validation and simulation software options in the future. At the same time, there will be an increased uptake in the number of desktop 3D printers being shipped with a separate report from Gartner Research predicting that the market will increase by 49 percent in 2013 alone.
Building on nascent market
"The 3D printer market has now reached its inflection point," said Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner, according to CXO Today. "While still a nascent market, with hype outpacing the technical realities, the speed of development and rise in buyer interest are pressing hardware, software and service providers to offer easier-to-use tools and materials that produce consistently high-quality results."
From a usage standpoint, the report highlighted the fact that the increased acceptance of 3D printing as part of the manufacturing industry will see more units produced, with the authors of the report noting that physical shipments of 3D printers priced under $100,000 will increase by 75 percent in 2014 and likely double by 2015.
User spending on printers will reach $412 million in 2013 - a 43 percent rise from last year. The report also considers that the sector will increase by another 62 percent in the next 12 months, with $536 million being spent in the enterprise or commercial sector alone. Mass adoption, while still come way in the distance, will be reliant on an increase in rapid prototyping or one-off projects, while an expected drop in hardware price is expected to play a significant role.
In terms of consumer availability, the research also predicts that seven of the largest national multinational retail companies will be selling desktop 3D printers either physically or online. The authors also concluded that advances in the technology would continue to impact the sector, with the consensus being that the reduction in material price and perceived complexity would see increased adoption in the retail space.