3D printing is getting big.
From printing out small trinkets like shopping bag handles and piggy banks, the technology has developed into creating full blown metal rockets blasting out 20,000 pounds of thrust.
NASA has just successfully test a 3D printed prototype engine that could withstand temperatures as freezing cold as negative 400 degrees to as hot as 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit or 3315 degrees Celsius.
This, of course, is a special case. NASA obviously didn't use plastics in their rocket. Instead, they used a sort of metal powder "ink" printed in layers and then melted together using a powerful laser in a process called selective laser melting.
For jobs both large and small, 3D printing is a quite the big deal. Especially as the more sophisticated parts of the technology trickle down to a level where regular consumers can make better use of it, 3D printing is one of the few technologies that can change the world.
What is 3D printing?
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is basically the process of taking a digital file and "printing" it out into a solid, three dimensional object. Imagine printing out a picture of an apple on a piece of paper, and printing out an apple that can actually be held in the hand.
Where that picture of an apple being printed on a piece of paper is created line by line, an apple created in a 3D printer is constructed layer by layer. From one side of the paper to the other side of the paper in a regular printer, a 3D printer creates a tangible object from the bottom up.
Obviously, 3D printed objects aren't made of ink. Rather, a 3D printed apple, for example, would be printed from a powdered base material (in this case probably plastic) that is kept together using a liquid binder.
Now we can't have a bite of that 3D printed apple just yet, but there are some other pretty cools things we, humans have made with the promising technology so far.
3D Printed Cars
Surprisingly, there's already been a handful of 3D printed cars. Some cars are made with 3D printed parts while other cars have been completely manufactured in huge 3D printers. Arizona-based Local Motors is getting itself into the business of customized vehicles using 3D printers to manufacture their customer's unique cars.
For those looking for more of a name brand amongst auto manufacturers, Porsche's gotten into the 3D printing car game, too. Because literally anything can be printed as long as the digital print file of an object is on hand, Porsche has made available the file for its Cayman S. Anyone up to it can now go ahead and make for themselves their very own Porsche.
3D Printed Buildings, Homes, and Castles
What's a 3D printed car for if it has no garage to call a home? Why not print out a 3D printed home to compliment one's 3D printed car? It's not possible, but it's already been done.
Winsun, a company that gained infamy for supposedly stealing intellectual property from an American company called Contour Crafting, has already created a few 3D printed homes and even a mansion.
Its latest project includes a 3D printed five-story building. Though not wholly printed in 3D as the building was printed in sections and put together like 3D printed Lego blocks, the feat itself is impressive.
More impressive is a 3D printed castle. Yes, a castle. For those with too much space in their backyards, a life-sized 3D printed castle beats a plain old treehouse any day. That's what Minnesota resident, Andrey Rudenko, did for his home (which he also intends to replace with a 3D printed one instead).
3D Printed Body Parts
This is where 3D printed technology gets serious because it can help save lives. Everything from livers, heart valves, bionic ears and many other organs are being constructed with 3D printing technology.
Jorg Gerlach of the University of Pittsburgh has developed a "skin gun," for example, that helps treat severe burns. Dr. Jonathan Butcher from Cornell University has created a 3D printed heart valve to treat congenital heart defects.
3D Printed Guns
As with all technologies, we've got to take the good with the bad. From saving lives to taking them, 3D printing can also be used to create weapons.
In the earlier days of the technology, guns was an obvious object to make in a 3D printer. Then, 3D printed firearms would easily break after firing just a few rounds.
As the technology has improved so have the guns being produced by them. A non-profit corporation called Defense Distributed actually has downloadable blueprints that allow people to print their semi-auto and automatic rifles right from home.
3D Bartending Machine and Smaller Things
Two things that definitely should not go together - drinking and shooting - 3D printed bartending machines are just as good as any other to help make drinks on request. The only thing bartenders have to worry about next are bartending robots.
3D printed tools are also all the rage in the niche 3D printing community. Everything from plastic hammers to wrenches may not have the longevity of its all-metal brothers, but these 3D printed tools can be made at home for that one nail that always seems to pop of that wall.
Finally, cameras. Cameras are expensive, but for the brand-unconscious, and especially for film enthusiasts, a 3D printed camera from a company called Pinhole can load 35mm film for shots. More surprising is that camera lenses can also be printed by using acrylic to replace glass, and the 3D printed lenses actually work!
Photo: Adam Levine | Flickr