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Last updated: 13th July 2011
First published: 13th July 2011
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer
So what is 3D printing? Essentially, a 3D printer is a machine that can turn a blueprint into a physical object. Feed it a design for a wrench, and it produces a physical, working wrench. Scan a coffee mug with a 3D scanner, send the file to the printer, and produce thousands of identical mugs.A number of companies, including Z Corporation, manufacture and sell a range of 3D printers at surprisingly affordable prices. At this point in the rapid evolution of this technology, 3D printing is most commonly used for creating realistic models, prototypes and parts. However, the potential applications are virtually endless and, as the technology becomes more and more sophisticated, we are likely to see more and more such applications put into practice.
While even today there are a number of competing designs for 3D printers, most work in the same general way. Instead of taking a block of material and cutting away until it produces an object, a 3D printer actually builds the object up from tiny bits of material, layer by layer. Among other advantages, this allows a 3D printer to create structures that would be impossible if the designer needed to find a way to insert a cutting tool into a solid block of material. It also allows a 3D printer to form general-purpose material into a wide variety of diverse objects.
Because they create objects by building them up layer-by-layer, 3D printers can create objects with internal, movable parts. Instead of having to print individual parts and have a person assemble them, a 3D printer can print the object already assembled. Of course, a 3D printer can also print individual parts or replacement parts. In fact, some 3D printers can print a substantial number of their own parts, essentially allowing them to self-replicate.
[W]hile you are correct in noting the variances between the scanned and printed wrenches, we were certainly not trying to cheat or pull a fast one on viewers. Rather, the objective and message of that particular portion of the video was to demonstrate how easy it is to make changes to a scanned part using 3D software (we were changing the color of the part at the time). Indeed this is the most common way that engineers work with scanned parts Ė get it into 3D software first: then stretch this, add that, print and see if youíre satisfied with the results Ė a basic iterative design process. We are strong proponents of iterative design because that process produces better results. Even if no changes were made to the basic structure of the tool, it is very common for engineers to modify a scanned file, for example, to complete the internal workings of a moving part that might not be visible to the scanner. Itís not cheating or deception, just normal processes familiar to users of all 3D scanners. Obtaining a near-exact replica of an object is entirely possible even though that was not shown in the video.And a YouTube comment on the video posted by a person claiming to be a Z Corporation employee concurs:
As the Z Corp employee in this clip, I can assure you that this is most certainly not faked. The differences you noticed between the original wrench and the printed one were done to demonstrate that once scanned, the geometry can be digitally edited - and then printed. (This is the normal workflow for most of our customers today) In the interest of time, the producers cut the explanation of the editing down.)In any case, regardless of your take on this particular video, the fact remains that 3D printing is very real, and increasing in sophistication every day. There is simply no doubt that 3D printing technology is already able to produce copies of complex objects such as adjustable wrenches and much more besides.