In one episode of The Big Bang Theory, Raj and Howard bought a 3D printer to manufacture an action figure doll to their likeness. Of course, when Bernadette finds out about it, she orders Howard to return it because it has no practical applications. While it may be some time before 3D printers become regular household items, there are current 3D printing applications that have changed the way business is done today.
This is the earliest of all 3D printing applications. Instead of spending a lot on developing a prototype, manufacturers can just print them out. This way, they can test designs and even allow consumers to make side-by-side comparisons. A prototype usually does not need to use the actual materials so manufacturers do not have to invest in the cost of materials to test their designs.
Restoration and Repair
Aside from creating prototypes, 3D printing can also be used to re-create objects that were once available but have since been lost from inventory stocks. For example, if a certain part of the first iPhone is no longer available, Apple can just have it made using 3D printer. This way, they do not have to keep a complete inventory in their warehouse.
Create Customized Durable Goods
While extreme recycling (meaning everything can be re-created as desired) is still far off in the future, today its possible to customize durable goods. Using cheap plastic resin, 3D printing can capture intricate designs with precise details. Today, you can print a hammer or a frame and hang it on your wall. As the technology improves, you may be able to produce more complex products in the future.
Perhaps the most personal of all 3D printing applications is the creation of medical implants, which must perform in harmony with organic structures of the body. Biological prosthetics, for example, have been created in a 3D printer to replace missing limbs.
Clothing and Textiles
Artists have developed new materials using 3D printers and created artificial leather. This was the material they used to create personalized clothing that is fitted to a specific body. In the future, it may be possible to print your own clothes.
Some ships of the US Navy can operate for extended periods far away from land and might need parts that are not readily available on board. They use a 3D printer to manufacture simple parts that they may need to make repairs.
There are plenty more 3D printing applications today. In a few more years, 3D will become more accessible to the general public and almost everything will be printed out.
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