by Satish B, Academic Head, Department of Animation, Jain University



That’s an incredible story. However, 3D printing is no longer the stuff of fantasy and science fiction. It is real and it is around the corner.
With the ‘print’ command you can make anything from a coffee cup to a fully functioning gun. Even human organs can be printed out.
Welcome to the future of fabrication.

What is 3D printing?

Although 3D printing has been around from 1984, this exciting process was little understood and less appreciated possibly due to the inflated costs of personal printing.

3D printing is the process of creating a three dimensional functional object from a digital file. It is an additive manufacturing process in which layers of plastic or other materials are added and fused together until the entire object is created.  

The digital version of the model is created using a CAD application. This digital information is fed to the 3D printer which then breaks up the model into a succession of 2D layers and prints it out. With their rapid prototyping capability, 3D printers have replaced long production lines in a factory with a single machine.

Dragon Head


How does it work?

Imagine baking every single slice of bread and gluing them together to form the whole loaf of bread. There are several types of 3D printers. All of them work on the same basic principle.

The first working 3D printer was created in 1984 by Charles W. Hull of 3D Systems Corp. He published a number of patents on the concept of additive manufacturing. Earlier, 3D printing was very expensive and was inaccessible to the general market. However, today the costs have dropped drastically.

The plastic used in 3D printing comes as strands of filaments.


This filament is fed into the 3D print head. It passes through a heated tube and melts. The molten plastic is deposited layer by layer and these layers quickly seal to form a 3D object.  
The shape of the object is digitally created by the user in a CAD application beforehand.

3D print head


Applications of 3D printing

3D printing is used to create automobile parts, fashion accessories, toys and even human organs. Here are a few creative examples.

1. Automotive industry:

General Motors use 3D printing to make light weight car parts. Ford Motor Company uses 3D printing to make prototypes of many parts in their vehicles, such as cylinder heads, brake rotors, shift knobs and vents.



2. Aerospace:

Recently, NASA’s rocket engine injector made from a 3D printer passed a major hot fire test. In the test, the rocket engine injector generated 10 times more thrust than any injector made from 3D printing in the past.


3. Military and Defence:

Army research laboratories use 3-D printed batteries, antennas, fuse elements, weapons and wings for unmanned aircraft.

3d printed gun

4. Bio printing:

Biotechnology firms are using 3D printing to print human organs which are made of living cells. ORGANOVA and NOVOGEN are a few medical research firms specializing in 3D bio printing.

bio printing

5. Prosthetics:

Buttercup the duck was born with his left foot backwards in Arlington, Texas. Buttercup is being taken care of by Mike Garey. Garey noticed that Buttercup would not be able to survive by hobbling around. This is why Buttercup’s left foot was amputated by the Collierville Animal Clinic and a 3D printing company called NovaCopy built a new foot made out of silicon for Buttercup.

Today Buttercup is able to perform all of the same things that other ducks in the flock can.  Here is a video of Buttercup using the 3D printed prosthetic foot for the first time:

Roland Lian Cung Bawi was born with a ton of dangerous heart defects that required complicated surgery. A Kentucky heart surgeon and a team of engineers 3D-printed a model of the baby’s heart, which they used to explore possible methods of conducting the surgery. Thanks to all that practice, the hospital completed a successful surgery on baby Roland.


6. Implant and Medical Devices:

Ivan Owen, from Washington State, and Richard Van As, of South Africa, collaborated over the Internet to create a 3D-printed hand for an adorable five-year-old boy missing fingers on his right hand. Mr. Owen and Mr. Van As devised the amazing Robohand for little Liam Dippenaar, and now they’re reportedly fitting one for another child in South Africa with the same condition as Liam.

robotic arm

In 2012, Stephen Power was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him with terrible injuries, including a fractured skull, and broken cheekbones, top jaw and nose. As the BBC reports, doctors were able to reconstruct his face using a series of 3D-printed implants modeled after Mr. Power’s own skull.



7. Rapid manufacturing and Mass production:

Consumer goods and toys are manufactured at an accelerated rate as a result of 3D printing. The material includes plastic, ceramic, brass, silver, gold and steel.


Shapeways offers easy online 3D printing.

Twinkind makes 3D life like miniature portraits.



Apart from these 3D printing is also used in food, clothing, eye wear and architecture. Research is ongoing to develop new applications.

 The following video showcases the top 10 3D printers.

Limitations of 3D printing

Though this technology is exciting, it is still evolving and has limitations.

  • Most consumer goods are made of many materials. A 3D printer generally creates an object using only one.
  • Copyrights protection of design and materials is a problem, as anyone can 3D print a design.
  • If a printed product is faulty or harmful, it is hard to say which party is liable.
  • Learning a CAD application is difficult.
  • It takes time to master basic engineering principles and apply them to these products.
  • This technology is primarily used for prototyping. To print larger models larger printers are required. It also takes longer to print full scale models. 

With several technology firms at work across the world, the day is not far when a 3D printer will print out different materials with colors of our choice. In the meantime, we must consider what this technology can do for us or against us.

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