February 19, 2013
3-D printing is not a new technology but it is becoming more accessible and cost efficient for everyone to use, not just big industries.
President Barack Obama spoke about the technology in his 2013 State of the Union address and said, "New workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything."
The UVa engineering department has a lab with seven 3-D printers and students are using them understand and develop the technology.
David Sheffler, a UVa Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Professor, said, "You can imagine in the next five years or so the speed of these printers really increasing. Increasing to the point where you could really consider mass production as a viable process for 3-D printing."
3-D printers can print almost anything and as the technology continues to advance, the options of what you can print become endless.
"Anything you can imagine buying. We print in ABS plastic. So, that's really the plastic in your sunglasses," said Sheffler. "Along with different material options that are coming online, people are starting to print not only plastics and metals but rubber and even bone and organs."
The printer gives you a solid object that is held together by a white support material. Once the material is soaked in a bath of sodium hydroxide, the object then becomes moveable, if it's meant to move, and all one piece.
With 3-D printing becoming more and more user friendly, anyone is capable of designing and printing objects whether they are good or bad.
Sheffler said, "I've seen articles written where people are printing out and designing magazines that could hold any number of bullets. So, even if you passed a law limiting manufacturers to a certain size magazine, you can imagine an individual going to any one of these machines and printing out anything they wanted."
3-D printers can make anything from model airplanes to gadgets and even custom shoes, all that can one day be a part of our everyday lives.