Is 3D Printing the Next Game Changer?
Manufacturing objects on demand is not a fantasy—it's a revolutionary technology that may soon alter the consumer experience.
Think of a shoe you want to buy—or a flower you just saw—and imagine being able to "print" your own version of it from a machine in your home. Enormous strides in material science have enabled a technology called additive manufacturing (commonly referred to as 3D printing) to advance to the point where consumers can now have products, parts for such things as bikes and cars, and even teeth custom-made. The process is akin to a traditional printer, which layers ink on paper to form letters and words. Handheld 3D scanners can capture the precise form of your foot, for example, and send a digital file to a home-based printer that will layer material—typically advanced plastics, metal powders, ceramics, or glass—to make a perfectly sized shoe. One of the most important applications of the technology is in the medical field, where organs can be "built" from your own cells. Experts call the development of 3D printing the epitome of mass customization: a common product that can be constructed to fit you and your specific needs.