3D printing is a very fascinating technology when you think about it. The ability to fabricate virtually any shape with a ton of options with strength, detail, smoothness, flexibility, or anything else is significant. There are over 60 materials to choose from when it comes to 3D printing. This means that there are so many options! Before I go into greater depth, what is 3D printing? 3D printing is the layer by layer assembly of three dimensional products through a 3D printer. Let me elaborate. Prior to the print beginning, a computer file will be created by a designer or engineer. This design will be sent to the 3D printer. The 3D printer's intelligent computer will then create the product through an ink jet, and some form of fusion in miniature layers, sometimes as small as a few microns. (the diameter of a human hair is usually around 20 microns) The printer will create the product in direct accordance to the 3D model. A jet will shoot out small particles of material on to the tray, or a flat table like piece on the 3D printer, and it will be fused by one of several methods.
Two popular methods to fuse the material together in 3D printing would be laser melting the material together, or using an adhesive chemical when laying down layers. Layers will stack upon layers, creating a final 3D product. Some layers will be as small as a few microns, which would require hundreds of layers total to create a small action figure sized model. This layer by layer process in 3D printing allows for the creation of a wide variety of shapes, some are free of geometrical limits.
What can be done with 3D printing? Sure, being able to create products in a layer by layer process with a variety of materials is cool, but what is so significant? There are plenty of significant projects going on, whether it be the prototyping of new products, creating specific parts for engineers or special projects, or working with the medical industry. I want to cover the possibility of paper thin solar panels through 3D printing. That's right, paper thin solar panels. First off, I want to say that the technology isn't there quite yet, but there is promise. Xerox managed to find a way to print silver at a lower melting temperature than plastic. What does that mean? Xerox was able to print silver onto plastic.
Silver is one of the key parts to circuits, conductors, inductors, and dielectrics. This could be the key to creating adaptable sensors, or even paper thin solar panels. Imagine that! Through 3D printing, paper thin solar energy could be produced! I'm sure it would be expensive at first, as the process is expensive, but the material price isn't too significant. As time progresses, the expenses of this technology are going down at an exponential rate and the advances of this technology is also shooting up at an exponential rate. Just image though, paper thin solar strips!