3D printing is a pretty interesting form of manufacturing technology in my opinion. This technology has allowed many character designers and casual hobbyist designers to make some money, all while having a good time doing so. Through this technology, artists have the chance to upload their own various models to various service companies, printing bureaus, or their own printers, allowing them to manufacture whatever they want. Through 3d printing, artists have a new way to reach out to their clients, a new way to decorate, and a new way to prototype. All in all though, what is 3D printing? What does it do? Why is it different?
To summarize the last few sentences in the last paragraph, I want to say this: 3D printing allows for the manufacturing of pretty much whatever you'd like. Through 3D printing, there are virtually no design limits as to what can be manufactured. Various styles of manufacturing have worked in the past, and some still do - however, 3D printing allows for the creation of virtually ANYTHING, while other old forms of manufacturing simply can't keep up to the design capabilities. There are so many details to 3D printing that separates it from the pack, such as the high levels of detail offered through this technology. Machining offers relatively high detail resolution in some situations, but not like what this technology can do. Some printers and materials offer detail levels as high as 11-313 microns. Keep in mind, the width of a human hair is around 40 microns. And when I say width, I'm referring to the diameter of a human hair, not the length. Imagine that: the detail levels of 3D printing is a small fraction of a human hair. That's crazy!
Another cool factor about 3D printing is the variety of materials offered. There are options all across the board. Some materials revolve around mechanical properties, such as stainless steel, titanium, cobalt chrome, or bronze. Other materials offer unique aspects, such as flexibility or snap on features. There are other materials that offer materials such as full color. One of my favorite classes of materials would be the wax castings - which revolve around SLA printing. These materials are the ones that typically offer detail levels in the ump-teens. Of course there are more affordable materials, such as ABS plastics. ABS plastic is the prime material used in LEGO's. Ultimately, there is a material for pretty much everything. If you need a flame retardant material that will snap in place, 3D printing can help. If you need a piece to go within a miniature jet engine, 3D printing will help. If you're an artist looking to showcase his or her work, 3d printing will also help your cause. Perhaps you are a project manager looking to test out a couple new designs for your project. 3D printing will also rise to the equation for you. There are so many options when it comes down to materials, that you can really create whatever you need. There are other options for the way that you manufacture, so the style of design isn't really much of an issue. 3D printing is already changing the world.