3D Printing Progress

3D printing is a cool concept that’s taking off. The industry is no longer in its infancy- producing little trinkets- but is now meeting real-world needs and producing incredible results. The technology has permeated nearly every area imaginable, including outer space, medicine, music, weaponry, food, clothing and fashion, and is now being introduced to our infrastructure.

MX3D, a startup tech company co-founded by Tim Geurtjens, is working to complete a 3D-printed footbridge by 2017 constructed only by robots that weld layer after layer of steel from melted wire. These revolutionary autonomous bots have huge mechanical arms that are able to extrude the steel material in any direction, and on a large scale.

The concept of 3D printing began in the early 1980s with the first commercial printer being released in 1986 by Charles Hull, owner of 3D Systems. Now the industry is wide-spread, revolutionizing the way we create and build things anywhere in the world- and beyond! The technology works by programming instructions into the printer and then, one layer at a time, material such as metal, plastic, ceramics, and even cooking ingredients are layered until the object has been fully created.

Today it’s possible to order something from anywhere in the world and have it produced on your very own 3D Printer. No shipping costs involved. But even if you don’t own a 3D printer, just stop by the nearest 3D printing facility- like Staples, which first began offering services in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2013.

This technology has produced amazing results in the medical field, including a skull piece to replace 75 percent of a patient’s skull, prosthetic hands, ear molds, a bionic ear, and stem cells. The military has deployed 3D-printed drones, parts for aircraft, guns and other weapons. NASA has been using this technology since 1999, and they now have the ability to produce tools and replacement parts aboard the International Space Station instead of having to wait months for the next launch; they’ve even considered using moon dirt- or regolith- to build future lunar bases, and have awarded contracts to companies to study the feasibility of printing food for astronauts.

Building a footbridge is a little closer to home, and Maurice Conti, director of MX3d, said, “One of the reasons that I’m so excited about this project is that it’s going to be a great demonstration of moving 3D printing into the real physical world.” To this point, full-scale manufacturing has been prohibited by cost, speed and size, and MX3D is overcoming those barriers with a new processes.

The bridge will eventually lie across Amsterdam’s Oudezijds Achterburgwal Canal, but is currently being constructed inside a large warehouse in the city. The bots will print as they move along a special track, doing the job between 10 and 1,000 times faster than human workers.

Conti is quick to point out that this technology won’t take over the industry; the robots will be able to do the dangerous and dirty jobs people shouldn’t or don’t want to do. “I think that’s why this is such a big deal,” Conti says.

Future possibilities include bridges for cars or trains, fixing offshore oil rigs, and building objects the size of a house.

I have to admit it’s so cool to see new technology come into existence, improve, and become perfected for everyday use. I’ve lived long enough to see the evolution of television, radio, phones, computers, film, and now 3D printers (although 3D printing is the only one I’ve been alive for since the beginning). It’s exciting to see the capabilities and imagine the future; entire buildings and cities could be created by robots. alone But such potential also brings cons. Once perfected the technology could become more cost effective than hiring human workers, putting an entire sector out of business. Sure, that may be far into the future, but technology is advancing at a faster pace than ever before. We’re witnessing the industry being revolutionized before our eyes, and it won’t be long before the first workers are displaced as a result. For now we may only see this technology used for dangerous jobs, but times will change, and we’ll need to adapt.

The human spirit and will are remarkable designs, and I suspect people will always be needed to work in some form or capacity. So even if we do find ourselves displaced by technology and out of a job, there will be something worthwhile for us to do. After all, ATM’s exist, but we still have bank tellers. It’s easy to be fearful of technology, but I think it’s better to welcome it and make the most of it. People can be helped in so many ways. And to that end, I think we need to improve our educational system so future generations are prepared for jobs that don’t even exist yet, and that’s exciting too!

It’s cool to see technology come into existence that we only saw in Star Trek and other sci-fi movies. Maybe we’ll have our very own Robby the Robot to prepare our food and drinks the way we like, manufacture our own homes, and keep them maintained. Who knows?

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