The Current

3D printing technology changes manufacturing processes from cars to kidneys

The 3D printer first appeared decades ago and yet there is much delight, glee and anticipation over what it can do and is doing. Today The Current looks at at the ripple effect of a technology that has slowly, steadily, created a rapid revolution.
Journalist and presenter Evan Davies poses with a 3D printed model of himself in the exhibition '3D: printing the future' in the Science Museum on Oct. 8, 2013, in London, England. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

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Listen to some 3D printing enthusiasts and they'll tell you it's the dawn of a revolution, putting the power of industrial manufacturing into the hands of just about anyone. From 3D-printed cars to kidneys, to classical instruments and high-tech bikinis. 

3D Primer by Design Strategist Jeremy Faludi

What is 3D printing? 

3D printing is a whole collection of different manufacturing techniques. What they have in common is that instead of starting with a block of material and then cutting away, it's a process that builds from the ground up. And that can be done in a number of ways, from having melted plastic extruded from a tiny nozzle. Or it can be a bed of metal powder that you shoot a high powered laser at to melt the tiny tiny grains of metal together. 

Sarah Boivert, a pioneer in the world of 3D development, says 3D printing is heralding a new industrial revolution with massive improvements in manufacturing. (fdecomite/Flickr cc)

What kinds of materials can be used in 3D printing? 

Everything from the normal thermoplastics to bioplastics like PLA. You can print things in steel, or aluminum or titanium. There are companies that print in food, people printing in ceramics, that gets fired after you print the ceramic paste and there's even a company trying to print living human organs.

Who's using 3D printing? 

The biggest uses are niche industries that do a lot of mass customization. For example, hearing aid manufacturers where they want something printed to your particular ear canal. The airline industry or aerospace industry is 3D printing hundreds of different kinds of parts now. The bulk of the 3D printed industry these days is for prototyping and very small run or early stage manufacturing. Then there are the 3D printers in people's homes, mostly printing toys and sometimes even making spare parts if the dishwasher breaks. 

Guests in this segment:

This segment was produced by The Current's Marc Apollonio.