Monday, September 29, 2003

Rapid prototype printing may someday delivery parts from your computer!

Imagine this. You're on a long trip and your car breaks down out in the middle of nowhere. Blown fuel pump. So, you pull out your laptop and your 3D printer, open up a CAD drawing and "print" up a new one! In a few hours, you're back on the road.

An Astronaut on Mars needs new navigation boards since his were damaged in a recent electromagnetic storm. With the nearest parts store thirty-five million miles away, he just clicks "print" and his 3D printer does in minutes what would take a rescue mission up to a year and billions of dollars to provide - spare parts.

Sounds far fetched, but it could happen. In fact, it could happen NOW.

CNN TECH has a story about 3D printers named "Santa Claus machines," which can use a process called "rapid prototyping" to literally "print" a three dimensional shape, out of anything from starch, plastic or even metal.

The technology prints layer upon layer of conducting and semi-conducting polymers at the same time building up the piece of equipment being made. The process is called "flexonics" and is accomplished by using a print head similar to a deskjet design which "sprays" a dust onto the next layer and then mixes it with a bonding liquid before moving to the next layer.
The result is a true three dimensional object.

Next on the list of this emerging technology is electronics, as researchers seek to achieve the printing of electronic circuitry in an object. Such a breakthrough may make form, and function truly one in the same.

Flexonics could revolutionize everything from manufacturing to information. And coupled with "on-demand" flexibility could make wharehousing of parts a thing of the past.


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