Features & Columns
Why 3-D Printing Matters
And it may just change commercial enterprises forever.
On Star Trek: The Next Generation, crew members use a machine known as the replicator to make replacement parts for the ship, prepare food and fix Captain Picard's usual: "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot."
Creating something out of nothing, the replicator is, sadly, pure science fiction. But using a newly emerging technology, we can design a wrench, a toy, a bike or a flying monkey, and with a click of the mouse, create it. This replicator is a printer, but what it makes is not a two-dimensional image of the design; not a paper model that folds into a 3-D one. This printer creates, quite literally, the object. Three-dimensional printing is here.
The implications of this technology are profound. Sidestepping the channels of mass production, 3-D printing affords individuals unprecedented power of creation. In the creative community that has embraced it, people speak about its potential to transform our global culture. It is, they say, the democratization of fabrication.
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