Tech Tuesday: 3D Printing

What are 3D-printed Objects Made of?
Currently, plastics are the standard materials for basic 3D printing. Some printers use paper, while others use powdered metals and even carbon fiber. However, this is an area of 3D printing that is rapidly improving.

What is 3D Printing Used for?
3D printers have been used to create everything under the sun, from toothbrushes to entire buildings. For instance, the use of 3D scanners along with 3D printing has transformed the production of prosthetics. By 3D scanning the body of a patient, a prosthetic hand or custom-made brace can be printed to fit that person at low cost. As a master’s student, I see a lot of 3D-printed objects in academia. Biologists, mathematicians, and other researchers use printed models of the molecules, particles, or geometries that they study to understand them in three dimensions. This helps researchers form better hypotheses as well as teach students. In industry, 3D printers enable the production of quick and inexpensive prototypes.


Watch the story of a boy with a 3D-printed prosthetic hand.(CBS Evening News, October 2013)

Will My Next Pair of Shoes be 3D Printed?
So far, 3D printing is useful for low-volume, high-value, products like prototypes and prosthetics; the current speed of printing is too slow for large-sale production. However, 3D printers may soon make the current model of manufacturing obsolete. As the cost of 3D printers and materials go down, you may be able to afford your own printer and simply print any design that you like at home. This would enable personalization of products for every customer, like name-brand shoes that fit perfectly, or a customized coffee table. (You might want, perhaps, an Ikea table with six cupholders and an embedded sculpture of George Clooney).

3D printing is an exciting young technology that is rapidly evolving. By understanding what 3D printing is and how it works, you can watch the layers of this technology take shape.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • A. Jayatilleke March 8, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    This is a great overview of 3D printing. I’d love to learn more about the tensile strength of 3D printed objects. Will my 3D printed shoes hold up to my daily walks? 😉

  • Trish March 6, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Interesting article. 3D printing holds exciting possibilities!

  • Jeden Dvatre February 27, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    So nice to finally have a clear explanation of 3D printing!

  • Lynne Shepsman February 27, 2015 at 6:39 am

    Ah, now I understand.

  • Victoria February 26, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you for the excellent explanation!

  • Fran Meyer February 26, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    Very interesting article and very relevant.

  • Kelly February 25, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Interesting article- would love to see more science based pieces.

  • Andrew Herman February 25, 2015 at 12:15 am

    Excellent article. Informative and written well. Cudos to the author, keep up the good work!

  • Karen Wasserman February 24, 2015 at 5:14 pm

    Very well written and concise explanation of 3 D printing. I think I need one to manufacture new kitchen appliances.

  • Andy Johnson February 24, 2015 at 11:13 am

    Really interesting. I’d never heard of 3-D printing before and now I’m trying to decide what I would create if I had one.

  • Roz Warren February 24, 2015 at 9:45 am

    Terrific piece! I’m definitely looking forward to printing myself one of those coffee tables.