This weekly column will feature the latest topics and trends constantly emerging in a rapidly-growing technical world. Each week, we will focus on a specific technical topic, with topics covering a wide range of technical issues and the latest technical gadgets.
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Welcome to the second installment of a weekly tech column that will run this semester.
This semester’s topics will range from technologies that are becoming a reality after being imagined as science fiction in the 40s and 50s to new developments and trends that we could see on the market in the next 10 to 15 years. The topic this week is the booming field of 3D printing.
First brought to life in the early 80s, 3D printing was something out of science fiction. Today, the average person can print everything from a phone case to functioning tools or even weapons.
On campus alone, Elizabethtown College has three 3D printers for student use. The Department of Physics and Engineering has one in the Fabrication Lab for their students.
For the access of all students on campus, the Innovation Lab in Nicarry 107 has two printers for use for a small charge of one to five dollars based on the size of the print.
To try out or learn about 3D printing, stop by the lab during open hours or set up a time.
From an educational standpoint, 3D printing could be revolutionary.
Teachers and professors could print models to demonstrate principles in physics or mathematics.
The Innovation Lab will be creating curriculum this semester to detail how 3D printing can be used in the classroom.
3D printing made huge strides in the late 90s, which led to the first 3D printed kidney at the turn of the century. Currently, custom prosthetics and implants can be printed. The medical field is publishing research on the viability to print ears, cartilage, bone, heart valves and a liver.
The “New England Journal of Medicine” published a paper explaining that after using CT scans and a 3D printer, doctors were able to save the life of a baby by using a 3D printed tracheal splint that was both precisely modelled and bioresorbable. Using 3D printing technologies, medical professionals can save even more lives.
There are many arguments on both sides of the gun control debate as to how 3D printed guns should affect regulations. Ignoring any argument on legislation, 3D printed guns do not currently pose a threat to society.
At the moment, a sophisticated 3D printer using either polylactic acid (PLA) or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastics could print every individual piece of a gun, save the firing pin. Most parts are complex and would require support material, detail and high print quality.
Though files exist and are available online, the actual printing of a gun is a major process.
Even if someone undertook the operation, crafted each part perfectly and put it all together, a 3D-printed gun only has the material strength to fire a single round before the structural integrity is compromised.
With the current level of technology, this makes printing weapons a nonthreat. This does not mean that future developments will not simplify the process, however.
The field of 3D printing has boomed over the last 10 years as smaller and cheaper printers have become more available. These technologies are offering world-changing developments.