Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, the technological world offers yet another innovation – 3D printing technology. 3D printing has been around for decades, but has been mostly used by shoe making, car and technological gadget manufacturers, for their product prototypes. It has proven to be beneficial in their production processes, as well as cost effective.
According to 3D Printer Hub, 3D printing is (also known as Additive Manufacturing), where a 3-dimension of an object is created by laying down multiple layers of material. Technology has advanced to such an extent until the printer creates real objects from designs created from specified computer software.
Traditionally, printing is done on paper with text or images, otherwise known as 2D printing. For the 2D printer to print-out something or a paper with the right text or image there has to be a file on the connected computer, such as a Microsoft Word document for example. The material used to print out the exact document from the computer to the printer is paper and ink.
Much like 2D, 3D printing applies the same methodology with different machinery, software or programme, and material used to form the 3D object. One designs a 3D object on the computer using software and then prints out on the printer using material for the object. For example, to print a glass container, the printer uses powder granules of glass that will come together when printing to form the exact replication of the glass container. The printer may also contain plastic, silver among other materials to use as well on different objects.
“Accessibility of this technology is just happening so incredibly fast. 2012 could be the year when we see the breakthrough of the 3D printer as a consumer appliance,” techfortrade’s William Hoyle stated. With the reduction in pricing, the breakthrough mentioned by Hoyle could mean that 3D printers will be affordable to small companies, as well as family households. Having a 3D printer in your home could enable you to print replicas of household objects, such as kitchen utensils, appliances, even toys - provided you have a 3D kit and internet connection.
This innovation benefits developing countries, especially in terms of economics; and with local manufacturing, the need for imported goods will be reduced. Developing countries will move towards being developed instead of being dependent on other countries for needed goods and with local manufacturing, economic power can be shifted back to them.
Turning the focus to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), 3D printing has potential to reduce operating expenses as manufacturing can be done locally. Just like well established manufacturers, this technology will enable NGOs to create their own working equipment in their offices and other tools required by communities in their working areas. For example, NGOs working with communities on small-scale farming can design a broken component of agricultural equipment instead of procuring it.
Considering the skills required, this printing technology will introduce new skills and jobs to the market as new opportunities surface. Therefore, the NGO sector will also need manufacturers of 3D printers, printing material and software, software designers, people or institutions who will offer training on how to use this technology and for maintaining it. The availability of this technology will also enable NGOs to be active participant in job creation and poverty alleviation.
In line with development, techfortrade has launched its 3D4D Challenge, a challenge offering an opportunity for developmental concept papers to be submitted, that will deliver social and economic solutions to the developing world with project ideas.
South Africa is already exploring this technological innovation. The Vaal University of Technology in the Gauteng province is developing a self-help laboratory that will be equipped with numerous 3D printers with installed designing software. The objective of the laboratory is to empower students, staff members and the community to develop their innovative ideas into prototypes. This project is an indication that South Africa as a developing country has welcomed the change, which will help the nation realise some of its social and economic developmental goals.
For more about the techfortrade 3D4D Challenge, refer to www.netsquared.org/blog/laneytest/3d4d-challenge-what-would-you-do-3d-prin.
For updates, follow #3D4D on Twitter.
- Phumla Mhlanga is an intern at SANGONeT.