Jonathan Rowley reaches into the basin of white powder and like a magician pulls out the frame of a pair of spectacles. Made of plastic, they’re the same white as the powder, but hard, and unusually shaped.
Designed by Ron Arad for PQ Eyewear, each hinge on the glasses (pictured below and above right) consists of segments like an armadillo’s tail. “We made these here,” Rowley says, indicating a hulking white machine behind him, which looks like a cross between a dry cleaning apparatus and an industrial oven. “The thing is, you couldn’t make these any other way,” he says.
He points to the tiny detail at each segment, and how creating it in the closed position means the plastic arms try to stay closed – so the design is at its strongest when open, yet clings to your head face. But it’s also a single piece; no assembly required, apart from adding lenses.
Located in the basement of a dentist’s office in Wimpole Street, central London, Digits2Widgets – where Rowley, 47, is design director – is one of the companies in the forefront of one of the hottest technologies around.
3D printing starts by designing objects on a computer and then printing them with thermoplastics (and in this case, lasers) in super-thin layers to create intricate finished objects.
Inside the oven a 30cm-deep basin of powder is heated to just below its melting point; then a laser heats specific points over a layer just 0.1mm deep, melting and fusing the powder. Repeat that 3,000 times – it runs overnight – and you end up with a solid object – glasses, a doll, an architect’s model – surrounded by powder. Wash the powder off, and you have the finished product, with detail as fine as you want. The spectacles’ hinges are held together by 0.5mm links, each just five layers of plastic.
Having got its start in making prototypes for aerospace and automotive companies, and latterly for surgeons looking to make precisely tailored replacements for bones, 3D printing is now blossoming.
The technology has been used to make everything from jewellery to replacement jawbones, but the question is, how big is 3D printing going to get? The estimates vary, but it’s always in the billions. Terry Wohlers, an analyst who has followed the field for years, argued last Septemberthat the technology has hit its “tipping point” and is about to expand into wider usage we’ll see every day.
The hype is certainly ramping up. Pete Basiliere, research director at the analysts Gartner, said: “3D printing is a technology accelerating to mainstream adoption. The hype leads many people to think the technology is some years away, when it is available now and is affordable to most organisations.” In three years a high-quality 3D printer could cost less than $2,000 (£1,320), he suggests.
The bigger question is: will everyone own a 3D printer to use at home or will it remain a technique, such as high-speed colour photocopying, that stays in specialist high-street shops? more
Fabrication power to the People! Why no government can stop the 3D printing revolution
(NaturalNews) The 3D printing revolution has arrived, and it’s freaking out governments around the world because distributed, non-centralized fabrication technology threatens their monopolistic controls over physical objects. For a few thousand dollars, anyone can purchase a 3D printer (an “additive” desktop fabrication device) and print out physical objects using ABS plastic. (See list of manufacturers, below.) 3D plans are freely available to download online, and the printers are on the verge of flooding into the marketplace with a wide range of affordable, easy to use models from a large number of manufacturers.
Being able to print your own objects sounds amazing to the average citizen. Need a hose mender for your garden hose? Don’t drive to Home Depot to get it — just print it! Need a replacement part for your child’s toy? Just design it in 3D software and print it! Any object you can imagine can be printed in ABS plastic, including complex gears and objects with intricate details. Many printers can print in multiple colors, too. Learn more: