Hod Lipson dreams of printing a robot, this is what he and his team at Cornell University are working towards using the latest 3D printing techniques that can print in multiple materials to create complete objects with working parts. Currently they have made most of the parts of a robot to then fit together but Lipson wants to use 3D printing to create a robot that will walk straight out of the printer.
This of course requires batteries, wiring and circuit boards to all be printed but Lipson says there is virtually no materials that can’t be used for 3D printing and he should know having worked on developing printing in titanium alloys, steel and aluminum alloys as well as bio printing and food printing.
Though such multi-material 3D printing would have huge potential in manufacturing and could in time drastically cut costs by removing assembly work from the equation we are already seeing 3D printing services creating products used in the real world. Though a lot of the most high profile uses of 3D printing services have been with toys, such as bespoke makerbot model robots and personalized action figures, in industry too components are being made with a 3D printing service where precision, low wastage and light weight are required with low production runs and this includes aerospace.
Boeing’s Dreamliners include thousands of parts made using a 3D printing service and the 3D printing process has allowed parts to be made much lighter while being much stronger – because of the ability to make strong but partially hollow internal structures, use much less material -as only the required material is added whereas tooling would take material away leading to waste, and these are parts that due to low production runs would otherwise have a high cost per unit due to having to set up bespoke tooling for each piece: this would also take far longer whereas with 3D printing a part can simply be taken from the CAD design and printed directly.
Though currently only small parts are used in Boeing’s Dreamliner, and no other planes, in future much larger parts could be 3D printed: for example wings with all the internals in place. Houses are also being seen as a product that could be 3D printed.
We shouldn’t just be looking at big industry using 3D printers though according to Lipson as this new industrial revolution opens things up and will put power into designers’ hands. Lipson gives the example of Iphone cases, if you had the design you could sell them and send the design to a 3D printing service, who could then send the finished product straight to your customer overnight. As a designer you would have no need to hold stock and risk over ordering to keep the costs down with traditional manufacturing techniques that favor long runs.
Then again with simple 3D printers starting at $1000 or less you could manufacturer from your own desktop computer on a print to order basis.