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Wednesday, December 5, 2012


3D printing: Everything you want to knowEveryone cringes a bit when a beautiful sports car is blown up in movies. It happened in James Bond's Skyfall with the iconic Aston Martin DB5. But fret not, that wasn't an original car; it was a miniature replica that was "printed" out.

The production team could not destroy the vintage car, so they turned to a British company that could print a replica at one-third the original scale. The process is known as 'additive manufacturing' or 'rapid prototyping'. And here's the good news: it's getting cheaper and you can own such a printer.

Actual 3D objects can be "printed out" from a drawing or schematic using this technology. There are different printing processes but the fundamental principle is that the printer can lay down small layers of a powder or plastic polymer or wire, micrometers in thickness, on top of each other, which are then hardened by an adhesive that holds all the layers together.

Traditional manufacturing processes are subtractive, that is, material is removed from a bigger block and shaped to requirement . But 3D printing has several advantages over them. It can print almost any shape, which would be difficult in traditional methods.

Curvatures usually leave stresses and strains in traditional methods as the objects need to be bent into shape, but these strains can be avoided by additive manufacturing as the object need not be bent and can just be printed. This has led to a number of applications in industries like aerospace and automobiles where parts need to be precision-manufactured . But, increasingly the technology is finding other applications.

Mukesh Agarwal, MD of 3D Product Development , a Bangalore-based company that offers services in rapid prototyping, says, "It is being used by people in the design and creativity industry. It allows them to print out models. There are cheaper versions of the printer which can be used to produce a crude prototype for devices."

Agarwal says it can work even in the glamour industry. "We were approached to make a life-size model of Shah Rukh Khan and Katrina Kaif for promotion of Jab Tak Hai Jaan. It's also being increasingly used in the animation industry where they can produce 3D models of characters," he says.

Hobbyists can now get printers for $500. ZCorp and MakerBot Replicator 2 are being used increasingly to build small models. Some are even using schematics from Lego to print out the blocks.

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