3D printing is a process that creates a three-dimensional object by building successive layers of raw material. When you think about 3D printing, you might think about plastic models that feel more like a novelty than anything of real quality and value. That might have been the case 20 years ago, but 3D printing has evolved substantially in recent years and we’re now seeing world-changing work in this field. Not just in an environmental sense through eco-materials and manufacturing, but in a human sense, where 3D printing is changing the lives of people in remarkable ways, such as in the housing and medical industries, especially off the back of the Covid-19 pandemic.
One of the best examples of this is New Story—a nonprofit organisation that seeks to end global homelessness by making 3D printed homes. I came across their work on an episode of Home on Apple TV. As a collaborative project between New Story and construction technologies company, ICON, they use proprietary 3D printing robotics, software, and advanced materials, solving a number of problems in the contemporary building industry with their breakthrough technologies. They have embarked to build a community where families in need will receive safe homes in a very short space of time. It’s eye-opening and an incredible way to tackle the increasingly urgent situation around homelessness.
Besides this, there’s some really interesting 3D printing being made for medical supplies like surgical instruments, dental restorations, and external prosthetics. We also see this process heavily applied in the likes of Formula 1, where small changes to parts happen constantly and the need for rapid prototyping is vital. You see, the flexibility and versatility of 3D printing allows designers and engineers to make changes easily without the need to set up additional equipment or tools. It’s not just a massive time-saver, but also hugely cost effective.
Circling back to Covid briefly, over the past year more than 1,700 3D printing specialists offered to 3D print masks, respirators, valves, and other medical tools. The convenience of on-demand manufacturing in such a global crisis has brought the necessity and importance of 3D printing to new levels.
With that said, what I find most interesting about 3D printing these days is that it is far more accessible to the general public than ever before. The continual reduced cost of owning a Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printer and the fact you only really need digital model files to then find a local printer manufacturer and have a product made there and then, is very cool. Although I have no plans to own a 3D printer myself yet, I am really interested to explore the 3D model market, designing products that can be downloaded, customised, and produced at your convenience. Imagine designing and printing most of your home furnishings in a variety of eco-materials, colours, and sizes. Design that is tailor-made for your home. Or if you are planning to travel around the world (not this year obviously) and settle down in a totally different place, you can just take your model design with you and print it when you arrive.
I’ll continue to explore this space, possibly making models available in the Minimalissimo shop, and hopefully get the opportunity to print something this year, just as an experiment.