3D printing is on a roll. Big businesses have had the technology available to them for the last twenty years or more. Recently however, 3D printing became available for the rest of us: for example, UPS opened 3D printing services in 100 stores nationwide last September. The monster transporter claims that “Small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to print prototypes as part of the new product development process…. The UPS Store locations will be equipped to produce items like engineering parts, functional prototypes, acting props, architectural models, fixtures for cameras, lights and cables.” And that’s just the latest word from the private sector.
ONVIA dot Com, a website that describes itself as intelligence for winning more government business says the public sector is booming also. Take for instance these three exciting developments at the federal level. First of all, the army is working on developing guns using 3D technology. This particular example of a technology going to the dark side might not thrill some of us, but Pandora’s box is open. Private individuals have already uploaded files capable of printing a working--if rudimentary--gun on 3D printers found in many homes.
Another example of an important federal use of 3D technology that many will consider more positive than the first is NASA’s testing of a 3D printer in zero gravity. The hope is to bring the costs of spaceflight down by manufacturing tools and replacement parts in orbit rather than blasting them up there at $2000 or $3000 per lb (the Space Shuttle once ferried a pound into orbit for about $10,000; the lower figure is an estimate by Elon Musk of what he thinks his Space X can do). The third exciting development at the federal level is the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) launching of its NIH 3D Print Exchange. This website is all about downloading and editing 3D files related to health and science. No doubt we soon can print off a perfect replica of an Ebola virus….
While the federal government spends big bucks on developing 3D printers for spaceflight and guns, state and local governments have increased spending for 3D technology in schools. Oniva says the average 3D printing contract value for K-12 was $38,981. Again according to Oniva, contracts awarded for 3D printing in schools (K-12 and above) grew from 18 in 2012 to 27 in 2013. The figures for 2014 look to double as 24 awards were issued in the first six months of the year.
All of this is good news for the progress of additive manufacturing in this country. Many people, including President Obama, consider this new form as the next industrial revolution. It is great to see that the schools are getting involved, as that is where the future creators of the new technology and its future workers are now found. In partnership with Makerbot, developer of the under-$2000 3D printer for the masses, RobotsLAB has created lesson plans to help make a teacher’s job easier when it comes to teaching about this new manufacturing process.