Printing The Future

In January 2017, a group of four mechanical engineering students achieved recognition in a 3D Printing Hackathon organised by Materialise. While they were very well equipped with the knowledge needed in 3D printing to solve the problems presented to them, the rest of us are still wondering… How does 3D printing work?

So, what is 3D Printing?

This process is also known as additive manufacturing, or rapid prototyping fabrication. 3D printing is essentially using a 3D printer to print successive layers of material (each layer is usually 0.1mm thin) until it forms your desired design. This design would have to come from a computer aided design (CAD) model or a 3D scanner and then sent to the printer in STL (STereoLitography) format. Therefore, whatever you can design, you can print! 3D printed objects can be made from a vast range of “building materials”.  The most common ones are thermoplastics (substances that become plastic on heating, and harden on cooling) such as ABS plastic, PLA, polyamide (nylon), and polycarbonates.


Applications in Industry

As you can imagine, being able to print out whatever you can design on a computer opens up a multitude of possibilities. Industrially, manufacturing companies are resorting to 3D print technology to manufacture components of their products to be assembled. This saves up on time, cost and materials.  In construction, large-scale 3D printers printing layers of concrete can be used to replace traditional high-risk and labour-intensive construction methods. This can be applied to housing development projects, intricate architectural structures and shelter homes for disaster-prone areas.

In the medical sector, researchers have been successful in 3D printing and implanting functional organs into rats. They use customised 3D bio-printers and living cells as the raw material. In the future, patients needing organ transplants do not have to wait for ages for the right donor, as these body parts can easily be printed out according to need. Dental-wise, 3D printed dentures and implants have already been replacing expensive, traditional ones made from artificial materials.


In education, schools equipped with 3D printers have been encouraging students to design their own products to be printed out. This allows them to develop their creative potential and IT skills. When it comes to fashion, consumers will be able to design and print their own clothing according to their measurements. This minimizes waste of textiles and they can do it right from the comfort of their homes. As of now, improvements still need to be made on the material used in 3D printing clothes for it to be more comfortable for consumers.

Interested in printing your own 3D designs?

There are 3D printing companies in Kajang that offer designing and printing services for your prototypes. With a wide range of building materials to choose, ranging from thermoplastics to wood at affordable rates, it’s time to realise your ideas!

The presence of 3D printing has proven to be more prominent over the past few years. However, it still has a long way to go until it becomes truly ubiquitous in our daily lives. Medical researchers say 3D printed organs are still a few years off from being able to be actively implanted into humans. 3D printers for personal use are also still very costly. With that being said, here’s to looking forward to the day 3D printing becomes affordable and accessible to all.

By Abigail Lim


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