The Power of the Printer

We often wish when doing difficult tasks, that we had that “extra hand” to help us out and make our lives much easier by doing so.  Well, with a wonderful piece of technology called a 3-D printer, we can do just that.  Despite how weird a third arm would look, a completely new limb could be “printed out” for you to use.   So what is 3-D printing?  Well, basically, it is the process of creating a three-dimensional solid object from a digital model.  A 3-D object is created using something called “additive process” which is essentially having successive layers placed one after another in different shapes.

 When thinking of a 3-D printer we often believe it to be a fairly recent innovation, probably within the last ten years; but the truth is that the first 3-D printer created was in 1986 from someone by the name of Charles Hull.  His first 3-D printer was Stereolithography (SLA) operated based on the idea of using a vat of photocurable liquid, then concentrating a beam of ultraviolet light on the surface of the photocurable liquid, causing the liquid to harden as the beam passes over it.  The laser is used to draw one layer at a time in a specific shape and slice after slice is formed bonding together, slowly forming the desired object.   Eventually, you have a full, high-resolution three-dimensional object, and the excess liquid in the vat can be reused for another shape.  However, the SLA 3-D printer, is not the only type out there.

3-D printer

SLA printer in 1986

There are several others, such as the Fused Deposition Modeling, which creates an object by extruding a stream of melted thermoplastic materials (which includes the plastic that make up LEGO blocks), which creates these layers that sticks to the previous layer, slowly forming a shape. There are also several other types of 3-D printers, that include Selective Laser Sintering, which uses powdered materials and hits them with a laser that results in them fusing together.

 Another interesting 3-D printer, is a Syringe Extrusion printer.  Now, this printer is especially amazing, because it can use virtually any material that has a creamy viscosity to form the shape.  Now, this wouldn’t be especially interesting, except for the fact that that means one could use chocolate to make the object!  Imagine that, eating a chocolate wrench that was made by a 3-D printer!  The Syringe Extrusion printer, uses syringe extruders to create that wonderful chocolate masterpiece.

Chocolate 3-D printer

Chocolate 3-D printer

With all of these different types of 3-D printers, some would begin to think, what are they useful for?  Well, 3-D printers, are just at the first and early stages of their life.  Currently, the 3-D printer is used in many different circumstances especially in the Industrial sector.   Currently, many industries and companies use 3-D printers to create prototypes of many products, before they are fully manufactured.  This is also extremely beneficial, because a 3-D printer also allows companies to use different colours and materials to better improve the prototypes, for a significantly cheaper price.  For example, Nike uses 3-D printers to test their newest designs of shoes.  Also, these printers come in handy for architects when designing a model of a new building, and rather than commissioning a hand-made cardboard design, they simply use a 3-D printer.  Furthermore, incredibly, today we can use bioprinters to print human tissue for both pharmaceutical testing and eventually entire organs and bones!  Also, NASA had recently decided to send a 3-D printer out into space on the ISS, to be used by the astronauts when they are up there.  This is especially useful, because often when repairs need to be made, astronauts had to improvise and use anything available such as a toothbrush and duck tape.  With a 3-D printer, they need only find the correct file and simply print a screwdriver, wrench, or whatever else they may need.  The first 3-D printer in space test is dated for the fall of 2014.

3-D printed thing

A cool 3-D printed design


A bioprinter


This blog post was inspired by the 3-D printer that we happen to have at FSL, which I was completely enraptured with when I first saw it, and continue to obsess over.


What is 3D Printing? An Overview.


  1. Matthew Chang says:

    3D Printing seems like a very promising technology, offering multiple ways to be used. Lucky for us, the Engineering Team has a 3D Printer themselves!

  2. Megan Nantel says:

    The 3D printer at FSL is very cool, maybe not as cool as 3D printing human distance but still pretty awesome! Have you been able to use it yet?

    • Mulan Ramani says:

      I haven’t been able to use it yet, but I have stared at it as it made the cutest octopus ever, among other things.

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