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Special: 3D Printing

3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is the process of making a three-dimensional (solid) object. This is achieved by laying successive layers of material on top of each other, thereby generating a certain desired shape or form. The print is based on a digital model, which is generated by a computer. 3D printers have been available for approximately five years, and in that time were mostly used by hobbyists to produce simple plastic objects. Nowadays, newer and, more sophisticated print techniques have been developed, which differ, for example, according to the way they put layer on layer or the types of materials they use, (e.g., powder (laser sintering) or liquids (stereolithography)). See this video for general information on 3D printing.

With the newest technology, an increasing number of different objects can be printed. In addition to relatively easy-to-print products like plates, jewelry, art and toys, it is nowadays possible to print more complex ombjects, such as, building tools and prostheses. With the youngest-generation print technology it is also possible to print an entire car or even a complete house. However, for a real breakthough when it comes to commercial use of the technology, improvements still have to be made. For example, 3D printers will have to become faster, more precise and they should be able to print objects of large volume. As of yet, traditional production methods, especially when it comes to producing large volumes, are still a lot cheaper than the new printing technology. But technology experts in the field expect that within five year's time improved 3D printers will be mass-produced, ready for everyone to buy. This will create a shift from centralized production, to decentralized production. Consumers and businesses will simply order digital 3D designs of products online and print these themselves. In addition, a market will develop for printing products of high quality, yet small quantities, by specialized companies. To save shipping costs, a digital file will be sent to the customer who then has it printed in a local shop or businesses with advanced 3D printers. Inventory and stocks kept will decline markedly for many products as a result.

3D printing is likely to contribute significantly to creating new jobs and or to the revival of certain types of craftsmanship. For completing a number of printed products skilled workmanship will still be required (i.e., the finishing touch). That also goes for maintaining and repairing 3D printers. An entirely new demand will arise for software developers and for designers that develop products with 3D-drawing programs. In the world of art, 3D-printing technology is already being used (e.g., see this website).