PhotoOkay, it's Saturday night and you're preparing to have a dinner party. The guests will be arriving in a few hours, and you're racing around the house trying to pull both you and the dining room together.

The table is just about set, the last pot of food spews its last few bubbles before completion, and you're thankful because you have just the right amount of your best plates for each guest.

Then tragedy: One of the plates falls and breaks in half. Normally this would be a catastrophe, but you just purchased a new 3D printer, so you're able to calmly exhale.

You then print up a new dinner plate — identical to the original — place it on the table and finish getting ready for an evening of friends, conversation and food. And no, you don't have to wear special glasses to see it.

Next big thing

PhotoThis way of self-manufacturing, and fixing things in your home is said to be the next global-changing-technology since the Internet or the television, some experts say.

“Personally, I believe it's the next big thing, says Abe Reichental, president and CEO of 3D Systems, one of biggest companies that make 3D printing machines.

“I think it could be as big as the steam engine was in its day, as big as the computer was in its day, as big as the Internet was in its day. And I believe this is the next disruptive technology that's going to change everything. It's going to change how we learn, it's going to change how we create, and it's going to change how we manufacture,” he says.

What it is

PhotoExactly what is this new technology?

Three dimensional printing isn't new, as it used to be called “Rapid Manufacturing” or “Additive Manufacturing” in the 1980s to duplicate specific parts for machinery and other objects.

But since the early thousands 3D printers have developed somewhat of a consumer following, as more companies are making them commercially available, which has also lowered the price.

3D Systems has made what it calls the BotMill 3D Printer, which ranges from $999 to nearly $14,000 depending on the specific model. The company says it's easy to assemble and use, and comes with everything needed, including the required plastic material to duplicate items you would normally buy or replace in a store.

3D printers are able to take any digital design, slice it into thin layers, and stack those layers of material to duplicate the original object. On a video demonstration Reichental printed a napkin holder in a little over two hours using The Cube printer. The Cube kind of resembles a futuristic sewing machine and it's relatively inexpensive at $1,300.

Reichental says duplicating products will completely change the way companies manufacture durable goods, as 3D printing is theoretically less expensive, much faster and environmentally less harmful.

Reichental believes the 3D printing business will go from being a half billion dollar industry to a $35 billion industry in the next decade, as companies are now testing the technology within crucially important areas like education and medicine.

Printed meat

PhotoAlthough companies have been using this inventive type of printing for quite some time, there are limits to how and where the printed objects can be used.

For example, a needed engine part for a commercial airplane isn't yet allowed to be duplicated, but maybe printing a test plane to try out the cloned parts will be a reality in the near future.

But for now, the next wave of 3D printing to grow in popularity is in the area of home products, jewelry items and other items you would typically buy in a store or order online, says Reichental.

But, just when you thought this type of printing would limit itself to households, machine parts and medicine, a company by the name of Modern Meadow is experimenting with printing actual meat of all things.

The company, which received a $350,000 donation by investor and entrepreneur Peter Thiel, began experimenting with 3D printed meat with hopes to shift the way it's commercially produced and distributed.

The co-founders of Modern Meadow, Andras and Gobor Forgacs, also developed the company Organovo, which tested 3D printing in prescription medicine, and human tissue.

“We currently produce organic tissues grown from cell samples, which can be used as a human analog for pharmaceutical drug discovery and development. The printing process can take as little as 12-24 hours. This can allow for more relevant results and less animal involvement than traditional research methods,” said Keith Murphy CEO of Organovo in an interview with Forbes.

The duo said their lab-created meat is still in its development stages, and early attempts to duplicate actual texture have been unsuccessful.

But over time, Modern Meadow believes it can manipulate taste and textures so companies will be able to produce meat differently, and keep up with the world's increasing meat consumption.

Some vegetarians have expressed interest in the development of this cloned meat, since it would obviously not require the killing of animals to create meals or leather products. Yet and still, 3D printing doesn't even stop there.

Print your own pistol

PhotoRecently, a gun expert used the technology to print a copy of a .22-caliber pistol that managed to fire real bullets. The maker of the duplicated gun used a 3D printer to build the outside of the pistol, and combined it with metal parts on the inside, so it was capable of carrying and firing actual bullets.

The gun's owner, who goes by the username HaveBlue, fired over 200 rounds of ammunition with the cloned pistol, and said the gun held up just fine.

To make the weapon, HaveBlue used an older model 3D printer (the Stratasys), and was able to create the necessary shell of the gun in a small amount of time for about $30, not including the metal parts he added.

Another kind of 3D printer called The Contour Crafting is said to be able to print an entire house in about 20 hours.

Behrokh Khoshnevis, who is a professor at the University of Southern California, said the machine can print a complete house with electrical wiring, painted walls, the necessary plumbing and other things a livable house would require.

Khoshnevis says the new technology is a fast and low-cost way to prepare homes damaged by storms. It could also potentially assist with the continued issue of homelessness.

Whether 3D cloning will be as big as the Internet still remains to be seen, but it does feel like we are on the precipice of some sort of change as it pertains to consumers, manufacturing, and medicine.

How soon 3D printing will widely be used in our everyday lives remains to be seen. But according to some experts, it's coming much sooner than later.


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