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Three-dimensional printing is the process of creating a 3-D object by printing a variety of materials layer by layer. These materials — which can be plastics, full-color sandstone, rubber-like material, metal or even human tissue — and bioprinted blood vessels are read from a computer file and brought physically into reality through a 3-D printer.
The technology and potential of 3-D printing has the scientific and industrial worlds abuzz.
“3-D printing has changed the playing field,” said Ben Laverock, chief designer for Zeilk Creative. “Give it a few years and major industries will be playing a new game with a new set of rules.”
While 3-D printing has existed since 1984, when Charles Hull developed stereolithography, it wasn’t until early 2010 that the technology became widely available. Since then, 3-D printing has expanded across the globe and been used to create objects ranging from jewelry, shoes and bikinis to dental and medical parts like crowns, implants, hearing aids and prosthetics.
The technology is also finding its way into schools, including Weber State University.
“The technology is incredible,” said Taw Naylor, a WSU Campus Store employee. “It’s wonderful to have one here as a technological hub for the departments.”
Although the potential of 3-D printing remains in its infancy, new concepts and ideas continue to drive the technology’s capabilities as businesses set up to take advantage of the potential shift in traditional manufacturing.
“On the surface it can look and feel gimmicky,” said Jeff Hawkes, a WSU senior and employee of WhiteClouds, “like ‘Look, I 3-D-printed my light switch’ or ‘I 3-D-printed my phone case.’ But if you can look past that, the implications of 3-D printing are huge.”
WhiteClouds, located in Ogden, is one of a few 3-D printing shops in the world that connects the public with designers to bring to life commercial printing.
“What WhiteClouds does is it encourages people to embrace their imagination and pursue things that weren’t previously possible,” Hawkes said. “Most people don’t know how to make their invention or idea a reality. WhiteClouds enables people to do just that.”
New developments further the technology almost daily. Future possibilities include 3-D model homes born from an architect’s two-dimensional blueprints, or 2,500-square-foot homes built in 20 hours.
“If it gets to the point where 3-D printing is as common as people are expecting it to become 10-15 years from now,” Hawkes said, “it will change the way we fix older or discontinued antiques, it will change the future of medicine, and it will, I think, revolutionize the way we do everyday things in our homes.”