3D printing, also known as 3D fabrication, "fabbing," and "stereolithography," is high on my list of potentially ground-shaking technologies -- emphasis on the "potentially." It's been around in various forms for awhile now, but the steady pace of improvement hasn't quite matched the intensity of the excitement around the concept in certain circles. Nonetheless, since the systems do continue to get faster, cheaper, and more precise, a bit of excitement is warranted.
The latest improvement in 3D printing comes from the University of Illinois:
University of Illinois researchers have come up with a new type of quick-setting three-dimensional ink that works a bit like a microscopic tube of toothpaste. The researchers' printer robotically deposits a continuous, elastic-like ink filament into a liquid rather than putting ink drops onto a surface.
The filament hardens in the liquid rapidly enough to allow for printing three-dimensional structures that have features like unsupported spanning elements. The process yields complete three-dimensional structures in about five minutes, and provides resolutions that are close to two orders of magnitude finer than existing methods, according to the researchers.
One of the first uses of this technology is likely to be "bioscaffolding," the creation of 3D frameworks for tissue engineering.
(We've mentioned 3D printing before, but here's a quick summary: using a system akin to an ink-jet printer, 3D layers are deposited -- or, with this new technique, extruded -- building up complex objects; given the right base materials, design software, and cost, a wide array of goods could be printed as needed, rather than purchased ready-made from a retailer.)
Been following this technology for a while now. I was totally tripped out at one SIGGRAPH where these guys had set up a 3D scanner booth next to the 3D printer booth. "Holy shit", I thought. "A Replicator."
We're not there yet, but it is a fascinating technology that is one way to step away from the scarcity economy.