3D printing may sound like magic, as if you just push a button on a limitless machine, and something that laid in obscurity only a few minutes before pops out a few moments later. However, it is not nearly as simple; nor is it fast…yet. It is, however, a technology that will continue to develop over time and in that way, it could be said that the limits will be breaking away as new capabilities in the industry develop and become cost effective, as they are projected to do in the not-too-distant future. In fact, consulting firm Wohlers Associates predicts that the market for 3D printers and the software needed to run them will burst past the $20 billion mark by 2020. Perhaps some “magic” is in store for this promising tool in the printing industry, after all.
A regular folk’s guide to how a 3D printer works
While many view abilities like this as magic, 3-D printing is simply a technology that is developing, with exciting possibilities. Simply put, it is a robot with a variation of a hot-glue gun. The robot (a collection of computer-controlled motors) moves the extruder (the hot glue gun), and squirts out the right amount of plastic (or other material) in the right spots. How does that happen? A piece of software “slices” a digital 3-D model into slices, and then figures out how to move the extruder around to deposit that plastic to make a thin layer. When that layer is complete, it starts the next layer. This continues until your “thing” is sliced into a code that a 3-D printer can understand – called “G-Code”. Then this chunk of “G-Code” is fed into the 3-D printer, which tells the machine which way to move and when to spit out plastic. It’s a simple process, considering software and machines do most of the work, and luckily for the vast majority, the software has already been written, and the machines have already been built.
Jim Galasso, Regional Vice President covering NY/NJ/CT for Minuteman Press International, reflects on the transformative journey printed communication has made and why it is only natural to expect that 3D print technology will continue to evolve, providing us with exciting new possibilities. Jim explains, “The development of print manufacturing or woodblock printing started way back in the year 200 and originated in China for the purpose of printing on textiles which eventually led to paper. Somewhere between 1440 and 1450, Johannes Gutenberg developed his first printing press for the purpose of mass producing books for the Roman Empire. Later on it was considered one of the three inventions that changed the world.”
Jim continues, “As we fast forward 500+ years from that time, a gentleman named Scott Crump (who I have personally met) developed ‘fused deposition modeling’ or one of the techniques for 3-D printing. The term “3D printing” has now gone from an unknown to a household name. The use of 3-D Printing may not replace traditional manufacturing, but will enhance how manufacturing gets done. Since currently our Minuteman Press centers service a vast diversified clientele, the request and consideration for producing in house 3-D printing may become a natural addition in time.”
The promise of wider applications in the future
Michael Jutt, Executive Vice President and Director of Training for Minuteman Press International, is a seasoned expert at the helm of technological advances and their possibilities for implementation within Minuteman Press franchise locations, worldwide. He acknowledges the development of 3D print technology over time and how it is being adopted by major players in print equipment production, a promising indicator of things to come within the business services industry. Michael explains, “Our services at Minuteman Press over the past 4 decades have certainly gone through an extensive series of changes, not only with the products that we sell our customers but also, with the way we manufacture these services.”
He adds, “Minuteman Press is a manufacturer and the overwhelming majority of the products we make result in beautiful images on a wide variety substrates. 3D printing is also a manufacturing process, however, it is not new. The technology has been around for decades. What is new is that in recent years, many major companies have entered into the manufacturing of this equipment resulting in product improvement. 3D printing, like most technology will continue to improve and as it does, it will replace some of the traditional reproduction processes used worldwide.”
Michael continues to help Minuteman Press International stay on the forefront of critical developments; and as an industry leader, has earned a well-respected voice upon the larger stage of the print industry. He continues with encouragement that the future will see great strides and fascinating opportunities that will be assessed and incorporated as this technology matures, sharing, “3D print technology is very scalable, meaning it can be used on small equipment such as ‘The Cube’ (manufactured by 3D Systems) which can produce a plastic product with maximum dimensions of 6 inches x 6 inches x 6 inches and on the opposite of the spectrum, there are massive 3D printers that print real buildings using cement deposits. And in the middle are many other applications, such as a pen that allows you to freehand draw in 3D. Yes, you read that right. Just think of the possibilities.
It is important to remember that having a printer is only the beginning of what is needed to enter into the 3D printing market. You also need to invest in a few additional items such as the design software, common scanning equipment, and finishing equipment. As has been previously stated, 3D printing is really an exciting technology that has helped many specific industries such as the medical profession in which it has been used, quite frankly, to create miracles. It has also helped all types of manufacturers, consumers, inventors, entrepreneurs, repair shops and more. We, at Minuteman Press International, will continue to watch the development of this technology and invest as we see the market for the products increase.”
From bio-printing of prosthetics for medical use, to scale models for architecture, to auto-parts manufacturing as well as customized personal items such as ear-plugs, the application of 3D technology is wide and the implementation of 3D printing into the expert hands of print, design and marketing specialists is something that will bring a whole new dimension (literally) to the printing industry. There is something brewing called “rapid manufacturing” and it is a newer way to manufacture products incorporating 3D printers for short-run, customized, needs. Keep watch on places like Google News for developments in the business to business services industry as customized, 3D printed products will become increasingly available in time.
Currently, IT companies like Google and Microsoft have incorporated 3D scanning to align with their hardware capabilities, an example of which is Microsoft Kinect. It could be said that this is a predictor of the future of integrated 3D scanners as they will apply to hand-held devices, including smart phones. The technology opens-up the possibility that some day, with the ease of taking a photo, business to business services leaders on the cutting edge of the printing industry will be expanding their capabilities to digitize real objects into 3D models and you won’t have to wait 3 hours for your finished product.
From your imagination, to reality – How 3D printed creations are “in hand” today
Mike Levy, owner of Minuteman Press in Levittown, NY, is ahead of his time as a digital print, design and marketing specialist as he owns a 3D printer that provides services for which he sees demand growing, even at what can be called the early stage of its application to the general public. Mike shares, “Owning a 3D printer allows me to offer another service for my customers, it also generates more business for my company that I otherwise would not receive. Being the only 3D printer around allows customers to find me easily on Google and gives me the opportunity to sell them 3D printing as well as any other services I provide.”
Mike enjoys the creative spark with which his clients come forward to produce various works of their imaginations. He elaborates, “My favorite story about my 3D sales so far, is one person walked in off the street and drew an item he wanted 3D printed on a piece of paper. We were able to create the file for him and then print 180 game pieces for the game he had made. Aside from making a nice sale and making a customer very happy, he then came back one year later and ordered another 100 pieces. Once the 3D file is created, our 3D printer gets to work building the item. It has added a whole new dimension to my business and allows me to say that I am the only 3D printer in the area.”
Levy concludes, “I certainly see a bright future for 3D printing. As more opportunities arise for what we can generate with the 3D printer and with more awareness that this technology exists, then more business will come from it.”
In this budding technology known as 3D printing, there is indeed an element of magic if you consider what is added to the print industry’s already impressive traditional and digital print toolbox. 3D printing will continue to gain momentum and it represents yet another innovative way to apply one of the world’s oldest forms of communication to the needs of our personal and professional lives.
For innovative printing, design and marketing products and services, find your local Minuteman Press at www.minutemanpress.com.
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