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3D Printing

Think of what you have to go through to heal a broken bone. What comes to mind? A big plaster cast that you collect signatures on for a month? Surgically implanted titanium and stainless steel plates and screws, making you popular with airport screeners? A new engineering technology has created an easier way to heal and replace damaged bones

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You may still be setting off metal detectors, unfortunately

This process is intuitively simple: simply print out a new bone and implant it! This technology has been under development by companies such as IBM for about 25 years. You start with a computer file which is analogous to a typed document to print out in letter form. But instead of words and paragraphs, you have encoded the three dimensional shape of an object. When you hit print, your design is sent to a machine that can form objects out of metal, plastic or ceramics. These can be anything from machine parts to whimisical sculptures:

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Math Nerd Shapes & Gears

The machine breaks the design down into tiny component squares, like bricks in a Lego construction. It then squirts out tiny blocks of material much like the single Lego pieces but much smaller. The machine lines these up row after row to build a flat slice of the shape you want. Then the machine lifts up a little bit, and melts new bricks that stack on top of the first layer of bricks. Gradually the entire structure is built from the base up, one vertical layer at a time.

While the first machines of this type literally used plastic similar to Legos, newer technology is beginning to allow metal and ceramic shapes to be made! Auto makers for example can print out the body of a car:

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Aasimov Robot Included with LX Trim Package

The technology has even matured enough that you can build your own rapid prototype machine from free plans.


Tom Hartsfield
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