How to Print The Future
By 2030, the UN says we must achieve a list of commitments in order to end poverty and save the planet.
This list of commitments is known as Agenda 2030.
And using simple math, this means we have approximately 11 years left.
To achieve ALL 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals and all 169 targets, set at the 2015 UN (United Nations) Sustainable Development Conference.
That’s a lot of pressure.
And if that wasn’t enough to stress about: According to the United Nations, “2030 is our last chance” to end poverty and save the planet.
OK. Now you can freak out.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering: What does having 11 years left to achieve these goals have to do with “printing the future”?
Well, I’m glad you asked!
Among, the 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets lie many of the world’s biggest problems. These include: access to education, poverty, access to clean water, and many other “luxuries” that we often take for granted in developed countries.
One of these big problems is the “Housing Crisis.”
What is the housing crisis?
In short, the housing crisis is a huge problem that needs solving.
As the name itself entails, it involves houses.
- The high demand for houses around the world, due to an exponentially increasing global population.
- Demand for affordable housing, as the large demand for housing has skyrocketed in the past decade.
Now, we that we’ve defined the problem… how do we go about solving it?
When solving any problem, the approach I’ve found that works best is to:
- Find all the possible factors causing the problem.
- Figure out which factors are most pressing, and tackle those.
When finding possible factors, I sort them into three areas:
root → perpetuating → presenting
After defining all the possible factors, I figured out that a pressing one is that we simply don’t have enough construction workers to keep up with the high demand for housing. We can’t build exponentially… not without a little help.
This is where 3D Printing comes in!
If we want to solve the world’s biggest problems, we need to use emerging technologies. Specifically, technologies as exponential as the HUGE problems we can solve them with.
3D printing is an exponential technology.
And what can we do with 3D printers?
Well… I’m sure you guessed it.
We can print stuff!
Yes, even houses.
But, before we can build houses, skyscrapers, space stations, or Mars Habitats. We first need to understand the fundamentals of 3D printing.
Let’s dive in!
So, what is 3D Printing?
Printing… in 3D. It’s not that hard to wrap your head around.
Or more technically — the process of printing a digital 3D model.
The most common form of printing digital 3D models is printing layers of filament or other 3D printable material on top of themselves until the model is fully printed.
I would argue, 3D printing is of the easier exponential technologies to master.
Which makes it the perfect solution to our housing crisis on Earth.
Yep, Mars too!
Now let’s hop into the more technical side of 3D printing.
Types of 3D-Printing
There’s several types of 3D printing.
Here’s the top three:
A.k.a. Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM).
This is the most common type of 3D printing. It involves feeding filament through a 3D printer and dispensing it from a heated extruder to form the layers of the 3D design. You’ll learn more about this style of printing when we dive into 3D printers.
SLS & SLM
A.k.a. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) and Selective Laser Melting (SLM). Both of these 3D printing methods require materials in the form of powder.
SLS is the process of sintering powder in selective areas to create a 3D object. A laser deflects off a mirror to a predetermined spot in a layer of powder to create a 3D object.
SLM involves melting powder into a 3D object. The laser head is directed at an area of powder and directly melts it into a layer of the object.
In this type of 3D printing small amounts of photosensitive material are dispensed onto the heated platform. These bits of liquid are solidified by under ultraviolet (UV) light. After the bits of liquid harden the next layer is dispensed on top and the process continues.
Material jetting uses a material called “thermoset polymers (acrylics)” and come in a liquid form.
The 3D object is printed within or around a support structure, as its liquid state requires more support.
How exactly do I 3D-Print something?
As I wrote earlier, it doesn’t take much to 3D-Print something.
In fact, all you need is four things (shh… don’t tell anyone but it’s actually two— two of them are purely mental):
- The right 3D or 4D (we’ll get into 4D printing in a bit) printer → set up with with filament, and to the correct temperature.
- A digital 3D-model of what you’d like to print (this could be a dinosaur, or phone case… up to you. But, which ones cooler?).
- Your thinking hat (a.k.a. your creativity & imagination for those who haven’t had a kindergarten teacher in the 21st century).
- Patience… and lots of it. (if you’ve ever used a 3D-printed before you know what I mean, and if you haven’t I’ll explain under the “problems” header of this article).
How do I make a digital 3D model?
Follow, my three easy steps.
Acquire 3D modelling software to create a CAD (Computer-Aided Design).
I would recommend TINKERCAD. It’s free too! You’re welcome.
Other reliable favourites:
Once you’ve chosen your software, hit the download button and move to step two.
Learn how to use the software. Tutorials are super helpful.
Here’s a great one for TINKERCAD.
Figure out what you want to design, get creative, and design it.
Be patient, this process could take some time.
You designed your first digital 3D model.
Can I use my Canon printer?
No, I’m sorry to inform you that you cannot use the same printer you print your English essays and memes for pranks on to print 3D models. Canon hasn’t added that feature yet.
But, there’s good news!
3D printers are really cool and much better than your English essay printing printer!
They look a little like this:
Parts of a 3D Printer
3D printers consist of several key components and are very different from a traditional 2D printer.
- An extruder (or several, depending on the model): the filament is fed through the extruder and dispensed. It’s made up of a hot end piece where the material is dispensed, a motor, and other small parts that make everything work.
more extruders = more colours/texture options or higher quality designs
- Several motors → one for the y-axis, one for the x-axis, and one or two z-axis motors.
- Heated bed → basically a hot plate/platform where your design comes to life.
- A control board → where you control the temperature and several other factors that affect your design (e.g., extruder diameter). You also press start, pause, and stop here. This control board is attached to a power supply unit, and your design is inputed via USB in one of the ports.
That’s the jest of it. Every printer is slightly different, but ALL of them have a minimum of the components listed. As I mentioned in the “Types of 3D Printing” some types of printing require lasers and other components.
It’s the ink for your 3D printer… essentially.
Filament are reels of a 3D printable material.
Normally plastic. Sometimes metal, biomaterials, and other materials.
The most common filament type used is PLA (Polylactic Acid) Filament.
- ABS → Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene
- Wood Fibre (composed of Cellulose & PLA) → for all your wood printing needs.
- TPU (Ningaflex & Thermoplastic Utherene) → And as the name suggests it’s super flexible and possibly Ninga worthy?
- The list goes on.
Filament normally comes rolled up in a reel and is fed into the extruder of a 3D printer, prior to printing. Some printers have multiple extruders which means more filament colours and types.
Now, how do I put all the pieces together?
Step One: Obtain a 3D Model Design File
- Design your own (See “Design your own 3D model” above).
- Or find one online — Thingiverse.
Step Two: Slice It
It’s time to use your fruit ninja skills and slice your digital 3D model design.
What does slicing do and how do I do it?
Slicing gets your design ready for the printer.
3D printers print objects layer by layer and the process of slicing creates these layers in your design.
Drake is my top Slicer software recommendation. Okay wait Drake isn’t available right now, so use Cura instead.
Essentially, you press a couple of buttons and decide how many layers you want, along with their size. Then the software slices your design into these layers and creates a set of instructions for the printer.
Follow a tutorial like this one for more in depth instructions.
Next, save the design as an STL or VRML file type. This is important to make the file compatible for a 3D printer.
Step Three: Set-Up Your Printer
Now that you have your printer ready file. It’s time to set-up your printer.
- Plug it in and turn it on.
Wait a little.
2. Insert your USB or connect your computer to the printer, or copy the file onto a SD card. This depends on the printer type.
3. Select your file. You don’t want to print the wrong one, after all that work.
4. Feed the filament through the extruder(s).
5. Adjust the extruder and hot platform temperatures, and extruder diameter. There’s a bunch of other settings too. Figure out what you need for your design. PLA works best around 210 degrees Celsius.
Wait for the temperatures to reach what you set them to.
Step Four: Press Print
Literally. Press the print button.
Let the printer do its thing and make sure to check back once and awhile to make sure everything is running smoothly.
Now wait. Printing could take quite a while.
Problems : (
Emerging technologies don’t come without their own unique problems.
Virtual Reality → Motion sickness
Space Exploration → Radiation & Funding
3D Printing → …
I introduce you to 3D printing’s biggest enemy UNDER EXTRUSION.
What is “Under Extrusion?”
Under Extrusion is a 3D printing flaw.
It looks a little something like this and it’s pretty annoying, as 3D printing is very time-consuming:
So, what’s happening exactly?
Essentially, what’s happening is the extruder (See “Parts of A 3D Printer) is releasing too little material.
This results in weird lines, gaps, bumps, and other design flaws, that simply were not intended for your 3D printed masterpiece.
Under extrusion just called and it’s neighbour “Over Extrusion” is making trouble in the 3D printing space.
Why’d you have to ruin the party under extrusion? We already got enough 3D printing problems to deal with.
What’s OVER extrusion?
This is another flaw in 3D printing that has to do with the extruder of the printer.
In this case, the extruder releases excess amounts of filament.
This can be super annoying, especially far along into printing a design as it leaves gaps, bumps, and other flaws in the layers of your 3D object.
What do I do about over and under extrusion?
Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution yet and as I mentioned this is one of the biggest problems in the 3D printing space. However, here are some temporary solutions:
- Check on your design often. Just like you gotta check on your cookies to make sure they don’t burn. Make sure to regularly check on your 3D printed baby, to make sure there aren’t any signs of under or over extrusion. Signs include: excess or thin amounts of material being dispensed from the extruder, a pause in extrusion while the arm is still moving, weird lines or other flaws forming, and several others.
- Change the temperature of the extruder. If this doesn’t work, try adjusting the temperature of the hot plate, as well.
- Adjust the diameter of the extruder. Make sure the diameter of the extruder is compatible for the size of the filament.
- Try again. “If at first you don’t succeed try try again.” Right? Sometimes you just gotta unplug your printer and let it cool off. And start the printing process again : (
- Time for a new printer? If none of those worked, try contacting your printer or filament manufacturer, research troubleshooting tutorials, or get a new printer. Maybe your design is just too good for your printer.
Overall, just remember under and over extrusion don’t happen all the time. Most of the time your design should be just as YOU designed it!
3D Printing Can Take Hours… Or It Can Take Days
… or it can take week… or — I think you get the point.
3D printing is time-consuming.
The duration of printing and preparation (designing or finding a digital model and slicing it) depends on the project and the features of the project: size, detail, number of colours, textures, etc.
Solution: While I can’t offer any solution that would make the time go by any quicker: Make sure you do your research prior to printing your project, so you get a feel for how long it will take to print.
As mentioned earlier, before you can print a 3D design you have to create a model of the 3D object you wish to print.
There’s often lots of flaws in 3D modelling, from software issues to slicing problems.
There is not a lot that can be done to fix this, so just make sure to do your research on what software works best for your design.
The Green Stuff
Technology costs quite a bit… at the beginning at least.
This goes for 3D printing (& 4D coming soon), as well.
Money is one of the biggest barriers in 3D printing.
Other than under extrusion, of course.
But, looking into the future of the space. Spending the money now, to build a world-changing project might just be a smart investment.
Wait… so what’s 4D Printing?
4D Printing is a 3D-Printed Model…
So, now not only do we have 3D printable objects, but also programmable 3D models or 4D printed objects.
Unlike virtual & augmented realities being encompassed by the “mixed realities” family. 3D & 4D printing, don’t really have a family name.
Boring, in my opinion. These exponential technologies don’t belong with our 2D printers.
So, for the remainder of this article I’m going to refer to the 3D/4D printing technologies, as part of the “Next-level Printing Family.”
3D & 4D Printing are exponential emerging technologies with “Next-Level” applications. They both have the potential to solve the world’s biggest problems.
How does 4D Printing work?
4D printing is quite similar to 3D printing.
It too requires its own printer — a 4D printer.
Not too complicated right?
4D printing requires its own special printing materials called “smart materials.”
Smart materials are programmable materials that can be printed into a 4D model.
One of these materials is “smart dust.”
Other Smart Materials
- Electroactive polymers
- Shape-memory polymers
- Lots more
4D printing with “smart materials” makes really cool things. Like this shape-shifting material:
There currently aren’t many companies or people working in the 4D printing space. It’s a relatively new emerging technology and there is a lot of potential for the future of its applications.
4D printing is a highly complex process, and thus requires more patience (so, I would recommend signing up for Jedi training a.s.a.p.).
Where can I find one of these mystical 4D printers?
… hit up your local MIT? Build your own? Ask NASA to borrow theirs?… oh wait they’re using MIT’s too.
Right now it’s hard to get into the 4D printing space, as there are several large barriers, compared to those of its sibling 3D printing’s space.
- Lack of printers → printers cost a lot- EXPENSIVE
- The technology is still taking its baby steps (4D printing is only six years old)
- Access to smart materials (last time I checked there’s no smart dust at Walmart. I tried Amazon too…)
Despite these barriers, right now is the perfect time to get involved with the 4D printing space.
The perfect time to get involved with an emerging technology area is before everyone knows about it.
So, start doing your research. Dial up MIT, and start designing the next printable moving object.
Next-level Printing Applications
There’s a lot of cool next-level printing applications.
If you can dream it and design a 3D model of it, you can most likely print it. You just got to find a large (or small) enough printer.
Construction… and we’re back to the housing crisis
In order to solve the housing crisis, we need houses.
A lot of them.
3D printing will play a huge role in keeping up with the growing demand for housing.
Companies like Apis Cor. is currently working on 3D printing applications for construction.
And with 4D printing research advancements at MIT’s Self Assembly Lab, there is a promising future for self-building 4D printed houses.
Housing crisis → Solved
Only 168 more targets to go!
With 3D printers and biomaterials, we can now print pharmaceuticals, artificial hearts, and even engineer tissues.
3D printing will revolutionize the healthcare industry as we know it!
Ekso Bionics is a cool company disrupting the prosthetics industry, using 3D printers.
They are designing and printing the future of prosthetics.
The final frontier… or something.
3D & 4D printing are going to disrupt the space industry big time.
From space chain mail to 3D printed rockets. This space is really going to be revolutionized by BOTH of these emerging technologies.
3D and 4D printing offers low-cost solution parts for space’s biggest projects.
The Kobalt wrench pictured above was printed on the ISS (International Space Station) first ever 3D printer. The printer was designed by “Made in Space” and can print all sorts of useful objects for our astronauts far from home.
3D printers in space WILL be revolutionary for printing items we simply cannot fit in our space luggage bags and even Mars Habitats.
Food & Agriculture
What if you could print whatever food you’re craving on your kitchen’s 3D printer? That would be next-level awesome. Right?
Or if big food companies could mass print the world’s most high-demand produce items (e.g., bananas, strawberries, etc.)
Well, 3D printing has the potential to do this.
3D printing is going to disrupt the food and agriculture industries and help solve the hunger crisis.
How does this work?
In order to print food, you need the ingredients for the food and many of these are biomaterials.
For more complex food items you’ll need specific proteins and chemicals in order to successfully print them.
For something more straightforward like chocolate, you would need milk and cocoa or chocolate filament.
You’ll also need a multiple-extruder printer, and to set the extruders to the appropriate temperature for the ingredient and/or biomaterial.
Currently, companies like Natural Machines with their “Foodini” 3D printer for food are disrupting this space. You can print simple favourites from cupcakes to pizza. And even hamburgers.
Cool Companies In The Space
There’s a ton of really awesome companies in the next-level printing space. They range from industries like space, sneakers, cars, and even food! Here’s some notable ones:
STRATASYS & 3D Systems
Both STRATASYS and 3D Systems are cool companies, producing and supplying 3D printers. Every 3D printer they make is designed for a specific company and/or industry. They both design printers for a wide range of industries including:
- Many others
Unique 3D objects/projects require specific printers, of varying sizes, and specialized features.
For example, a 3D printer for construction would be closer to the size of Stratasys’ industrial printers… just a little larger.
Stratasys and 3D Systems are just two companies shaping the 3D printing space and revolutionizing several industries with their innovations.
MIT’s Self Assembly Lab (Yes, again)
MIT deserves a crown, for influencing the 4D printing industry and continuing to create super cool next-level printing projects, making them a leader in the next-level printing space.
Just a few project highlights to intrigue you include:
- Liquid-printed Pneumatics → using their rapid liquid printing technique and biomaterials
- Liquid-printed handbags for all our fashionista tech-enthusiasts
- Programmable tables — they one-upped Ikea
- Inventing new programmable materials
- Liquid-to-air pneumatics printing
- And a ton of other wicked projects that I want to work on
The one and only NASA is taking advantage of 4D printing, for several different projects.
If this isn’t a sign to hop onto the 4D printing wagon I don’t know what is.
One of these spectacular projects is “space chain mail.” It’s a flexible radiation-proof, super strong fabric… 4D printed! Using smart materials at MIT’s Self Assembly Lab.
The purpose of this next-level fabric is TBD. However, possible applications include:
- The outside of rockets
- Space suit 2.0
- Space stations
- And many more
Keeping with the space theme (I’m a little space biased, but can you blame me — space is cool), Relativity Space is another awesome company in the next-level printing space.
This company was founded in 2015. They use the “world’s largest metal 3D printers” developed and a system called “Stargate” (which they created) to prints parts of SpaceX’s rockets.
Reasons this is awesome (for those not already convinced):
- Saves Elon lots of money → which means more awesome projects
- If we can print SpaceX rockets there’s so many other things much smaller we can print
- This goes to show how revolutionary 3D & 4D printing technologies will be in the space industry
As we propel into the “New Space Age” 3D & 4D printing technologies will revolutionize the industry by creating affordable space parts.
- We need to use exponential emerging technologies to solve the world’s biggest problems. For example, 3D printing to solve the housing crisis!
- 3D printing is printing a 3D digital model using a 3D printer (extruder, filament or powder, heated platform, design file, laser, etc.).
- There are four main types of 3D printing: FDM, SLS, SLM, and Material Jetting.
- 4D printing is printing a 3D model that moves! It involves “smart materials.”
- 3D & 4D printing have loads of potential to disrupt several industries and lots of applications (space, construction, healthcare, and many more).
- There’s a ton of cool companies in the “Next-level printing space” (NASA, Stratasys, 3D systems, MIT Self-Assembly Lab, Relativity Space, Space AI Factory…)
Both 3D & 4D printing are super cool technologies revolutionizing the way we design and build things. They are impacting lots of industries and will continue to do so as the technology advances.
If we want to solve the world’s biggest problems we need to learn about emerging technologies like next-level printing.
With the help of a “Relativity Space” printer (or larger) we can solve the housing crisis.
We can print the future!
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Thanks for reading! Now go change the world!