Unless you have been at the South Pole for the past couple of years, you have probably heard of 3D printing. Known as additive printing for many years, it has finally come into its own with the development of materials that can be extruded (squeezed out like tooth paste), sintered (heated), or spun (like cotton candy) from a heated nozzle. I'll stick to non-technical terms here.
(You can click on the links for the science and engineering details.) There are nearly as many ideas for 3D printable objects as there are stars in the night sky.
Well, okay, maybe not the stars over Montana, but definitely the number of stars over Los Angeles, Houston, or New York.
Clever folks have 3D printed a happy couple for their wedding cake topper, printed a cast that is more dense where the break is (while allowing the rest of the casted area to breathe), printed high couture clothing for the big city catwalks, and even 3D printed food and furniture!
If this is not the start of something big, I don't know what is!
How does an advanced technology that can print so many different designs and meet such different needs work? I'll admit, until I attended the 3D Printer World Expo in Los Angeles in January of 2014, I was mystified as well. Is it like the Star Trek replicators? No, but sort of. The products of 3D printing are dependent on the starting materials and are shaped by computer instructions.
Companies like Pixologic makers of an application called Z Brush offer CAD (computer assisted design) tutorials that allow the user to create an object. The computer object is converted into a STL file format. From this an object can be printed in plastic, metal, sugar, dough, etc. The specific material is based on the application and/or use. Cool! So unless you want a pizza made of wood for the coffee table, you would choose dough to print. (Of course food printers are not the same as industrial printers. You wouldn't want metal flecks as a topping.)
I can hardly wait to learn 3D printing software and try my hand at creating spare parts for my 20 year old Krups coffeemaker. Go science!