This month the Science Museum has been showcasing 600 3D printed items. The arm was one such item on display, unlike some of them though it shows where 3D printing may lead: revolutionising not only prosthetics but also manufacturing.
clear demonstration of how 3D printing can be used to take manufacturing out of the “component” mind set by building systems that are printed in their entirety.
So instead of making parts and putting them together you create a whole; if functional, embedded geometries could be printed into systems, manufacturing as a whole could be transformed. This would require very precise printers, capable of working with multiple materials. It raises a great challenge for engineers today, who just like their industrial revolution fore-fathers have the opportunity to revolutionise manufacturing techniques and tools. Professor Richard Hague, Director of the EPSRC Centre for Additive Manufacturing is leading on many of these developments:
Of course 3D printing also has a lighter side: you can buy pre-programmed models to print out; meaning you can have a scale model of past feats of engineering printed out and placed on your mantelpiece! The Eiffel Tower is proving particularly popular, there is even a novelty version which doubles up as a vase. IMechE summer meetings used to include a trip, one such was to see the construction of the Tower in Paris; in the 1880s photography could capture the process but to see in detail one had to travel. This also serves to illustrate how an engineering project can capture the imagination, inspiring further investigation and development.
More controversially, there are concerns that printed parts could be used to create 3D weapons, taking engineering out of controlled environments and placing it in the home. A recent Design Week debate looked at these issues. The panel included engineers, such as Dr Adrian Bowyer, a former senior lecturer in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Bath.