During this pandemic, there has been more in the news about 3D printing, from companies and colleges printing face shields to making parts for ventilators faster, etc. The question for many of you is, what is 3D printing that they are referencing?

Normal printing as we have know since Guttenberg is where we put an image on a paper or some other object but it is 2D. It is just flat on paper and not something you can feel (Braille crosses to a very limited 3D).

With 3D the printer (which is really a lot more than a printer in traditional since of word) you can create objects that we have used the term of printing them as it works similar to the traditional printing process. Instead of just one sweep across paper and flat it uses filament that is melted and placed on a surface and then keeps moving higher and distributing more melted filament.

With this approach you can literally manufacture parts using a program that has been made of how to print the part.

There are free plans for lots of items that you can get and run in a 3D printer and create. Old car encaustics will use 3D printers to make new parts for their cars that manufacturers no longer make. I have a toy plastic computer from 1963 (very limited with a 3-bit display but works) and someone wrote plans for the parts and I have printed some parts. You can also buy programs and you can make your own programs/specifications. I have not gotten that far. A great site for tons of items is thinkiverse.com.

Being used to increase our production in the US of face shields was able to do quickly. 3D printing has been around for about 20 years but only in last few years has the size of printers gotten smaller and available to individuals and the price has fallen greatly.

The filament (ink), some in different colors, is on spools and the spools of filament look like the spools of filament to use in a weed-trimmer. There is filament that is plastic (common) and plant-based (environmentally better and safer for parts around children).

We will see 3D printers used more and more for individual and mass manufacturing is my expectation. They are being used by big manufacturers to individuals now.

Dwight Watt does computer work for businesses, individuals and organizations and teaches about computers at a college in Northwest Georgia. His website is www.dwightwatt.com. His email address is dwight@dwightwatt.com.

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