by Aaron H. Pratt, VP Marketing – Microboards Technology/Afinia

Almost exactly one year ago, we made the decision to enter the fray of 3D printing. What we saw then, and what we see now, was a disruptive technology, positioned to change business, that was beginning to make its way into the desktop market. Technologically speaking, we knew we were a late entrant. 3D printing, sometimes called Additive manufacturing, had been around for 30 years in one form or another. But marketwise, we saw a window of opportunity. Suddenly, garage tinkerers and back-room hobbyists were beginning to produce a product that met the economic requirements and piqued the interest of a much broader market than before. Given our expertise in commercializing new technology products in the B2B space, we decided to help the industry take a step past the tinker toy stage and offer a finished, supported device to users who were ready to try 3D printing but would need something that worked out of the box. And Afinia was born.

3D Printing Gains Media Prominence

The press’s annual pilgrimage to the Consumer Electronics Show gave 3D printing some good attention. While last year pundits were giving up on 3D TVs and yet another laptop(2), this year people got excited. Industry visionaries tried to imagine the new future. One drew a dotted line between 3D printers and the connected TV, another CES standout.(1) CNET’s Rich Brown pointed out that while 3D Printing did not command the presence of a giant booth or a keynote, “every time I walked by a booth owned by a 3D printer manufacturer, the crowds were there in force. People are clearly excited by 3D printing…(3)

And hardly a day goes by without 3D printing landing in a local or national newspaper. 3D printing has been tied to practically every other pressing issue in the public’s mind – from the economy to gun control, and from medicine to outer space.

In medicine, 3D printing is being viewed as a potential game changer. Afinia’s 3D printer has already been used to make assistance devices for disabled children, and others have begun discussing the practicality of prosthetic limbs, custom hearing aids, and dental fixtures. But even further down the road, people are envisioning using the same concept – layering materials to produce a physical embodiment of a 3D design – to create biologically functional materials. Why not human tissue? And if human tissue, why not organs?(4) To be sure, both the accuracy and the available materials have a long way to go before we are printing skin grafts or kidneys in the operating room. But all good things began with a vision.

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by: A 3D Printer Enthusiast

I’m fairly new to 3D Printing and got involved via our work with the folks at Afinia. We brought a printer over to the office, set it up and started using it within 45 minutes. Initially, we made models from Thingiverse that we used in videos and photoshoots. I have to admit, I moved the printer into the warehouse so that I wouldn’t gawk at it while it was working.

As I started to think about other applications, one came to mind (Duh-OH!): I have a bunch of melted, broken and missing parts for things around our home that have never been replaced. I recall searching an hour on a manufacturer’s website for a warming drawer replacement knob. About as much time looking for replacement clips to hold the glass on our lawn furniture. I gave up on the other parts, as I had no clue how to find them on-line or at the hardware store.

So, I assembled a handful of these items and gave them to a SolidWorks expert. A week and $85.00 later I had all of these replacement parts designed and printed.

So, what to make of this? These repairs would have happened had it not been for 3D Printing. Had I called the local Handyman, it probably would have cost me more than $85 to get the work done. Heck, the local Handyman should have a 3D printer in his/her toolbox.

Now, there is an increasing number of manufacturers who are making stl files available for download – a heck of a lot more cost effective for them (reduced parts inventory) and better customer service (download and print). Perhaps that is what we can look forward to.

I wouldn’t necessarily call this A Brave New World, just Coo-ool!