Originally developed in the 1980s, 3D printing was first used mainly to produce prototypes of manufactured objects. As the size, speed, and cost of 3D printers has been reduced and they have become easier to use, the printers have become more commonplace, and found wider use. A mainstay now of rapid prototyping, they are also used for custom or small-scale manufacturing and to make architectural and other models. The International Space Station, for example, has used a 3D printer to produce a custom wrench from instructions emailed by NASA. Some stents and alternatives to orthodontic braces are made using 3D printers, and artifical limbs, joints, bones, and bone scaffolding for implantation have been produced. Models created with 3D-printers are used to prepare for complicated surgical procedures. So-called bioprinters are being explored as a means of creating individualized tissues and organs for transplantation. Less expensive 3D printers are available for use by the hobbyist, and 3D-printing services are available to create objects for those who cannot afford a printer or only need to use one occasionally.
See H. Lipson and M. Kurman, Fabricated (2013).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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