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                Star Trek has a funny little gimmick called the replicator. It was a device that could make a drink on demand assembling the beverage atom by atom, complete with a cup too. Later in the series, it was used to make objects besides meals. The closest thing we have to such a device right now is the 3D printer. Although 3D printers are not Star Trek level yet, they are beginning to have many more practical applications than ever before, and it will be interesting to see how far the technology will be able to reach.

                3D printing has a few obvious advantages over traditional ways of making things. A 3D printer, if able to produce the desired object accurately, can ultimately reduce the labor and cost of production. A machine producing an object not only eliminates the need for labor, but it also eliminates the cost of tools needed to make an object. Additionally, as 3D printers get smarter, they may be able to produce objects that are more mathematically precise, surpassing the accuracy of handmade items. Many 3D printers are now being built with advanced sensors that do in-process monitoring that collects data that will enable the machine and future machines to create better objects more efficiently.

                Recent events have accelerated the practical application of 3D printing. 3D printing was able to come to the rescue during the pandemic by printing much-needed ventilators for people with severe COVID 19 infections. However, even post-pandemic, they have been useful in producing material in response to the Great Resignation and to the Supply Chain Crisis. Big-name stores such as Staples and UPS now offer 3D printing services. Some people theorize that in a few decades, we may be looking at a future in which, instead of ordering parts on Amazon, you may be able to simply 3D print parts within the comfort of your very own home.  

                There are many different applications for 3D printing and this article will only cover a few of them. One prominent application of 3D printing that has seen a lot of growth in recent years is the aerospace industry. Advanced 3D printers have been helpful and cost-effective in making parts such as rockets, runway mats, antennas, fuel nozzles, and even drones! The X Vein drone, designed for search and rescue missions during disasters, has a frame that can only be made via 3D printing.

                Another prominent 3D application is in dentistry. 3D printing is now being used to make crowns, surgical guides, and most dental aligner molds. Many dentist offices are now using resin-based printers which are useful for making these items with excellent surface quality, fine features, mathematically correct custom makes, speed, and low cost. The average price for these kinds of printers is $5,000, low enough for even small businesses to afford.  Some people now predict that dentistry will soon be using 3D printing to produce over 80% of the materials they use.                 As mentioned above, these are just a few of the exciting developments happening in 3D printing and there are many more on the horizon. Perhaps one day, people will be printing out most of their materials at home instead of waiting for an Amazon delivery driver. Or perhaps, probably in a more distant future, we may even see printers making items atom by atom like the replicators of Star Trek. Technology changes so fast it can be overwhelming. However, Iler Networking & Computing is dedicated to keeping up with it so you don’t have to! Give us a call today at 440-322-4537!