Science of Innovation: 3-D Printing

Air Date: 02/04/2013
Source:
NBC Learn
Creator:
Ann Curry
Air/Publish Date:
02/04/2013
Event Date:
02/04/2013
Resource Type:
Science Explainer
Copyright:
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
2013
Clip Length:
00:05:07

3-D printing is an innovative manufacturing technique developed by Professors Michael Cima and Emanuel Sachs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Once just used to create working prototypes, 3-D printers are now used by people from engineers to home inventors to make objects from their imaginations. “Science of Innovation” is produced in partnership with the National Science Foundation and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Science of Innovation- 3-D Printing

ANN CURRY, reporting:

It's a gathering for inventors, tinkerers and do-it-yourselfers of all ages.

MAN: You can make almost anything. If it fits in this box, you can make it.

CURRY: At the 2012 Maker Faire in New York City, attendees not only had the opportunity to build things, they also had the chance to experience an innovative way of making things called additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing.

BOY: Look at this! It's a 3-D printer. That's cool.

MICHAEL CIMA (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): 3-D printing has grown in many different directions. And most people, when I visit them, don't realize I had anything to do with inventing three-dimensional printing.

CURRY: Two of the creative forces behind 3-D printing technology are NSF-funded scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Michael Cima and Emanuel Sachs. Their work in the field of additive manufacturing started back in the 1980s with the goal of giving people a more efficient way of creating prototypes, or potential versions of a product.

CIMA: One of the slow steps was the time it took between a design on a computer to actually getting something that you could test, that you could prototype. Put in the hands of a customer for example, to-- for them to try, before you went and manufactured them.

CURRY: Traditionally, manufacturers have used a subtractive process to create prototypes.  Like a sculptor chipping away at a statue, the subtractive process begins with a large piece of material that is cut, drilled, or whittled down. The additive process works in reverse.

CIMA: Additive manufacturing was an attempt to get around that problem, by making parts from the ground up. Not from a piece of solid object, not cutting it out from a solid object, but making layers of a material in thin sections.

CURRY: Through their collaboration, Cima and Sachs invented an additive manufacturing technique, and coined the term 3-D printing. In essence, a three dimensional digital representation of an object is created using a computer. This image is then mathematically sliced into thin horizontal layers. Each layer's data are sent to the printer. A layer of powdered material that the object is to be made from is spread over the print bed. The inkjet head returns, printing a liquid that reacts to the powder to make it bind.  

CIMA: Depending on the materials set, the 3-D printing process is based on printing a glue, if you will, to hold that powder together.

CURRY: Layers of powder are spread into a printing bed that sits on top of a piston. The ink jet moves across the building bed and prints in two dimensions across the horizontal X and Y axes. The layers are deposited, one on top of the other, and as the piston moves down along the vertical Z-axis, it forms the third dimension.

CIMA: At the end of the process, your piston is completely filled with powder; but only certain volume elements of the powder that are in there is held together, so you can just reach in and shake out the part.

CURRY: In 1993, Cima and Sachs began filing a series of patents with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the 3-D printer. Companies have licensed some of these patents to produce their own 3-D printers. For the two researchers, patenting their technology has given them a 20-year window that allows them to protect and make money off the intellectual property.

CIMA: I like to tell people it's like putting a fence around your property. It tells you, in language, what's your property, your idea, versus somebody else's. 

CURRY: Today, several 3-D printing techniques exist, ranging from a printer head that dispenses melted material into layers, to a laser that fuses material together to form objects of great precision and durability. 3-D printers are already used in automotive and other engineering fields, and health care.

CURRY: While the 3-D printer was originally developed to make prototypes, Cima first realized the invention had a much broader value when an artist used the technology to create a model of a mosque.

CIMA: The thing that was most interesting about that was that the rooms were inside this mosque. That was my first inkling that people would want to use this, not for prototyping something they could make other ways. They'd want to use these technologies to make things that they couldn't make any other way.

CURRY: And therein lies the most innovative part of 3-D printing. It is giving scientists, engineers, and even backyard inventors a tool that can turn their own ideas into a reality.

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