The first experiments with 4D printing may have started in more recent months, but in the last few years many of us have been busy familiarising themselves with 3D printing, a technology that has been pervading different fields and professions.
Dedicated projects in art, architecture, interior design or fashion have proved 3D printing can definitely help developing new and experimental shapes, high-performing parts or optimized products. Yet for most of us this technology and the possibilities offered may still be difficult to grasp. Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman come to our rescue in the recently published volume Fabricated (John Wiley).
The book subtitle - The New World of 3D Printing - though generic, perfectly hints at the wider scope and applications that this new technology may have. The volume - divided in 14 chapters - opens with a brief history of 3D printing that dates the first experiments around the mid-'80s. The authors then focus on explaining the different methods, families of printers and materials, while also analysing design software and design optimisation, and the advantages this technology may offer in fields like medicine, medication, food, design and fashion (readers of this site will rediscover in the book Kerrie Luft, Hoon Chung and the Continuum Fashion duo).
The most interesting chapters look at the impact this technology may have on our lives if we ever managed to print human organs or foods with specific dietary requirements, but the financial aspects are also tackled in several parts of the books analysing customisation and personalisation processes and the consequences of 3D printing on the labour market.
Yet Lipson and Kurman do not make the mistake of seeing everything through rose-tinted glasses: while in one chapter their tone may be more optimistic, in another they remind us about legal problems linked to 3D printing, from health and safety standards to issues regarding property law and copyright infringement or even criminal law (think about recent issues about downloadable designs for weapons, or the consequences of managing to use a 3D printer to create a new breed of chemical drugs).
The authors also tackle the green issue: discarded prototypes littering university laboratories or design studios will turn into a new threat to the environment if we don't start developing more eco-friendly materials like the desert sand employed by Markus Kayser for his "Solar Sintering" design project. So, while 3D printing may be the future, keeping on experimenting is definitely the path forward.
Some issues the authors look at in the volume - illustrated by a lot of black and white pictures and a few ones in colour, but written in an extremely accessible language and therefore ideal for everyone, from students to teachers (a lengthy chapter analyses the benefits of letting a 3D printer into the classroom) and researchers, but also amateur 3D printing fans - may find a solution soon, others are instead set to generate wider debates on a technological, but also on a moral and ethical level in the next decade. In the meantime, if you want to know more about the magic and the perils of 3D printing, you should definitely pick a copy of Fabricated.
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