When Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press came in 1450, no one anticipated it would forever change the course of history. That is perhaps the best description of our attitude toward 3D printer, an “evolved” version of Gutenberg’s 2D printer. Despite its three decades of not-too-short history, it has been detached from our daily life and has remained exclusive to a few computer-savvy techies. As its patent expired in February 2014, however, that would not be the case any longer. Will it be a next Gutenbergian renovation or a transient fad? That remains to be seen.
▲ Victoria Secrert model with 3D printedwings. Provided by nypost
It seems the 21st century is an era of 3D, for everything—from glass to film—follows this trend.
So does a printer, surprisingly, the least 3D-ish machine ever invented. It shatters a stereotype that a printer is limited to the 2D paper world, and it now stretches the very definition of a printer. In 1984, it was first born by Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corporation, and now it is thirty years old—well, it seems not every invention with the 3D prefix is on the cutting edge.
This unprecedented invention has long been stuck in the lab of factory techies, partly due to the patent laden on it and partly due to its hefty price tag that was simply unaffordable to ordinary people. But gone is such a period after its patent officially expired last February, and now the term 3D printer is not as unfamiliar as it used to be.
Admittedly, a 3D printer prints out by spraying a molten plastic substance layer by layer until it finally reaches a designed shape. It was at first used for both prototyping and distributed manufacturing, favored by factory technicians. However, technicians are not the only fans of 3D printers—filmmakers and fashion designers are fans, too.
Anyone who has ever seen the Hobbit (2012) series would wonder how on earth the filmmaking crew could make hundreds of armors and swords. And the mystery is now unraveled—these movie props are 3D printed! The Hollywood blockbuster The Wolverine (2013) is also famed for the Silver Samurai’s intricately etched armor whose pieces were 3D printed and then assembled.
The greatest advantage of 3D printed props lies in the speed of production, which is “very fast with the modelling, and can get the real things quickly once it is designed.” As the Hobbit’s art director Michael Turner’s aforementioned comment succinctly summarizes, 3D printers shorten the production period, thereby reducing budgets for prop making. This tiny box-shaped invention actually upped the ante in rendering filmmaking more affordable, cutting down on budgets for props that are used once and then thrown away.
Filmmakers are just one beneficiary of it, and perhaps the most unsurprising one. Fashion designers are also intent on experimenting with this promising technology. Among them, Victoria’s Secrets is most audacious, as shown by their latest fashion show held in January of this year. Their signature snowflake-shaped wings jutting out from the models’ backside—an old “tradition” of Victoria’s Secrets fashion show—are all 3D printed. It not only saved labor on crafting each wings by hand, but also opened a new era of underwear, such as 3D printed bikinis.
3D printers are bridging fashion and technology, and they are slowly getting closer to our daily lives—not only by filmmakers and designers, but also by students of Korea University (KU). Onetechie school club named “KAsimov” actually has two 3D printers housed in its lab, one purchased by their prize money and the other donated by an alumnus. Students design what they aim to print using computer programs like CAD, a program that “everyone can handle,” as the club leader, Ahn Jeeho (’11, School of Electrical Engineering), said. After modeling comes the process of printing—socalled Filament Deposition Modeling (FDM), which is “piling up layer by layer” as one club member Sim Jae Hoon (’11, Mechanical Engineering), detailed.
▲ 3D printer is printing out a pen.Photographed by Yoo Seung Joo
A machine once denied of public access is now within everyone’s reach—though still more expensive than traditional printers. Students working with this machine all agree that selfprinting costs less than outsourcing it to a manufacturing factory. It sure does make sense, since they use biodegradable corn plastic, which costs far less than metal substances used in factories. What is more, there is no extra cost incurred by outsourcing, for they themselves are designers and manufacturers at the same time.
The greatest change that 3D printers would bring lies in this part, where designing and manufacturing converge. Also, it is likely to lead to a change on a social scale—as Gutenberg’s 2D printer did—by “reshaping the manufacturing industry for good.” It was amid the 3D printed pens and robot parts where Ahn unfolded his opinion about 3D printers’ future. “The change in manufacturing industry will ultimately result in the change in the distribution structure, for people can print things out if they have a blueprint,” Ahn continued. All the while, those two 3D printers were silently changing the world, just like the
Gutenbergian predecessor did six centuries ago
▲ Ahn explaining the works of a 3Dprinter. Photographed by Yoo SeungJoo.