On August 8, 2007, 58 seconds after the space shuttle lifted off, falling foam struck the heat tiles near the right main landing gear door. Not interested in having a repeat of the Columbia disaster, NASA had sent up a laser camera system from Neptec, which was mounted on the end of the Canadarm, and was able to take detailed 3D imagery of the damaged area.
Back on earth, engineers could look on a screen at the images, but to really get a feel for the scale of the damage, they sent the data to a Cimetrix 3D printer and printed out a full size, three dimensional reproduction of the damage, shown above. They determined that the damage was not catastrophic and the shuttle landed safely.
That is the kind of amazing thing that 3D printers can do; they can take an image from space and recreate it so that we can hold it in our hands. Imagine what they can do with more mundane tasks.
3D printers like the Cimetrix dimension are getting affordable, starting at $18,000; Umbra set one up at Explore Design to show the students how designs go from concept to production. The Dimension builds components out of ABS so they are strong enough to actually use, rather than just look at.
Besides laying up layers of ABS plastic, it also can deposit a dissolvable support material, allowing complex moving parts like this differential thingie to come out in one piece, this is not assembled afterwards but printed like this. Just wash away the support material and turn the crank.
The day is not far away that you can order up anything and print it at your neighbourhood 3D Kinkos: Durable working products made with no waste and no transport, the best designs in the world made right where you live. ::Cimetrix See more on the subect of downloadable designs at ::In An Absolut World Everything is Downloadable
self portrait in Cimetrix window