From the Iron Age to Space Travel… How the 3D printer has changed our lives

The Iron Age brought with it man’s necessity to build his tools out of rock to chip away at another stone or piece of wood to make wondrous inventions. The greatest invention, the wheel, set him on a speedy track of innovation and constant improvement. No longer needing to drag his catch of the day behind him, the wheel saved him time and the energy to work on his intellect and nights by the camp fire were spent at the drawing rock….The drawing board had not been invented yet. With no need to ‘reinvent the wheel’, man could envision his home improvements and the changes to his cave, his pride and joy and his house. For every man his house is his castle.  For centuries man laboured away and built his home and wished for an invention that would make his life easier.

A 3D printer that can build a house in 24 hours is being tested by the University of Southern California (Hettersley, 2013).  A giant robot designed by Professor Behrosh Khoshnevis has replaced construction workers.  The robot has a giant nozzle on a scaffold that squirts out concrete and can build a home within 24 hours.  The technology known as ‘Contour Crafting’, could transform the construction industry. It is “basically scaling up 3D printing to the scale of building,” says Khoshnevis (Hettersley, 2013). [1].

3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model.  The process of 3D printing uses an additive process of adding layers of material on top of another to form the three dimensional object.  Until recently 3D printing was a costly industrial process used primarily for prototyping. The objects are designed and created for various applications in architecture, construction, industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, dental and medical industries…Also read the blog on the RepRapPro

In April 2014, Popular Mechanics (South African edition) featured a story of neurosurgeons who successfully replaced the complete skull of a 22-year-old woman with a plastic custom made 3D-printed skull implant at the University Medical Centre (UMC) Utrecht [2].

In November 2012, Buttercup the duck, received a brand new prosthetic leg created on a 3D printer that enabled her to walk for the first time [3].

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the European Commission have embarked on a project to send the first metal printer to the International Space Station (ISS) so that astronauts can build space-quality metal components that can withstand extreme temperatures [4].

With printers such as the Cube® printer manufactured by 3D Systems,  a leading provider of 3D printing solutions, even the home user can manufacture 3D objects.   With plug and play technology it no longer takes a brain surgeon or astronaut to have a prototype in minutes. One no longer needs to put pen paper to go from an idea to a sample.

RS components recently launched the range of Cube® printers from 3D Systems [5] into its product range. For more information please visit

Long gone are the laborious days of the caveman carving his tools from stone in the moonlight.   We now live in a time where the spaceman carves his tools at the push of a button.