3D Printers: The Future Becomes the Present

Once upon a time, science fiction movies and television shows depicted scenes where the character pressed buttons on a computer or spoke words into a speaker, and the computer magically produced full-course meals, or at the very least, food cubes that a space traveler could consume. It was an interesting concept, but the general feeling at the time was that it was truly fiction because a computer could only generate two-dimensional output. Then, 3D printers came along.

3D printers have been available in the manufacturing and artistic industries for quite a while, and are now making their way into the hobby world as well. 3D printers enable manufacturers and others to create prototypes by taking digital data and converting it into a physical object, which is “printed” via a robotic arm that creates the object utilizing substances in layers. 3D printers operate based on an additive principle in manufacturing whereby layer upon layer is added to an object until it is complete. The layering process may use metal, resin, polymers or some other substance depending upon the printer, industry and the object that is being “printed.”

Advances in 3D printers have been rapid and substantial. Initially used for prototyping and some hobby crafting, 3D printers are now being used to fashion parts for machinery, replace human body parts (especially of the skeletal system) and even create titanium parts for airplanes. Experts predict that in the future, there will be very little that will not be made on 3D printers. Already, the technology exists to scan an existing three-dimensional object and create an exact replica using 3D printers.

We may still be several years from being able to speak our food order into a computer and have it produce a meal. However, 3D printers are already being used in the food industry to frost cakes and cupcakes, produce pastries and create pasta. Some experts estimate that within five years, 3D printers will be available for home kitchens. One…

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