3D Printers

By Deane Barker on August 6, 2003

BBC NEWS | Technology | Printers produce copies in 3D: They “print” things. Not pictures of things, but actually, three-dimensional things.

“The machines work by placing layers of a powdery material on top of each other to create a real-life model of a digital image. ‘With hundreds and sometimes thousands of layers, we can develop a prototype that works, from coffee cups to car parts, in a variety of textures and colours,’ said Andy DeHart of the Z Corporation which makes 3D printers.”

It’s like Star Trek. “Computer, beam me up a Porsche, please.” (I’m sorry, that’s probably way out of context. I was never a Trekkie…)



  1. I saw something similar to this in action several years ago; it used a vat of a liquid polymer that hardened when exposed to a high-intensity light. I think it used a low-power laser, and basically “imaged” milimeter thick layers. It started with a platform just below the surface of the polymer, and the platform would drop down with each imaged layer. It took a couple minutes for each layer; a couple hours for a fairly small object. The surface was a little on the rough side — they were working on higher resolution. I thought the same principal could be applied on a larger scale, using a quick-dry cement to lay out building foundations or even exterior walls for taller structures. It’d take a fairly substantial framework to support the “imaging” end of things, but it could be driven by a run-of-the-mill PC just like a plotter. Only bigger. So many ideas, so little time, so little capital.

  2. I saw one of these in action on a great History Channel series called “Modern Marvels: Building a Skyscraper” (great, great show for any architecture or construction geeks out there — it’s a series that continues tomorrow):


    They showed a printer making a rendering of the new CalTrans building in Los Angeles:


    It was interesting — the print head essentially just lays on ink (not ink, actually — a power-type substance) really thick, then drops the print surface a fraction of an inch and does another layer. Eventually the form “grows” out of the surface.

    The finished model was a little…gray, but I assume it could be painted. From what I saw, it appears to take a long time to render a little model of a building, so you’re not going to whip these out as fast as a Word document draft, but still pretty handy, I imagine, for architects and engineers.

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