From cakes to jets: 3D printers ramp it up

The Oscillations 3D printed dress at the NYFW (Pic - Digitaltrends.com)

What were the fashionista in Dubai up to last week? Well, we bet they were either at or at least tuned into one of the greatest fashion parades on earth — the NY Fashion Week. And this year, sharing the spotlight with the latest and greatest in fashion was a rather intriguing dress called Oscillation, conjured up on a 3D printer.

Printer company Stratasys calls it part dress, part artwork and notes the dress was built from more than 30 individual 3D-printed parts and then assembled directly on the body of the model. The designers explain that 3D printing technology enabled them to visualise patterns in the form they truly are — “complex, interwoven circles of energy, transforming in shape, colour and flexibility as they radiate around the body”. Moreover, the parallax of the patterns and “the way in which they transform as the viewing angle changes was only possible through 3D printing”.

3D printing has had a bit of a roller-coaster ride — until couple of years back, the hype was about us being able to custom-design and 3D-print everything from pasta to phone cases, right at home and on the cheap. Fast forward to 2016, and we are still devouring pasta at the nearby restaurant, and hopping online to buy mass market phone cases.

So has 3D printing gone the way of 3D TVs and become an also-ran technology? No. While 3D printers may not have kicked down the front door and made a grand entry into our homes, they have started transforming major sectors  — from construction to health care to aeronautics, by fundamentally altering the way products are manufactured.

A case in point is the recent acquisition by the multinational conglomerate General Electric of two European 3D printer companies for an impressive sum of $1.4 billion (Dh5.14 billion). The more interesting bit — last year, these two companies, Arcam and SLM, had posted revenues of just $68 million and $74 million respectively. So why exactly is GE interested in them?

Turns out GE is investing in its own future. According to The Motley Fool, by 2020, GE expects to generate over $1 billion in 3D printing revenue. Moreover, the company is set to cut down on manufacturing costs by $3 billion to $5 billion over the next 10 years, by leveraging the 3D printing tech it has acquired. Besides, GE will custom-build 3D printer to produce fuel nozzles for its highly successful LEAP jet engine. Apparently, these 3D-printed nozzles are 25 per cent lighter, 5 times stronger and produced as a single unit, instead of being assembled from 19 separate components. All this may not sound as glamorous as 3D-printing cakes and designer clothes, but you can be sure the big bucks are in industrial-grade 3D printers.

As His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, noted earlier in April during the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy initiative, “The future will depend on 3D printing technologies in all aspects of our life, starting from houses we live in, the streets we use, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear and the food we eat.” He revealed a key goal of the government was to ensure that, by 2030, 25 per cent of building in Dubai would be based on 3D printing technology. In fact, the plan is already in motion — in May, Dubai became home to the world’s first 3D-printed building. As Gulf News describes it, a 3D printer measuring 20 feet high, 120 feet long and 40 feet wide was used to print the building.

So in the future, the pizza may still not come from a 3D printer, but chances are the building that houses your favourite pizza outlet might have been put together by a giant 3D printer. One that would give Transformers a run for their money.