What Are the Possibilities With 3-D Printers?

01/18/2013 10:51 am ET Updated Mar 20, 2013

Technology has improved dramatically the past two decades. The Internet, which was formerly only available at universities and at major companies, is now in most American homes, and we can access the Internet using smart phones that are an order of magnitude more powerful than servers used only 15 years ago. Screen technology has improved dramatically, and the speed with which we can access information is astounding. As a result, many people expect only incremental changes in the future. However, there is a new technology being developed that promises to transform our lives. 3-D printing is expected to have a major impact on society.

What is 3-D Printing?

3-D printing uses a device that deposits layers of a substance to build objects. Many use plastic or metal and can build complex objects based on a computer design. While 3-D printing is limited to a small number of materials, future advances will pave the way for even more complex objects. Some are even predicting a future in which organs can be printed to be used for transplants.

Where is 3-D printing being used?

Some companies are already taking advantage of 3D printing to offer customize products to their customers. Instead of manufacturing a certain number of products with a particular design, companies can instead print designs as they are ordered. In addition, companies can use 3D printing to allow their customers to customize their product before ordering them. The flexibility 3D printing provides is invaluable, and it may make the cost of starting a business lower in the future.

3-D printing in your home?

Current consumer-grade 3-D printers are limited, and the objects they print are often insufficient for day-to-day needs. However, advances will revolutionize how we run our homes. For example, a sophisticated 3-D printer could allow someone to print out a new set of silverware, plates or other objects needed in a home. By downloading plans online, homeowners will have nearly limitless options, and those who are creative can even design their own objects. Many experts believe that affordable 3-D printers capable of these tasks are only a few years away.

Helping the environment?

One of the problems of manufacturing is that products must be bought in large amounts in order to be profitable, and industrial design services cannot always reliably predict which products will sell. As a result, companies tend to be conservative with their offerings. If a particular product fails to sell, the company may have no choice but to send it to a landfill, which can have a detrimental effect on the environment. With 3-D printing, it is possible to create custom designs, which can lead to tremendous energy savings and less environmental harm.