Is the purpose of 3D printing to inspire a better future?

It seems like whenever attending a technology or gadget conference there will be some kind of 3D printing product surrounded by plastic knickknacks it has been desperately churning out for the duration of the show.

I have a feeling these plastic curios are the reason I’ve felt uneasy about 3D printing, especially following my DIY 3D printing experience where my own attempt to produce a useless plastic object went wrong.

It seems futile, because the objects printed at shows have no function whatsoever other than to be multi-coloured, look pretty and prove the printer actually does something.

So when I had a chat with Jesse Harrington Au, programme manager maker at Autodesk, about the great potential 3D printing has to change the future of several industries, it started to change my mind.

It’s not all about manufacturing or rapid prototyping, and Harrington Au mentioned the huge impact 3D printing has had on the dentistry industry, with crowns now being 3D printed rather than the previous method they used to use.

“It’s about letting the machines help you and letting the algorithms assist you,” points out Harrington Au.

“They can rely on exact data.”

There is also great potential for this tech to be used in medicine, for activities such as 3D printing titanium implants.

But most importantly we were talking about the potential it has to inspire a whole new generation of people into technology, engineering and manufacturing careers, and break the current gender barrier into STEM subjects.

“We’re seeing a large amount of artists starting to adopt this, designers starting to adopt this, as well as kids in the classroom.” says Harrington Au.

He explains that when he first began using computer-aided design (CAD), the sort of software used to make 3D models that can be printed, the learning curve was steep.

But now it’s different, for kids now engineering solutions are more common and it’s making STEM more accessible, and creating diversity in the space.

“What you’re going to see come out of it is much more rapid innovation,” says Harrington Au.

“As people keep seeing this tech grow they keep thinking of ways to make it better.”