I believe that the dorkiest single statement I ever made in my life — and believe me, I’ve made plenty — was when i confessed that I had broken my 3D printer while making a replica of the original Star Trek phaser. While I’m sure that everyone will be relieved to find that I managed to get my printer back on track, completed the phaser (and even 3D-printed some parts to make the 3D printer work better in the future) that’s not why I’m bringing this up.
Most 3D printers today are a long way from being the replicators of Next Generation dreams. They’re slow. They handle a limited number of materials. And while they’re getting much better—the one that popped a fan cover while phaser-ing beats the heck out of the previous one that ripped its own guts out while trying to reproduce a trilobite—they’re still too finicky and proprietary to be part of the average home. I have used mine to make some genuinely useful items, from brackets to help mount a camera to the cleats that lash down ropes on my little sailboat, but it really is still more of an amusement than a must-have.
However, an article from this week’s Nature suggests that could change in the near future.
A prototype 3D printer has for the first time combined several printing methods to enable researchers to produce devices out of multiple materials in a single print run. So far the machine has created basic electronic devices, but the technology brings materials scientists a step closer to their goal of printing complex equipment such as robots or smartphones.
Calling the device a printer is really a disservice. Not only does it combine multiple techniques used in current 3D printers to lay down material in layers, this device as tiny robot arms for flipping, moving and inserting components.
And yet … I’m going to show you a company that’s doing something with a 3D printer that’s genuinely amazing. This time, you will be impressed.
Come inside and see.
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