Over the past couple of years, the subject of 3d printing has cropped up more and more often, with a mixture of opinions and attitudes. 3d printing is quite literally what it says on the tin, using a 3d image created using CAD or 3d sculpting software a printer “prints” layers of plastic or resin and basically builds up an object layer by layer. 3d printers have been around for quite a while now and their usage has grown beyond the rapid development of components. The International Space Station actually has a 3d printer on board and is connected to a computer that contains 3d objects of every component within the station, which means if something breaks or becomes faulty the residents can actually print out a new component and perform the fix without having to have a warehouse of spares or request it from Earth.
3d printers do however, suffer from one major flaw. Because the printer breaks the object down into layers, printed curved shapes end up having a stepped effect (think the pyramids). The depth of the step is down to how thin the printer can print a layers. Originally 3d printers would whack down a fairly thick layer (1/4 of a millimetre or similar) and the result would be quite rough. Thankfully this has become better over time, but there is always going to be an issue with layers as that’s inherently how 3d printers actually work. Clearly the 3d printer on the International Space Station is going to have super fine layers, likely at the cost of some million pounds.