Many of us have heard of 3-D printing but few may have actually dealt with the process of designing and making a product. In this week’s article we will cover how 3-D products are made as well as how 3-D printing is going to effect the aviation community.
The process of 3-D printing begins with choosing a product or tool to design. There are several free 3-D modeling programs online including Sketchup and LibreCAD as well as many paid programs such as SolidWorks and AutoCAD. With these programs people can design 2-D and 3-D models ranging from proposed floor plans to completely designed houses and wing structures. If you are interested in seeing some items that people have designed and are free for download check out Thingiverse. You can look for thousands of products online here at https://www.thingiverse.com/ Some of my favorite examples of cool designs include a huge Lego Darth Vader and the assortment of model aircraft parts. Soon we will have a few how-to videos up with tutorials for 3-D designing as well as a video of a 3-D printer at work.
What does all of this mean for the aviation community? 3-D printing spans further than just making small trinkets and tools out of plastics; some advanced 3-D printers can work in softer metals such as aluminum. With the further technological upgrades and developments in 3-D printing their uses will expand into making multiple parts of aircraft, thereby making the process of mass producing intricate parts and replacements quicker and cheaper in the long run. Some 3-D printers are very accurate and much easier to control than making parts with molds or injection fills. Could we eventually see the ability for Aeronautical Engineers to quickly and easily design and test their own inventions and plans in-flight? One hopes, and as we watch 3-D printing and designing becoming more and more common people will be able to think up and make crazy inventions. Many local libraries and college campuses have 3-D printers with which you can print out your own designs or interesting things you find online. Some libraries even offer free 3-D printing free of charge for people under 18! Do you remember when you were younger and you had a design in mind for a toy or product, but had no way to make it? Now you do, and with some 3-D printers as low as $300.00 you too can begin designing and printing whatever you want, from small plastic replacement parts for your car to… Chihuahua keychains??? Now Buddy can keep track of his car keys.
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Fly safe and have fun!