It is amazing how many of the things in science fiction books, television shows and movies have become reality. For instance, in “Star Trek” the crew could go to a Replicator and order food, drinks or anything they could program into the computer. Before long, the item would appear. This is possible today, in a way, with the technology we have had for years.
Several manufacturers have created 3D printers. One company, MakerBot, has created one printer that the average person can purchase. It is called The Replicator. You can download a number of projects from the internet for use with The Replicator. Before long, rather than going to the store to purchase what you need, you may be able to download what you want from an online catalog and print it out at home.
The process, called “atoms into bits,” was first used with music. Originally, the music was recorded onto plastic disks with deep etches. Music can now be captured, copied and distributed without a physical product. The same is also true of books and magazines. Rather than having to purchase a physical book or magazine, you can now download them from the internet in digital form.
How would this new technology play out? Will it truly be possible to download a program with a pair of shoes from the internet and print them off at home? Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, believes it will happen but does not know how soon it would be possible.
The user would have to purchase computer aided design (CAD) software and the 3D printer. The printer lays down plaster dust in both horizontal and vertical directions. The dust is built, layer upon layer, and fused together to create the 3D object. This technology is already used in engineering and architecture. Medical companies are also printing implants that resemble actual bones; dentists are using the technology to create dental crowns. One company, Shapeways, will print a design you upload to their website and then ship it to you.
As with all technology, when it first comes out it is cost prohibitive for the public. Experts believe the price for the 3D printers will fall which will make it easier and cheaper for the average family to purchase.
Melissa Shoes, a Brazilian footwear company, is using this technology, and a proprietary plastic called Melflex, to create shoes. Rather than having to go through the current process of product design and development, along with the exorbitant costs associated with it, the company is able to design and print shoes for display to see how well they will sell prior to having large quantities of them made. Can the ability to design and print your own shoes be too far off in the future? Can 3D-printed shoes be the latest in the shoe fashion? Only time can tell.