More than a few industry experts believe 3D printing and 3D scanning technology are likely to inspire a third generation industrial revolution within the next few years. Never before have sophisticated and flexible manufacturing devices been placed in the hands of the individual craftsman or designer. The results have been more than a little exciting.
Examining a medium sized physical object for imperfections, damage, textures, integrity failures and so forth has traditionally been a painstaking process requiring hours of work and even more time checking and double-checking the work to make sure it is accurate. A 3D scanner can do something a human being cannot: It can compare an object to the original and highlight any differences. Further, it can highlight and analyze those differences at tremendous resolutions far beyond the capabilities of human sight. The implications for businesses from manufacturing to health care are astonishing.
Gone are the days of inaccurate measurements for builders. A 3D scanner can not only analyze distance, it can also extrapolate volume, pressure, load and structural integrity and it can do so from a variety of vantage points. Properly equipped, a scanner could help produce tolerance analysis for submarines, aircraft, spacecraft, medical equipment and even subterranean machinery.
Imagine a world where a factory always has the right part. Further, imagine a world where a factory not only always has the right part, but always has a blueprint for a new one. It is no longer necessary to record specifications for a part or object on paper, because the records of what a piece of machinery or gear is made out of its dimensions are recorded in the part itself. By that model, every part becomes its own blueprint, meaning not only can any object be duplicated, but it can be adjusted for size, weight, volume and integrity all at the same time.
If a doctor had the exact measures and specifications of a human body, imagine what he or she could do with that information? To take it to the next level, what if a doctor had exact measures and specifications of numerous human bodies for comparison and suppose they could use the forensic analysis functions previously mentioned to do their comparisons? What might they learn? What if that information could be used to build new medical devices and further, build them to the exact size necessary? Given what medicine is already capable of, the possibilities are intriguing.
What if you could turn any shape into chocolate? Now what if you could do that with any confection, or bread, or french fries? 3D printed food is not only a possibility, it is a reality, and adding the ability to use a 3D scanner to obtain the data necessary to turn food into interesting shapes is only the beginning. The very texture of food could be changed with a 3D printer in much the same way flour, sugar and milk can be turned into a cookie with the right blend and temperature.
3D printing and scanning are both in their infancy. What is likely to take place in the future may not only usher in a third generation industrial revolution, but many other changes as well.