Three dimensional (3D) printers turn computer designs and blueprints accessed by the internet and modified on a desktop computer, into three dimensional solid objects. 

Watch this short video made by DFEEST of a simple 3D printing process in time lapse.

This video was filmed at Fab Lab Adelaide

3D printing is achieved through additive processes that build up an object from a large number of very thin layers, usually performed by a materials printer using digital technology. 

3D printing is distinct from traditional machining techniques that largely rely on subtractive processes or the removal of material through drilling or cutting which are slow and costly.

In comparison, 3D printing can produce a customised product, part or prototype in just hours – or in less time depending on the object.

Find out more

New applications of 3D printing

Industrial 3D printers were developed in the early 1980s. Since then the technology has been widely used for research purposes and rapid prototyping; mainly in the automotive, aerospace and medical industries.

What is new about the technology is that it is no longer restricted for use by large corporations and organisations. 

The start of 21st century marked a significant drop in the price of these machines, leading to a steep increase in the sales to the mainstream consumer market. 

3D printers for the domestic consumer can now be purchased for less than US$1000 – cheaper than the comparative cost of a laser printer in 1985.

This has given rise to the ‘make-sumer’: A consumer who can access a blueprint through the internet, modify the design on a desktop computer it to suit their individual need or design something from scratch – and then press print to activate a machine that will build the object locally.

Commercial applications of 3D printing

3D printing is described by some industry analysts, scholars and journalists as the Third Industrial Revolution, comparing the impact of 3D printing to the steam engine in 1750, the printing press in 1450 or the transistor radio in 1950 for society.

3D printing places the consumers at the centre of product design, emphasising innovation as a commodity in modern manufacturing.  

3D printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands, offering greater flexibility and cost savings through the supply chain, thus limiting the benefits of economies of scale.

As a result, mass production is starting to give way to mass customisation for all kinds of products such as shoes, kitchenware, mobile phones, furniture and medical implants.

This technique has been used to create millions of customised hearing aids shells and dental crowns. It is also used to create personalised hip replacements, with the ball permanently placed in the socket and custom designed artificial limbs. 

Additive manufacturing has several advantages over conventional subtractive methods, it:
  • cuts costs through improved efficiencies in production and lead times.
  • reduces waste enormously, requiring as little as one-tenth of the amount of material. 
  • allows the creation of parts in shapes that conventional techniques cannot achieve, resulting in new, much more efficient designs.
  • is green technology. Design can happen anywhere in the world but manufacture is local, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint and low levels of waste.
  • enables the production of a single item quickly and cheaply—and then another one after the design has been refined.

Today, 3D printing is used in the design and manufacture of jewellery, clothing, artefacts and ceramics. It is also used in industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering, and many others. 

Notable applications of 3D printing include following:

Preservation of historical artefacts 
The Smithsonian Institute used 3D printing to create a replica statue of Thomas Jefferson for use in a touring exhibition.

Medical implants and prosthesis
An entire lower jaw, custom designed hands, limbs and other body parts have been designed and created using 3D printing. 

Scientists have been experimenting with the creation of blood vessels and tissue structure, layer by layer using artificial cells. Researchers at Washington State University recently developed a bone-like material using a 3D printer. 

Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania recently used 3D-printed sugar networks to help grow artificial livers. In July this year, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology built a synthetic vascular system.

The Urbee hybrid, the world’s first prototype car to have the entire body manufactured by 3D printing, was officially launched in Las Vegas in 2010. Audi is now 3D printing parts of its cars using Objet Polyjet 3D printers.

Aerospace & Defence
Airbus, and parent company EDAS, currently uses giant 3D printers to produce parts for the A380 super jumbo jet. Rolls Royce invested millions of dollars to incorporate 3D printing processes into the manufacture of civil aircraft engines.

NASA tested a 3D printer on the International Space Station and more recently used 3D printing to design and manufacture the Mars Rover.

The US Army has also experimented with a truck-mounted 3D printer capable of outputting spare tank and other vehicle components in the battlefield.

Benefits for industry and jobs in South Australia

In its current form, 3D printing represents a broad range of benefits and opportunities for industry development and job creation in South Australia.

The growing adoption of leading-edge technologies and additive methods for production has reduced barriers for entry for manufacturing. 

Yet it offers many opportunities for businesses and individual operators in South Australia to gain competitive advantage across various industries and sectors.

New business models, new production methods and new communication channels for designers, consumers and manufacturers to collaborate and innovate are the direct result of advances in digital technologies over the past decade.

Using 3D printing, South Australian consumers are empowered to act both as a designer, collaborator and creator of new devices and products. They can now market not just their products but also their designs and ideas directly to the market.

Consumer can also purchase, modify and adapt leading-edge designs and technologies from around the world for local production and use in South Australia. 

Mass manufacture of customised finished parts using 3D printing offers further opportunities to gain competitive advantage through direct digital manufacturing (DDM) 

As there are barely any economies of scale in additive manufacturing, the technology is ideally suited to low-volume, high-quality production. 

DDM is more cost-effective and simpler than having to pay and wait for machining or tooling, with on-the-fly design changes and just-in-time inventory being possible.

This presents new opportunities for entrepreneurial South Australians who realise the potential benefits of 3D printing; and who are ready to profit from next wave of new technology. 

The boon will be for South Australian designers, artists, researchers, inventors and start-ups, who can now try out new products with less risk and expense. 

It is now possible and cheaper to 3D print a small run 10 units to see if there is a market for the product. Then print 50 more if there is demand, improving the design using feedback from early users. 

A practical example of the benefits of DDM for communities and industry in South Australia would be a rainwater tank that is custom-designed in Adelaide but manufactured through 3D printing on Kangaroo Island – representing cost savings in lead time and transportation.

A growing number of SMEs across South Australia are successfully using DDM to manufacture customised products for the agriculture, aquaculture, water and irrigation, automotive, defence, medical and electronic industries. See

Uptake of DDM and 3D printing in South Australia is predicted to grow, strengthened by:
  • The promotion of additive manufacturing to South Australian consumers and industries
  • The rollout of the National Broadband Network 
  • Increasing levels of digital literacy across the broader South Australian community
  • Promotion of training, skills development and career pathway in 3D printing. 
  • Greater links between industry, education and resource sectors
  • Further use by universities, research institutes and STEM students 
At the university level, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students can test and explore the potential of 3D printing as part of their studies. 

Students, researchers and staff have access to 3D printers at the University of Adelaide, University of South Australia, Flinders University, UniSA and TAFE SA campuses.

Due for completion in 2014, the State Government’s Tonsley Park redevelopment project seeks to take advantage of links between industry and the education and research sectors by co-locating these within the same precinct.

TAFE SA's new Sustainable Industries Education Centre will stand alongside Flinders University teaching and resource centre, bringing 2000 students and 150 staff to the advanced manufacturing hub.

Fab Lab Adelaide program

The Fab Lab concept was originated by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to provide safe and accessible spaces for the community to: interact, understand, develop, and create using technology such as 3D printers and additive manufacturing techniques.

Fab Lab Adelaide is the first Australian-based participant in the international MIT Fab Lab network. Currently, there are over 100 operational MIT endorsed Fab Labs around the world.

The Fab Lab Adelaide’s inaugural course includes a week-long master class in digital fabrication for 24 participants led by MIT Professor, Dr Zoz Brooks.

Dr Zoz Brooks

Former Adelaide University graduate now Professor at MIT, Dr Zoz Brooks hosts the internationally broadcasted Discovery Channel television show Prototype This!

The television program features a small team of engineers was tasked with creating technically challenging, never-before-seen prototypes in a time span of two weeks.  

Dr Brooks also appears on the Discovery Channel show Time Warp, devoted to high speed imaging of natural and scientific phenomena.  

Dr Brooks is a keen advocate of the promotion of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and designs university-level classes to improve students’ skills in design, fabrication and embedded systems implementation.

Fab Lab Adelaide master class

During the week-long Fab Lab Adelaide master class, participants will gain hands-on experience of 3D printing, rapid prototyping and other digital fabrication techniques. 

Days 1-3 of the master class will be at the Advanced Manufacturing Centre at TAFESA Regency Park, where participants will learn about advanced 3D scanning and 3D printing using TAFESA’s equipment (including a ZCorp 650 full colour 3D printer). 

Days 4-5 will take place at Fab Lab Adelaide (2nd floor, Adelaide College of the Arts), where participants will get hands-on experience of using desktop fabrication equipment including 3DTouch, UP! and MakerBot Thing-O-Matic 3D printers plus an Epilog Zing laser cutter.

Following the official launch on 2 November 2012, Fab Lab Adelaide will be open to the public on Thursday and Friday.