impression 3D

Will 3D printing

  • change the world?


From NASA through dental laboratories to designers and stylists, 3D printing heralds a third industrial revolution.


The unarguable star of this January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was 3D printing, until now the preserve of a small community of "makers" (techie d-i-yers) but henceforth within everyone's reach. The basic idea? Superimpose layers of material (metal, plastic, wood, steel) to create three-dimensional objects from digital soft­ware. Examples of use: repairing a broken handle, reproducing an unobtainable part of a piece of electrical equipment, duplicating a missing piece from a board game... all in a few clicks.


Vogue or progress?
While sceptics see the 3D printer as yet another geek gadget, techies are announcing a new industrial revolution. Indeed, additive manufac­turing has already proved its usefulness in numerous fields ranging from aeronautics (producing ducts and rocket reactors) and car manufac­turing to the food industry and medicine. In the latter field it has driven technological progress, to date producing 10 million hearing aids and 500,000 dental implants, and since 2011 making it possible to create artificial blood vessels, a deci­sive step towards manufacturing organs and tissues for transplants.


Towards a new kind of economy
Improving the speed and quality of printing, increasing the choice of materials and making modelling software easier to master are the final hurdles before this tool can really drive a new industrial revolution. For Benjamin and Matthieu Lavergne, authors of L'imprimante 3D, une révolution en marche: "3D printing isn't about replacing traditional manufacturing methods. Its main advantage is in making small series of customised products to order. So most probably a new kind of economy will develop, organised around niche markets."


A springboard for creativity
3D printing has been employed since the 80s for experimental rapid prototyping and today is regularly used in manufacturing finished pro­ducts. It gives young entrepreneurs, designers and stylists an opportunity to create high-value-added items without taking financial risks. A first step towards mass personalisation? "Without a doubt," say Benjamin and Matthieu Lavergne, reminding us that 3D printing services already allow internet users to customise professionally designed products. "We call that co-creation, between the designer who creates the object and the consumer who gives it the final touch by remodelling it as they wish." A service offered by websites such as Vous en 3D, Shapeways and Sculpteo. Philippe Starck finds the concept fascinating; he already does commission pieces for the TOG website and now he's thinking of opening a shop of a whole new kind in São Paulo, where people can personalise and 3D-print their furniture.


An inexhaustible source of inspiration
By adopting this new tool, both fashion and design are gaining in creativity. The "printed habitat" that François Brument and Sonia Laugier presented at the 2013 Maison & Objet show is a fine example: their partition produced on a concrete printer creates a bedroom with shelf storage on one side and shower and dressing recesses on the other. "Present manufacturing techniques don't allow such subtlety or complexity. Here there's no longer any distinction between structure and finishings," François Brument explains. The same is true in fashion, where additive manufac­turing's infinite possibilities promise to raise 3D printing to the rank of art, as in the dress that Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti created for Dita von Teese in 2013, Bradley Rothenberg's corset for Victoria's Secret, Julien Fournier's collection of shoes, and the Kinematics Dress that is New York studio Nervous System's latest creation; comprising 2279 triangular panels and printed as a single piece in nylon, this is already in the New York MoMA's permanent collection.


1960: Arthur C. Clarke, inventeur et auteur de science-fiction, dont 2001 : l'Odyssée de l'espace, a l'idée d'une imprimante en 3D.


1986: Charles (Chuck) W. Hull invente le processus d'impression 3D appelé StereoLithography Apparatus (SLA).


1988: Commercialisation de la 1re imprimante 3D, la SLA-250.


2010:  Organovo, une société de médecine régénérative, annonce la publication de données sur les premiers vaisseaux sanguins entièrement imprimés en 3D.


2011: Des chercheurs de l'université de Cornell construisent la première imprimante 3D alimentaire.


2012: Lancement de la Cube par 3D Systems, une imprimante grand public, facile d'accès et abordable.


Par Marjorie Modi