The New World of Digital Fabrication

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The New World of Digital Fabrication

In the television science-fiction series Star Trek, one of the more mundane technologies used is a replicator. The name of a desired object is merely spoken into a device, somewhat resembling a vending machine, and within a few seconds, the object materializes before the crew member's eyes.

The current advances in digital fabrication aren't quite on par with this replication process; however, on a manufacturing spectrum from a traditional 20th century industrial plant on one end to a 22nd century voice-activated kiosk on the other, today's personal digital fabricators certainly have more of a futuristic feel to them.

The simplest description of digital fabrication is "a technology that translates a digital design into a physical object" — very often a complex physical object.1 Depending on the specifics, materials in these objects can include everything from cardstock and clay to plastic resin and various metals. Conceptually, a digital fabrication system is quite simple. A virtual design of an object is created using software, then a digital file of the object is sent to hardware where the digital design is transformed into the physical object.

Stratesys is a leader in three-dimensional printers for digital fabrication. Such printers represent the main type of additive digital technology fabrication in use today.

Stratesys is a leader in three-dimensional printers for digital fabrication. Such printers represent the main type of additive digital technology fabrication in use today.

The fundamental principles and basic technologies needed for digital fabrication have been around for well over 20 years. For most of that period, they were used to create prototype objects quickly and cheaply. This gave manufacturers and university researchers a way to test their designs and identify problems much earlier in the process.

More recently, the technology has evolved to the point that digital fabrication devices can cost-effectively manufacture end-products for a growing number of applications.2 So far, it is practical only for small-scale manufacturing of high-value items...

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