Three-Dimensional Printing as Related to Woodworking

Three-Dimensional printing has come quite a long way. First, it seemed as though it may end up being just another ridiculously unnecessary toy for the ultra-rich, but then some of the applications of this modern marvel have made it to the market (or at least to the experimentation table), and now society is seeing everything from handguns to automobiles being printed on these devices. Naturally, wood products were soon to follow. Manufacturers have recently created a wood-plastic polymer that combines the best characteristics of wood with the best of plastic with a grain design created from the printing process, and you’re in business.

Unfortunately, the implications from using this printing process is the automation of woodworking, with the possibility of rendering the woodworker and his miter saw obsolete. First, the industry saw devices known as CNC routers, which were able to replicate tons of identical-appearing parts. Soon after this implementation, computer-aided drafting (CAD) and other graphics programming saw increased uses in this industry, making what was once very difficult for human hands to accomplish simple enough to be done through automation. Now, we have the most recent application, with inventors and engineers using three-dimensional printers to print 3-D designs using melted plastic, applied in “beads,” the same way that semi-liquid caulking is applied from the tip of a silicon caulk tube. This technology employs the same type of resolution as traditional printers, in that the smaller the “bead” of plastic laid down, the finer the result. The can be compared with dots per inch or pixels in terms of standard computer printing. As with pixels, the finer the bead, the finer the resolution/detail of the result.

Now, you mind find yourself asking what the point of concern here is. What will potentially happen is that an entire generation of automation will replace the current generation of woodworkers, with a shift towards automated mechanized production as opposed to the handicraft designs created by the individual woodworker and his trusty miter saw.

Now, the other think that makes this new type of production appealing is its ability to be added onto whenever a part needs to be replaced or upgraded. We have already seen the 3-D printed car, where the owner can simply reprint the car and assemble it to his/her specifications after having a cosmetic accident.

So, overall, what does this really mean in real-time for professional woodworkers? Well, nothing immediately, but in the next few years, it will be more important that ever to make sure the, in order to keep some sort of semblance of stable employment, that the unions are going to have to stick together to prevent being completely ostracized by a new modern marvel that can outperform, outthink, outrun, and outwork just about any competition that can be thrown at it. This writer certainly does not feel that the battle of man versus machine will be happening anytime soon, but the woodworking human being definitely needs to be aware of emerging technologies, as his role in the shop may shift from woodworking to operation and maintenance of the printing-station.

3D Printed Dowelling Jig |Instructables

Popular magazines include, Woodworkers Journal, Fine Woodworking, and Popular Woodworking.

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