It's not as easy as 1, 2, 3D printing

It's not as easy as 1, 2, 3D printing

3D printing is a great new technology that can simplify the production of everything from medicine to artificial limbs, but it is very complicated


The quality of work depends on the design - and the quality of the printer.

In my last column in May, I introduced the basics of current 3D printing technology, and its development in Hong Kong. A recent news report allows me to share more about this cutting-edge technology.

The report warned people to keep their keys hidden because criminals could photograph them and then make a copy using a 3D printer. Is it possible?

Well, I have good news and bad news. The good news is, don't worry. Your keys are safe. The bad news: 3D printing is not that magical.

In fact, it is impossible to copy a key from a single photo. There is no magic software to transform a single 2D photo to a 3D object. But, by taking numerous photos from different angles, it would be possible. For instance, US President Barack Obama had to sit in front of dozens of high-resolution cameras to create the detailed scan needed to produce the bust of him that sits in the White House.

Criminals can't reproduce your keys with a one-off shot. A designer could replicate a key by drawing a model; but that's another story.

You also have to consider the raw material for 3D printing. The news report showed that you could produce the key using a simple 3D printer. But in reality you have to question the toughness and preciseness of the material and technology.

Not many people would own a metal 3D printer capable of such high-quality work. If criminals really tried to print a key, the copied key would probably snap off in the keyhole!

Replicating an object is never easy. There are so many factors to include. Interestingly, some colleagues and I are working on an ambitious project to duplicate some ancient Chinese architecture with 3D printing technology.

As I have mentioned above, CAD (3D model) drawing requires much more than just copying. We also have to consider the capability of the 3D printer.

For example, if the 3D models are drawn too thin or too small, it is impossible to print them out! Therefore, we have to think of the feasibility of the model and then make appropriate changes to the scale and details.

Redesigning the details of the Chinese heritage building designs is challenging. Just like many other projects, we have had to research the theme and take advice from experts in this field. We even went to Wong Tai Sin to collect first-hand information from the temple's structure there.

3D printing promises to provide innovative solutions for many issues. But we have to look at this technology carefully and better understand its applications.


This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Good news and bad news


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