I have a peculiar problem. It’s my phone. A little over six months ago I purchased a Sony Xperia Z Ultra. It’s thin and, the price I paid notwithstanding, it is valuable in that it holds photos, notes, emails and all sorts of precious things that I want to protect. It’s not on sale in Korea, so the phone cases that can be found on pretty much any street corner or subway stop in Seoul just aren’t there for me (I know…first world problems etc). But what if I there was a way to get a case for my phone, or any other small plastic object, quickly and at a reasonable cost? Welcome to the world of 3D printing.
Once the domain of large corporations, 3D printing has become more consumer friendly, albeit still a touch expensive. 3D printers work by taking either a structural drawing of an object or a 3D scan of an existing object, and rendering it in plastic. These drawings are digital, and “.stl” files for just about anything you can think of can be found on the internet.
In a similar way that an inkjet printer layers ink on paper, the 3D printer takes plastic and slowly builds a 3D object layer by layer. Depending on the type of printer this can be malleable plastic, or plastic pellets fused together by a laser!
The Korean government is getting behind the idea of 3D printing too. It will spend close to three billion won in 2015 promoting 3D printing and making printers available to small and medium sized business. In Seoul there are already a number of companies providing 3D printing services for consumers, and they are easily found through services like 3dhubs.com, a directory and search engine for 3D printers around the globe. And in true Korean fashion there is also a 3D printing cafe! Make Factory (near Sungkyunkwan University) offers a place for people to get together and workshop ideas in what it calls “social making” as well as 3D printing. We’re not quite at Star Trek levels of instantly printing objects, but we are on the way to a world where “printing” 3D objects quickly, efficiently and at low cost is becoming a reality. A reality where I might finally be able to get a case for my phone.