3D printing cities: Are they the way of the future?

December 22, 20164 Minute Read

It’s easy to say IT has revolutionized the modern world, with computers pervasive in all aspects of our day-to-day lives—visibly or not.

Many people carry a computer around in their pocket that is more powerful than what was required to put man on the moon. The cars we drive have various computers in them and even the streets we drive on are digitized (to a certain degree). IT maintains the core infrastructure of our economy, and it enables a level of connectivity never before seen. In many ways, it’s made our vast and diverse world seem quite a bit smaller.

Technology has come a long way since the Industrial Revolution. Humans have always been users of tools, and the tools of today have completely reshaped society. Thanks to these tools, we’re congregating in smaller areas and getting more out of them.

Millions of connections

Just 25 years ago, only 10 ‘megacities’—defined as a metropolitan area with a population of 10 million people or more—existed. Shane Wall, HP Inc.’s CTO and global head of HP Labs predicts that number will have quadrupled by 2030, and we’ll have over 50 megacities across the globe by 2046.

IT will play an integral role in every step of the process involved—from creating the resource materials needed to erect the buildings and infrastructure, to ensuring the right people are in the right places at the right times, to keeping all 10+ million of those people connected.

History tells us that when it comes to gathering incredibly vast quantities of people, the pros certainly outweigh the cons. Significant manpower is required to build megacities, and technology has significantly reduced the load—not only with progressively more advanced machines but with software simulations to examine every detail, down to the what kinds of metals are the most durable and the most cost-effective.

A new printing model

The future of tech looks to further optimize these details. With 3D printing, engineers can fashion components with a greater degree of precision and at lower costs. One of the key advantages of 3D printing is that it is not bound by traditional fabrication processes: Instead of designing parts and processes that can be streamlined into batches, 3D printers can optimize for batches of one single unit.

It is the technical equivalent of the age-old argument over homemade goods versus store-bought junk. When you can ensure you give every aspect of a component or the product as a whole your complete attention, the whole comes out stronger—with the difference being that one person’s craftsmanship can be replicated perfectly by a robotic set of hands. 3D printing also provides another significant benefit: it has the capability to create whatever is required near the point of consumption, provided it has the requisite raw materials. In a megacity environment, this is massively beneficial on several levels.

For one, logistics become significantly less taxing. There is a reduction in overall traffic as fewer vehicles are required to haul finished products cross-country. Only those carrying the raw materials need to travel long distances, and the rest can be used simply to move items from the 3D printing site to the megacity. If driving items across town is still a challenge, simply put the 3D printer on the bottom floor of whatever skyscraper is currently under construction and feed it raw materials.

Additionally, there is a massive increase in versatility. One minute, a 3D printer can be converting raw metals into car doors, and the next it could be creating supporting beams for a new office building. That versatility directly translates into agility—so long as you have the blueprint, the right materials, and the ability to manipulate those materials, physics becomes the problem to solve, not manpower, supply chain logistics, or technical capability.

Lofty goals—realized

Getting blueprints and translating objects between the digital and physical world has always been a challenge, but it is one that is moving along at breakneck speed. We interface with our phones, computers, and tablets in an almost exclusively two-dimensional space. And virtual reality technology is already knocking at our door—with the real estate industry (among others) already using the technology to model the interior and exterior of their offerings to give prospective clients a virtual tour before their home or office is even constructed.

Scanning technology is also making it easier to accurately represent the physical world in digital media. Today, Google Maps has given us the ability to move around the physical world. Tomorrow, we just might be able to take a picture of something and essentially copy and paste it via a 3D printer. Who knows? One day we might be buying food paste for our 3D printer to turn into a new steak recipe we plan to serve at our barbecue on our 117th floor balcony. When it comes to rapid urbanization … The sky’s the limit.

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