3D printing is also known as additive manufacturing. This technology is literally "printing" parts of machines and devices by using computational power, lasers and basic powdered metals and plastics.
The manufacturing expert Christina Chatfield reports (manufacturing): "No longer relegated to printing ungainly plastic components, 3-D printing has rapidly evolved to the point where it can produce items made of metals, mixed materials and even human tissue. The result is shorter lead times, improved quality because of fewer components, reduced waste and the ability to produce complex shapes without complicated machining. Additive manufacturing is causing changes in the way engineers and designers think about creating products and components, and it is changing the way we will educate and train future generations.Already emerging are printed parts for high-value applications like patient-specific implants for hip joints or teeth, or lighter and stronger aircraft parts".
According to Wikipedia the 3D printing technology is already used in architecture, construction, industrial design, automotive, aerospace, military, engineering, dental and medical industries, biotech (human tissue replacement), fashion, footwear, jewelry, eyewear, education, geographic information systems, food, and many other fields (wikipedia).
Icing The Cake
Anyway the displayed machines use cables of plastics or metals which get melted inside. Then their jets - which are working like the glands of a spider - are adding layer on layer which produces any kind of shape the software demands.
The convention - and the included exhibition - attracted a lot of visitors: Engineers, consultants, stock market analysts, geeks, curious bohemians and TV reporters. I plan to visit the show again if it comes back to New York City next year.
PS. My wife commented "There was an authentic energy here, and to me the show was a good example of how the economy is in a healthy state which is fostering so much innovation* and entrepreneurship-. Best of luck to all the ventures!
***including new materials, widely accessible engineering tools even NEW BODY PARTS! ***"