TEMPE, Ariz.--- 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is in the headlines this week for "printing" everything from guns to body parts.
Arizona State University students have been using a 3D printer and several similar machines for the past few years.
The printers ingest a spool of plastic, heat the material, and pump it out in thin layers to bring computer-generated designs to three-dimensional life. The plastic shells created can be sanded, painted, and hooked up with proper components to function.
ASU's display cases are full of everything from a power saw to a computer mouse to a fire hose nozzle, all made from the technology.
"We believe we solve real problems for real people by design," Professor Prasad Boradkar told 3TV.
His students are grouped and assigned a real-life problem to solve. One this past year was given the task of creating a more comfortable wheelchair seat.
Elsewhere, medical researchers are using the technology to build ears and other body parts.
"It's been quite effective at helping us build organs from scratch," Boradkar said.
3D printing helps entrepreneurs design, build, and refine prototypes before the final mold or product is sent to a manufacturer.
"There are amazing things you can do with it, but it also comes with the danger of some things we probably shouldn't do with it. It's up to us to determine how we take this technology into the future," Boradkar said.
The affordability could bring desktop manufacturing to more homes and businesses. While high-end 3D printers still cost tens of thousands of dollars, the lower-end models sell for around $1,000.