Mechatronics professor Olaf Diegel from Massey University in New Zealand has used AM/3D printing to make three-dimensional solid objects from a digital file using a printer that deposits layers metal powder, with each layer fused by a precision laser beam.

The process, used for high-end customised products or medical parts such as artificial hips, hearing aids and dental fittings, as well as niche designer items, is the future for manufacturing specific types of goods, says Professor Diegel, who is based at the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology.

“The whole purpose is customisation and trying to avoid waste,” he says. “It’s the next big thing in manufacturing, because you can create to order and modify the design to suit specific individual requirements, whether it’s for a new set of teeth, a door handle or a piece of jewellery.”

He predicts many households will have 3D printers for replacing or updating personal and household items, reducing the need for mass production that can lead to stockpiles, over-supply and, ultimately, waste. “It’s the next industrial revolution and it’s going to completely change the way we do things,” says Professor Diegel.