I read with interest this week that the state of Maryland has issued a call for ideas on how to use 3D printing to address transportation needs in the state.

To the unfamiliar, 3D printing essentially allows you to design an object on a computer and then have a machine create it quickly using a liquid or powder material that then solidifies. It’s often called “additive manufacturing” because it involves a layering process. In simple applications, you can see 3D printers creating small Lego pieces, or tiny sculptures. But there are far more advanced applications that could revolutionize manufacturing.

The Maryland Department of Transportation has issued a Request for Information (RFI) from the public and private sector, as well as universities, seeking “innovative and collaborative ways” the agency can use 3D printing.

“We want to know about how 3D printing can be used in the transportation industry,” said Colleen Turner, MDOT’s assistant director of the Office of Planning and Capital Programming, in a press release. “It can open up opportunities to develop faster ways of doing everything from repairs to new projects.”

What can 3D printing do for transportation?

William Ankner, Principal at Transportation Solutions and a former secretary of transportation and development in Louisiana, speculates that we could see the following:

  • Small bridges or bus shelters manufactured on site and designed to fit into their environments.
  • Composite wraps around bridges and bridge piers, that can be manufactured on site and reduce the need to replace structures.
  • Noise walls that are designed to mesh better with the surrounding community.
  • A reduction in the need for large fleets of vehicles to deliver parts, as many things can be manufactured right on site.

But Ankner also says 3D could be disruptive to the industry, requiring new skills and training. It also could severely impact the cargo industry.

“Understanding the technology and its impact on our transportation now is critical to making near-term and future business and capital decisions,” Ankner writes. “3D printing can [usher] in creativity and options and save dollars. It can also create havoc for those unprepared. It is our choice.”

TechCrunch notes that 3D printing could be helpful in the broader effort to upgrade America’s infrastructure.

“The benefits 3D printing could bring to the infrastructure industry are too significant to be overlooked, especially when roughly 75 percent of the infrastructure — our roads, bridges and tunnels — in the United States will either need to be renovated or rebuilt in their entirety by 2035, according to the Rockefeller Foundation.

“Today’s infrastructure challenge lies in bridging today’s needs with tomorrow’s possibilities. If utilized well, additive manufacturing would improve precision and quality control while reducing waste, costs and congestion during infrastructure construction projects.”I read with interest this week that the state of Maryland has issued a call for ideas on how to use 3D printing to address transportation needs in the state.

How do you see 3D Printing revolutionizing transportation?

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