It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we are at the cusp of 3D printing revolution. While 3D printing technology has been around for years, it’s slowly becoming mainstream. The concept of 3D Printing has taken the western world by storm. There are even vending machines that you can use to print your 3D models, just like you would get your photos printed on mugs.
But what use is a 3D printer, you ask? Well, you will be surprised to know that it offers limitless possibilities for even home users. To begin with, if you are fond of collecting action figures, then you can simply print one for yourself. Heck, you can even print your own scale model! Furthermore, there are other practical purposes of 3D printing; for instance, you can use it to print, say, a part of an appliance that may have broken. You can let your imagination soar and get as creative as you wish.
However, the scope of 3D printing is much broader than that and it has already proved to be a boon in the medical field. And it isn’t just objects, 3D printing is even creating a buzz in the food and fashion industry. Let’s take a look at some of the stellar 3D printing examples that we have witnessed.
Printed implants to your rescue
Researchers at Connecticut-based Oxford Performance Material (OPM) have developed OsteoFab 3D printed cranial device. With the help of this device, it is possible to create a 3D-printed implant for skull reconstruction, which can be used for replacing up to 75 percent of the skull. Recently, this 3D printed implant was used to replace a part of a patient’s skull in America. The researchers scanned the patient’s skull and then used it to 3D print the replacement part. The implant was made using polyetherketoneketone (PEKK), a semi-crystalline thermoplastic.
3D printed skull implant. Picture credit: Oxford Performance Materials
This isn’t the only instance of a 3D printer being employed in the medical field. In June 2011, an 83-year-old woman was fitted with a 3D printed lower jaw. The patient was suffering from a bone-wasting infection and a reconstructive surgery at her age could have led to complications. Dr. Jules Poukens of Belgium-based Hasselt University’s Biomedical Research Institute came up with the idea of a fabricated jawbone implant. The jawbone was fabricated using titanium powder, which was heated and fused together using a 3D printer at Belgium-based 3D-printing company, LayerWise. Post the successful implant, the patient was able to speak and swallow normally within a day.
3D printed set of wheels
Forget electronics, or even solar-powered cars – the next big thing could be 3D printed cars. Meet URBEE, the world’s first 3D printed car, brainchild of Jim Kor, founder of KOR EcoLogic. The car’s prototype was first launched in 2010. The current version URBEE 2 is being developed by them in collaboration with RedEye On Demand, a prototype manufacturer and 3D printer maker Stratasys. The two-passenger, three-wheeled URBEE 2 looks like a sleek PC mouse; it features a hybrid engine and is capable of speeds of up to 68 mph. It’s made using lightweight ABS plastic, which causes less drag and thus requires less fuel. Additionally, it will run on biofuel like ethanol. Expected to hit the roads in the next two years, URBEE 2 will comprise 40 large 3D-printed parts. The engine and the chassis will be made of metal.
“Print”, and not “build” your house
As bizarre as it may sound, it’s possible to 3D print a house. And we are talking about a regular liveable house, not a toy-house. In the near future, you could actually print your own home along with all the fittings and furniture. Currently, there are several projects around the world focused on constructing 3D printed structures. Holland-based architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars is creating 3D printed buildings inspired by the Earth’s landscape. The 12,000 square-foot building’s design resembles a mobius strip – it is one continuous loop and has only one side. Named “Landscape House”, it will be constructed using a huge 3D printer invented by Enrico Dini, who has developed a construction technique based on the principle of 3D printing. The D-shape printer invented by him is capable of printing 20 x 20 feet structures using sand and a special binding agent to create a marble like material. The printing of the Landscape House could take up to six months and will cost around $6.4 million. Reportedly, the building will be constructed somewhere in a national park in Brazil.
Janjaap Ruijssenaars's 3D printed building Picture Credit: Universe Architecture
Then there is London-based Softkill Design that has announced its plan to construct a 3D printed house called the Protohouse 2.0. The house, which will be 8 metres wide and 4 metres long, will be printed in sections in a factory. They claim that they would require around three weeks to print all the parts of the house, while assembling it on the site will just take a day. This web-like structure will consist of 30 detailed pieces that will be assembled into one cantilevering structure. Another interesting project is being undertaken by Amsterdam-based Dus Architects – they plan to 3D print a canal house. They have developed a 3D printer, “KamerMaker”, which literally means “Room-Maker”. The components of the canal house will be fabricated using polypropylene; this will include not only the exterior parts but also the furniture inside the rooms. The individual parts will be attached together with the help of steel cabling.
Print my food
Feel like having a cookie? No problem, you can print one for yourself. And what’s more, you can customise it to your nutritional needs. While this may seem straight out of Willy Wonka’s factory, it’s actually being implemented at US-based Cornell University’s Cornell Computational Synthesis Laboratory. Jeffrey Lipton and his colleague Hod Lipson are the brains behind the “data-driven cookies”. They used information like their height, weight, body mass index, caloric deficit etc. and then used these specifications to 3D print two snowflake-shaped cookies. Even though the cookies looked similar, they were customised to suit different dietary requirements. They have developed a 3D printer dubbed Fab@Home that uses edible inks or molten food like liquid chocolate, liquid cheese, cookie dough etc. Apart from cookies, they have also printed space shuttle-shaped scallop nuggets, cakes and even hamburgers.
Snowflake-shaped customised cookies. Picture credit: FabAtHome
While it may be long before we see complex, customised meals being printed at regular restaurants, something that is already mainstream is the 3D chocolate printing. Molten chocolate is easy to work with and it easily replaces the ink in the 3D printer’s syringe. There are several outlets abroad that let you 3D print your chocolate, and if you wish, then you can even get your face embossed on the chocolate slab. Taking this a step ahead is Digital Chocolatier, a prototype machine developed by Marcelo Coelho, a Canadian designer and researcher. This machine allows you to design, assemble and create different chocolate candies. You can stock up on the ingredients in the containers on the carousel and then use the touch interface to customise your chocolate recipe.
Gunning with 3D
Homemade gun with 3D printed component. Picture credit: Michael Guslick
The possibilities of 3D printing are limitless and while most of it is good, one cannot rule out the possibility of the technology being misused. Take for instance, the whole development of 3D printing firearms. At a time when shooting incidents world over have triggered debates over regulation of firearms, 3D printed firearms could add to the woes. Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student of University of Texas has founded Defense Distributed, a company that manufactures gun parts using a 3D printer. And if reports are to be believed, then Wilson is on the verge of launching a complete 3D printed handgun. Wilson also hosts a site DEFCAD, from where anyone can download designs for these 3D guns. In another instance, last year, US-based Michael Guslick, an amateur gunsmith, reported on his “HaveBlue” blog that he had successfully test-fired a homemade gun. Its key component, the lower receiver, was crafted from ABS plastic using a Stratasys 3D printer.
3D printed Dita's Gown. Photograph: Albert Sanchez
3D has also made its presence felt on the runway. The 3D printed “Dita’s Gown”, which generated a lot of buzz, was the result of a collaboration between New York-based Francis Bitonti Studio, which is dedicated to research and application of new technologies, designer Michael Schmidt and 3D printing experts Shapeways. Schmidt and Bitonti worked together to shape the gown, which included 17 pieces and 3,000 joints that allowed it to move. These separate pieces were then printed by Shapeways. They were then lacquered black and embellished with over 10,000 black Swarovski crystals, which added a touch of glamour to the gown. The famous burlesque performer Dita Von Teese was the muse for this project, and the gown was printed based on her body dimensions. The nylon gown was printed using selective laser sintering (SLS) technique where plastic powder is fused together with a laser.
These are but only a few examples of 3D printing. Have you come across an interesting 3D printed marvel? Do let us know in the comments section below.
Cover image: Harshad Gujare
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