The invention of the printing press, the advent of vaccines and modern medicine, the industrial revolution, the computer age, and the prevalence of social media all completely transformed our world, altering the course of history and bringing on innovations that weren’t even imaginable before. But there’s another revolution right at our front door that will be just as profound, yet few people realize it. The dawn of the 3d printing revolution is here and ready permeate into just about every aspect of society.
Perhaps the greatest good that will come out of 3d printing will be in the field of medical and surgical advancements. Remarkably, specialized 3d printers can actually serve as “bio-printers,” replicating human tissue, vascular systems, or even bone replacements through the printing process. This isn’t speculation about some futuristic sci-fi technology; this is already possible now! Consider these recent cases, all possible with 3d printing:
A British patient had a titanium pelvis successfully implanted, which was manufactured by a 3d printer.
A patient in Belgium had a titanium lower jaw transplant.
A plastic tracheal splint was successfully used to keep an American infant alive.
In 2014, a five-year old girl in the UK who was born without fully formed fingers on her left hand was given a special gift thanks to 3d printing, a perfect prosthetic hand.
Last year, surgeons in Swansea used 3d printing medical technology to rebuild the face of a motorcyclist that had been critically injured in an accident.
3D printing technology is also expected to make a huge impact in the hearing aid and dental industries.
Already, 3d printers can create human tissue that can be implanted to replace cancerous cells that were removed.
It’s not only humans that can benefit form these medical advances; in 2014 a Chihuahua, born without front legs, was fitted with a special harness and wheels that was made with a 3D printer, which let the little dog get around and enjoy a happy life.
So how does it work? Instead of printing with ink or other materials, medical 3D printers generate layers of living cells that are deposited onto a gel or sugar matrix. These are slowly built up to form three-dimensional structures that replicate tissue or even bone. It’s predicted that within the next decade or so, we’ll be able to “print” fully functioning organs and entire bones. That would ostensibly eliminate the need for organ donors and waiting times, saving thousands or even millions of lives.
3D printing will have a monumental positive effect on protecting our environment. Not only does traditional subtractive manufacturing use way more fossil fuels, consume more energy, and produce waste and pollutants, but 3D printing can actually help clean up our current mess. They’ve created automated machines called RecycleBots that can sift through tons of recycled materials to pull out harmful plastics. From there, a processing technology called Filastruder can covert the waste plastics into inexpensive filaments that 3D printers can use, sort of like liquid 3D ink. With billions of plastic water bottles in landfills leaching harmful toxins into our water and soil, this would go a long way to start reversing the process.
More over, the uses of 3D printing to aid and heal the environment are almost limitless. Already in the small Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, they are using large-scale 3D printers to replicate a material that looks and feels like coral. They install it underwater, which fosters real coral to colonize and regenerate their damaged reefs.
Of course this is a blog from the Alfano Real Estate Group, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the myriad uses of 3D printing in home building and commercial construction. Large-scale 3D printers can create construction materials similar to concrete to be used to erect buildings. As the technology of 3D printing improves, large-scale commercial projects will be possible. The movement from pre-fab to custom-fab will change what is possible in the realm of home building, with customizations and personalization literally only a click of a button away. Very soon, someone will endeavor to “print” an entire livable house!
Although 3D printing technology was invented in the United States, other countries have led the way with developing its applications. China, for one, saw the potential early, committing $500 million and establishing 10 national 3D printing technology institutes to develop the technology. Chinese scientists have already printed ears, livers, and kidneys with human tissue. They can even print chemical compounds.
All across the world, researchers from different fields are practically rejoicing at the practical applications of 3D printing. For instance, archeologists can now print perfect replicates of priceless and fragile relics, which they can then use to further their research and deconstruct and construct at will. It won’t be long before every museum is 3D printing dinosaur bones, statues, and artifacts.
In a terrific twist of inventiveness, 3D printers can actually be used to manufacture laptops, computers, and…get this – other 3D printers! They aren’t completely self replicable yet as memory chips or hard drives aren’t being printed yet, but that’s probably coming soon.
The possibilities extend far beyond our planet earth, as 3D printing is already being used in outer space. In 2014, the International Space Station needed a very specific socket wrench to make some repairs. Instead of sending a craft up to deliver, they sent up a 3D printer with the SpaceX shuttle. The printer, specially designed to work in zero gravity, went to work once NASA emailed the CAD plans, and the astronauts manufactured the tool and made the necessary repairs. It won’t be a surprise if every future space mission is outfitted with 3D printers to make in-mission repairs thousands of miles from home.
How can 3D printing possibly have anything to do with food? In one of the most fun uses of this technology, you can even put edible liquefied substances in 3D printers as “ink.” Already, chefs and culinary experts are using chocolate, frosting, cheese, and many more with specialized 3D printers for food that use syringes to dispense the treats and make some incredible edible works of art.
Just about any objet can be produced with a 3D printer, including anything made from plastic, glass, precious metals, polymers, and sand and glue mixtures. Already we’re seeing 3D printing taking over the world of consumer goods, as jewelry, models, children’s toys, and fashion prototypes by companies like Nike and Under Armour are under way. The potential to get a perfect fit for eyeglasses, bikinis, and shoes is a reality now without custom manufacturing. How archaic it seems now to pre-make standardized shoes and hope our feet fit into them instead of measuring the foot perfectly with the aid of computers and producing the exact-fitting footwear. The Vapor Lasor Talon football cleat was produced in 2012 and New Balance is also manufacturing custom fit shoes.
3D printing is also expanding the frontiers and definitions of art, as reported by the Wall Street Journal in and Time Magazine, who recently listed 3D printed design among their 100 most influential designs of the year.
Car manufacturers around the world are hard at work developing large-scale 3D printing to the point where they can completely produce a car with additive manufacturing. It seems that will be a reality in months, not years, as already the Swedish supercar manufacturer, Koenigsegg, announced the release of One:1, a supercar that is made of mostly 3D printed parts. As far back as 2010 the Urbee, a hybrid auto with an ultra-modern look made by U.S engineering group Kor Ecologic, used some 3D printed parts. And Local Motors, an American car manufacturer, is working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cincinnati Incorporated to get their additive manufacturing systems up to par so they can print entire cars from start to finish.
Just like with any brand new and ground breaking technology, there is a dark side to its use as criminals or profiteers look to cash in. The makers of 3D printing never imagined that people would be using these printers to make fully functioning firearms right at home, but that’s become the reality in recent years.
Ammunition is also in play as 3D weapons manufacturer, Defense Distributed has already designed an AR-15 type magazine that holds more than 650 rounds and a 30-round M16 magazine.
Of course when someone prints a gun at home it’s not registered, permitted, and the bullets are untraceable. There have been several instances of this happening in the United States and in 2014, a Japanese man, Yoshitomo Imura, was sentenced to 2 years in prison for making 3D firearms.
But interestingly enough, it’s not the actual firearms themselves that authorities worry the most about, but the design plans or CAD drawings. If those are readily disseminated online, then virtually anyone could make their own firearm.
The issue is so concerning, yet in such a gray area, that the US Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center recently released a memo citing "significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing,” and that “Proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production. Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these 3D printable files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files."