Vote for the Most Significant 3D Printed Thing in the World 2017


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Soooo….a few weeks ago I released the definitive, totally unsurpassable Top 10 3D Printed Things. It turned out that sadly some mere mortals did in fact disagree with me. I’ve decided to do a rather more democratic approach. I’ve made a new list based on my initial suggestions, some more I came up with, coupled with suggestions from Kevin Quigley, Phil Reeves, Pat Warner, 3D Hubs, Dizingof and Rachel Park. I would like to thank the aforementioned for their informal participation in the Right Honorable Jury of All the Amazing Things in 3D Printing. As per the nominations of Right Honorable Jury of All the Amazing Things in 3D Printing, below you can find the 2017 nominees:

Go here to vote so we will once and for all find out what is: the World’s Most Significant 3D Printed Thing.

A. RepRap Machine Parts by The RepRap Project

In 2008 a RepRap 3D printer 3D printed a number of parts that were then used to build another RepRap. This was a machine self replicating itself (or parts of itself). This is a significant step forward in the promise of 3D printing and has since been emulated with companies such as LulzBot and FELIXprinters printing parts for their production machines on their own 3D printers. The RepRap Project itself was the wellspring from which our desktop 3D printer revolution came.

B. 3D Printed Hearing Aid Shells

A hearing aid shell.

The biggest 3D printing story you’ve never heard about. In 1998 Starkey started 3D printing hearing aids. Materialise developed the software toolchain to make it possible in 2000. With companies such as EnvisionTEC making the printers and Phonak using them and the software to make unique In The Ear hearing aids, 3D printing conquered this market. Millions of custom hearing aids are now 3D printed each year, accounting for the vast majority of custom hearing aids. A huge success story for 3D printing and the first market to be almost completely dominated by 3D printing.

C. Invisalign Braces

Another almost unknown success is the 3D printed molds for Invisalign braces. Based on 3D scans these individually produced molds are then used to make the final corrective clear aligners. An alternative to regular metal braces, over two million people have used them worldwide. Showcasing 3D printing’s unique ability to cost effectively make individual geometries at scale.

D. Materialise’s CMF 3D Print for Surgical Planning

Materialise produced a 3D print made from a CT and another made from an MRI scan in 1996. Others were also working on trying to get 3D printing into medicine. With a 3D printed model in front of them surgeons could do more accurate preoperative planning. Blood vessels and nerves could be visualized and problems could be avoided. Initial work in this area led to hundreds of thousands of patient-specific dental and orthopedic guides being made. Now a scan leads to a 3D print that is temporarily implanted guiding the surgeon to make the right incisions. Surgical guides are just one application out of many in the 3D printed medical field.

E. GE’s LEAP Fuel Nozzle

GE’s LEAP fuel nozzle is a metal 3D printed part that will be used on GE’s next generation aero engine. A metal 3D printed part in such a critical machine was a surprising revelation to many who thought that 3D printing was just a toy. GE’s need to qualify this part and the work it will have to do throughout establishing the supply chain for this and other parts will drag 3D printing into the production of critical parts. This was also a wake up call to industrial groups and manufacturing companies worldwide about the strategic implications of a 3D printed world.

F. SLM Solutions and Professor David Wood Acetabular Cages

In 2005 titanium acetabular cages were implanted in Australia for a complete total joint prosthesis. These patient-specific implants showed researchers, doctors and prosthetics companies that patient-specific titanium implants were a growing development. Later on Arcam, SLM and Alara Ortho would commercialize 3D printed acetabular cups which are 3D printed in their tens of thousands. Patient-specific medicine and 3D printed titanium implants are now a very exciting area in 3D printing and helping many thousands of people worldwide.

G. CRP Technology’s Windform Lamborghini Headlight Washer Flap

Italy-based CRP Technology’s Windform unit made SLS materials for car racing and other applications. Lamborghini turned to CRP when the release of their Gallardo production car was in danger of being delayed. An injection molded part would not be ready in time. CRP then designed and 3D printed headlight washer flaps for the initial launch series of Gallardos in 2003. This showed us all what was possible in short run manufacturing and that in something like a production car 3D printing could make production grade parts. This is a powerful example of what 3D printing will do for car manufacturing in the coming years.

H. 3D Printed Injection Mold Tools and Inserts

Stratasys, Formlabs and 3D Systems machines have all been used to make inserts for injection molds. By quickly 3D printing the injection mold insert out of a smooth material, companies can save time and cost. Other tooling is also 3D printed using various processes. Bridge tooling for blow molding could be made using FDM for example or SLS. Metal printing methods can be used to make patterns or cast them. In this way 3D printing technologies are helping to accelerate production in mass manufacturing applications. This shows us that 3D printing is a manufacturing-ready technology.

I. Nervous System’s Cellular Lamp

Nervous’ Cellular Lamp is a very popular 3D print. The design studio also blazed the way by sharing designs and software on how to make them online. Now the cellular/voronoi aesthetic is almost inescapable in 3D printing.

J. Luxexcel 3D Printed Optics

3D printing optically clear parts was not possible until Luxexcel came along. The company made it possible to 3D print optics, lenses, arrays and 3D printed ophthalmic lenses. This could potentially disrupt not only ophthalmic lenses but other industries as well.

K. Flowalistik’s Low-Poly Pickachu

Agustin Flowalistik always makes awesome work, but this unleashed many low-poly things on the world and is an elegantly executed idea and a lovely fun super easy print for your desktop machine.

L. Benchy by Creative Tools

When CAD and 3D printing reseller Creative Tools released their Jolly Torture test, the 3D Benchy, not a lot of people knew how important it was and would become. There was no model in existence that could let you compare 3D printers well and show what was going wrong in a 3D print. The Benchy let you have one easy 3D print which shows you a lot of the performance of your printer.

M. The Stratasys Sample Wrench

This is probably the most printed and given away sample product in 3D printing. Designed well to precisely illustrate the capabilities of 3D printing to produce tough things that worked straight out of a printer, it introduced 3D printing to many thousands of people. It also helped to sell a lot of printers while still being one of the best instant ways to explain 3D printing to someone.

N. Olivier van Herpt’s 3D Printed Ceramic Vase

Van Herpt showed us how one individual could develop a 3D printing technology that could print ceramic vases in a few hours, making functional 3D printed ceramics possible.

O. Materialise Mammoth Prototype Car Parts

The unique large volume Materialise Mammoth stereolithography printer made possible large scale prototype interiors, bumpers and concept car parts. With most 3D printers having tiny build volumes the Mammoth showed companies that much more was possible with 3D printing. Large parts could be made for molds, metal plating and prototyping. This changed car prototyping and opened many car companies’ eyes to the 3D printing application. The Mammoth also made possible the production of tens of thousands of SLA lamps, casts and other parts stretching the limits of SLA productivity in size and throughput.

P. Richard Horne’s Universal Pellet Extruder

Horne, or RichRap, as he’s known by many, has developed printers, models and even written the [easyazon_link identifier=”1119386314″ locale=”US” tag=”3dprint09-20″]3D Printing For Dummies[/easyazon_link] book. His Universal Pellet Extruder shows us how someone who cares passionately about the technology can improve it significantly by creating a universal pellet extruder that could radically change how 3D printing works.

Q. Mcor’s Museum Pieces

Mcor’s paper 3D printing technology is full color and the least expensive technology in 3D printing. Customers and partners started using Mcor to 3D print replicas in museums. Visitors could hold museum pieces or see and feel how large items from the past were. Other pieces such as the Cambodian mask above were 3D scanned and completely replicated or repaired using the technology. By helping museums enrich experiences this opened up educational and tactile learning opportunities in many fields.

 R. Virtox’s Gyro the Cube

Unleashed on Shapeways in the early days, Gyro the Cube perfectly illustrated what 3D printing could do and the beautiful objects that it could create. Gyro the Cube is probably still one of the most popular 3D printed things on Earth.

 S. Michiel Cornelissen’s 36 Pencil Bowl

Cornelissen worked at Philips Design designing shavers and MRI machines before coming to 3D printing. His experience and aesthetic feel led to many successful 3D printed products. His 3D Pencil Bowl combines Selective Laser Sintering with the ubiquitous pencil to make a bowl. A fun, whimsical and beautiful solution to making larger things for 3D printing.

T. Janne Kyttanen’s Sofa So Good

Kyttanen was the first designer to start a design label in 3D printing, .MGX, and the first to make a line of functional 3D printed products. Then he founded the second design label in 3D printing, FOC. He pioneered a lot of applications such as lamps and wearable 3D prints. His Sofa So Good is a functional ultralight 3D printed sofa. Beautiful, spare, open, it elegantly shows us what can be possible with 3D printing.

U. The e-NABLE Hand

It is the best of what we are and could become. A simple cost-effective solution for hundreds of thousands of people the world over. With e-NABLE hands, kids in need of a prosthetic can grab things, do more and be more independent. A customized 3D printed hand shows off what our technology could mean for humanity.

V. Scott Summit’s 3D Printed Fairings

Designer Scott Summit worked for Apple, Sun Microsystems and Silicon Graphics before coming to 3D printing. His 3D printed scoliosis braces and 3D printed fairings changed the path of 3D printing. Before them there was work on 3D printed implants and 3D printed design items. Summit, however, turned a bug into a feature. He made prosthetics that were not only functional but also beautiful. Functional fairings that were something to be proud of, something to show off. This inspired all the casts, prosthetics, prosthetic devices, prosthetic startups, etc. that we see in 3D printing today and also led to people eventually coming up with things such as e-NABLE. Furthermore these unique 3D printed items could be customized for the customer. Aesthetics could be taken into account but also individual needs, sizing and biomechanics. This was a functional item, meant to be exposed to real world conditions, that was 3D printed and customized, that worked and showed us what 3D printing can become, in 2008. By blazing new ground and building a future that wasn’t there, Summit showed us how one person can influence the development of a technology while improving lives by making beautiful 3D printed things that didn’t exist yet.

W. BMW and EOS 3D Printed Prototypes

When starting up EOS in 1989 Dr. Hans Langer made his machine for just one customer: BMW. BMW took the risk of betting on a startup because they could see that 3D printing could provide them with models, prototypes, tooling and parts that they could not make in any other way. EOS successfully completed the machine and this led to a longstanding use of 3D printing throughout many areas of car design and development. By collaborating with businesses and getting them the machines and parts that they need our industry has grown and continues to flourish.

X. 3D Hubs’ Marvin

Marvin is a test model made by 3D printing community 3D Hubs. Thousands of people have printed Marvin and he sits on desks the world over. Used to compare 3D printers and test someone’s skill Marvin is one of the most popular desktop 3D printer models ever as well as a fun keychain.

Vote for what you think is the World’s Most Significant 3D Printed Thing.


Share your thoughts on this and other 3D printing topics at, or in the Facebook comments below.


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