When 3D printing was first introduced over 30 years ago it felt like something more likely to appear in a Star Trek episode than reality. Today, more companies than ever are utilizing this technology to take their concepts from the boardroom to the design table in a matter of hours.
The first step of every “solid imaging” project – as the name was originally dubbed by inventor Chuck Hull – is using 3D printing software, or computer aided design (CAD) software, to create your digital blueprint and send it off to the 3D printer to have it created layer by layer. The first thing Chuck ever printed was a tiny cup for washing the eye, something boring yet innovative in that it would spawn objects that even good ol’ Chuck probably never thought possible.
Below is a list of many of these items that can be created by a 3D printer that you wouldn’t think would be. These items were selected for this list because you’d probably not think of them as manufacturable items and because some of them cannot be produced with a single process while employing traditional manufacturing processes.
3D printed medicine is not entirely new but the fact that the FDA recently approved the first 3D printed drug is. This approval, which was granted to a drug that can help up to 3 million adults and children who suffer from seizures caused by epilepsy, may open up the doors to the creation of more drugs that are easier to consume, test, and produce, says the report by The Washington Post. The article even forecasts a future where your doctor will hand you an algorithm instead of a prescription in which you use to print your own mixture of chemicals on your personal 3D printer.
The size and scope of 3D printed projects are only limited by the size of the printers themselves. The United Arab Emirates National Innovation Committee recently unveiled plans to create the first 3D printed office building complete with 3D printed interior walls and furniture. The creation of the proposed 2,000 square foot building will use a 20-foot tall printer and engineers expect to complete construction in a matter of weeks while reducing labor costs by 50 to 80 percent and construction waste by 30 to 60 percent.
Back in November of 2013 Popular Mechanics published an article of a car – created by mostly 3D printed parts – that would do a coast-to-coast drive (and back) whilst getting 100s of miles to the gallon. The hybrid vehicle would be comprised of about 20 pieces, and the body printed from basic white acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Additionally, Local Motors is now leading the way in transforming the automobile industry via their 3D printed cars made from a carbon fiber/ABS composite. In fact, next year the first road-ready production vehicle will be 3D printed and sold by the company.
Tools and Parts for The Space Station
When NASA had a 3D printer sent up to the space station they did so in-part so that they could build tools rather than have to launch them into space. One of the coolest – and surprising – aspects of their 3D printing was that they could receive an email from Earth, throw it into their software and create tools on the spot. The astronauts created 14 items successfully with no major failures, including a faceplate for the 3D printer itself.
Naturally, the evolution of printing tools and parts in outer space goes to feeding the astronauts with a 3D printer. NASA may be delivering your next pizza and has experimented with 3D printers to create food. Normally 3D printers use material from one cartridge, but in the case of the food experiment the printer relies on multiple cartridges at once to combine materials like the dough, cheese and sauce. Check out the video below to see it in action.
If you ever freak out and have a van Gogh moment and regret it later you may not need to worry. In an article from Popular Science titled “5 Body Parts Scientists can 3D Print” the ear was listed as the first item. Taking a 3D scan of your good ear, bioengineers can create a mold in their CAD software, print the pieces using a gel made from 250 million bovine cartilage cells and collagen from the most handsome rats in the lab, incubate the ear in cell culture and reattach it. Bones are among the list of body parts that have been successfully 3D printed and it looks like scientists are coming very close to breakthroughs with 3D printed kidneys, blood vessels and skin grafts.
Nano printing of materials
Huge 3D printers are used to construct buildings, printers that mix chemicals are used to create medicine, and at the other end of the spectrum lies 3D printers that print the tiniest of structures on the most microscopic of scales. Invented by IBM, the ‘3D nanoprinter’ can actually remove material (rather than solely add it) so that it can create anything from more energy efficient and faster electronics to nano-sized security tags to improve the prevention of forgery of currency documents, passports and priceless works of art.
In the 3D printing world it seems that any idea can be turned into a tangible product. What went from using heat and force to create layers of an eye-cup has turned into the printing of body parts, cars, food and space materials. As this technology continues to evolve 3D printing will only make the printing of objects faster, less expensive and more reliable than traditional manufacturing. The low barrier of entry to own a printer or purchase CAD software means more people will be taking advantage of the 3D printing revolution and be adding more exciting items to this list.
Joe Anand, President and CEO of MecSoft Corporation, a worldwide leader in providing computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software products for the small to mid-market segments earned his MS degree, in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University in 1984, performing research on robot path planning and simulation. Joe is a proven expert in Software Development, Mechanical Engineering, Entrepreneurship and project management and sales.