3D printing is becoming a huge technological breakthrough. It is set to usher in a new age of research and development, in much the same way that computers and the Internet made huge advancements.
Scientists, investors, and even NASA are seeing the potential of the devices, and are jumping to make the most of them as soon as possible. Here are some of the most amazing things that people have created using 3D printers.
A company known as 3D Systems have been incredibly busy in the printing arena, and have been researching the possibility of using printers to make a number of different foods. The machine they have created, known as Chefjet, is able to create chocolate products and sweets in a number of flavors. The printers work much in the same way other 3D printers do, by layering multiple ingredients on top of one and another until the design is complete.
You might think that printed food is a bit of a novelty, but there are some practical benefits. 3D Systems say the printing allows them to create very intricate designs, and even create parts that move. Restaurants could also use a printer to create on-demand deserts, rather than stockpiling a large number of products.
NASA has also been investigating using printed food in spacecraft. The food packs that are eaten by astronauts take up a significant amount of space, and have a limited lifespan. Food cartridges for 3D printers would take up much less space and could last for up to 30 years, allowing for longer manned missions.
9. Medical Implants
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of 3D printing has been the world of medicine. An 83-year-old woman had a new jawbone made out of titanium in 2012, for example. The jaw was printed using lasers to fuse layers of titanium powder together. The surgery was an overwhelming success, and the medical team praised the advantages of using printed implants. The procedure was so quick and non-complicated, in fact, the woman was able to speak and eat food a day later.
More complicated body parts have also been constructed using 3D printers. Princeton University managed to create a fully functional ear with integrated electronics. Fusing electrical parts with soft tissue has been difficult in the past, but the advent of technology has allowed designers to create parts that can theoretically outperform human parts.
Doctors speculate that, in the future, machines could even create replacement organs for patients, eliminating the need to wait for a matching donor.
8. A Race Car
Forty students from the Changsha University of Science and Technology in China created a race car they built using 3D printed parts. The car has a top speed of almost 100 miles per hour and weighs only 220 kg. While expensive to construct, the students expect the cost to reduce significantly as the price of materials lowers.
The car was made with a combination of carbon fibre and plastic, and the 3D printer allowed them to create complex parts in a single job, rather than having to assemble many smaller parts. This also allowed the students to replace parts much quicker than would normally be possible.
7. An Exoskeleton
The DuPont Hospital for Children developed an exoskeleton to help disabled children with severe muscle problems, by supporting them and allowing them to move more freely. However, a two-year-old girl named Emma was unable to use the exoskeleton, as it was too heavy. The team then designed a much lighter version, and used a 3D printer to manufacture it.
The exoskeleton provided the necessary support for Emma, allowing her to move with less pain and use her limbs more effectively. In addition, the fact that the exoskeleton is custom-made by the hospital allows it to be altered quickly as Emma grows.
However, it isn’t just full-body exoskeletons. Researchers from Victoria University have been experimenting with scanning patient limbs to design specialized casts for broken arms. The researchers claim that the cast is incredibly light yet strong, and helps to protect the bone while it heals.
6. Custom Star Wars Memorabilia
Once Disney bought the Star Wars franchise in 2012, they began offering personalized Star Wars items to fans. Visitors to Disneyworld have the option of either being a Stormtrooper or being encased in carbonite like Han Solo.
This limited time service scans customers’ faces from multiple angles before 3D printing it onto a 7-inch model. The whole process sets you back around $100.
Video games have been using similar technology for several years, allowing players to put their own faces on in-game characters. Other companies even offer services where they will create personalized superheroes for you, based on pictures that you send them.
5. Nylon Bicycle
The European Aerospace and Defence Group (EADS) has created an “Airbike” to demonstrate their specific printing technique. Additive layer manufacturing uses a powerful laser to heat the nylon so that it can be printed in layers on top of each other. This led to a completely functional bike, including pedals and chains.
EADS claims that the nylon bike has a number of advantages over more traditional bicycles, mainly that it is half as light as a store-bought bike, but with strength equal to steel. In addition, the bike’s production means that it is much more environmentally friendly than the usual manufacturing process. This also means that replacement parts can also be printed if needed, rather than having to send away for specific parts.
Manufacturers are also creating highly specialized tools with 3D printers. These range from your usual spanners, wrenches, and hammers, to tools that are designed to work in very particular circumstances. The designers even speculate that customers could one day be able to print or order their own designed tools.
Even more impressively, Stratasys have created a cordless drill that incorporates a variety of different polymers. It is made of a soft material for the hand, along with a strong plastic for the body and drill bits.
3. Batteries and Generators
There’s nothing worse than when your gadgets run out of batteries while out and about. Erichsen has come up with something of a solution though, in the form of a 3D printed, hand-cranked power generator. Its rotor can spin up to a maximum of 4000 revolutions per minute, and produces enough power to charge small electronic devices such as a mobile phone.
Other firms are also experimenting with creating lithium ion batteries. Being able to print out batteries whenever would be hugely beneficial, especially if you’re the type to regularly lose the little things. The early battery designs are more efficient than usual batteries and far lighter, meaning they can hold a bigger capacity.
While it’s always nice to have useful items that can help people or solve problems, sometimes it’s good for the soul to make something that’s just plain fun. Since 3D printing has become more viable for everyday use, people have gone on to design a number of automatons that carry out various actions.
A user of Lets Make Robots, cevinius, has made a walking automaton that is powered by gravity, for one. A slight nudge will allow it to walk down a very gentle slope, and its only costs $6 to build. More sophisticated automatons include a 3D printed dragon that flaps its wings and moves its body when a crank is turned.
In addition, viewers of the British TV show QI might have seen the Sand Beast, a 3D automaton powered by wind. It has over 70 moving parts and can crawl across a surface when its turbine is turned by moving air.
1. 3D Printers
Much like a Russian nesting doll, the RepRap project aims to create a 3D printing device capable of replicating itself. The project is completely open source, allowing anyone to contribute and help fulfill its goals. So far, the project has released four different versions of the printing device. The 3D printer printer is capable of replicating almost all of the parts needed to make another copy of it, and has done so an unknown number of times.
If the project does eventually reach its goal, then it would allow for users all over the world to have access to a machine capable of printing a wide range of items. This could prove immeasurably useful in poverty-stricken nations, giving them access to essential items which they are currently unable to get.