3D printers in our homes and offices will soon produce all manner of physical objects, from that missing Ikea screw to parts for your newest iPhone. In time, we will even print out food, weapons, possibly replacement body parts. And by “time,” I mean a matter of hours.
Surprise! These all already exist. 3D printing is here, now, and it’s already progressed far beyond the domain of hackers and hobbyists. A few amazing items already being printed include:
There’s more to come from both the public and private sectors. The Obama Administration has earmarked $200 million to accelerate the use of 3D printing in government.
TechCrunch recently showcased a 3D printed cast that can heal broken bones up to 80% faster than today’s standard casts. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) has a 3D Print Exchange that allows research institutes, schools and others to download highly accurate digital models of bones, proteins, and diseases. Printing these out in the lab or operating room could be the difference between life or death (or at least retaining or forgetting a lesson).
Surgeons are experimenting with 3D printers to make replacements for human jaw bones and even to print skin tissue from stem cells, which are used to heal or replace scar tissue.
Researchers at Princeton have created a bionic ear using living tissue. The ear is printed using calf cells and silver nano particles. It can pick up more sound ranges than a human ear.
This little dog can walk thanks to his 3D printed walker.
What we buy, where we buy, global supply chains, retail centers, what we eat, how we learn, how quickly we heal, the ways we conduct war, and so much more, will all be impacted by 3D printing. However, the most amazing thing about 3D printing is that so much is already happening. Here are just a few examples.
You may have already seen some of the work of 3D printing hobbyists (smartphone accessories, toys, birdhouses, musical instruments, shoes, clothes, kitchen tools, jewelry, etc), but 3D printing is for more than small objects. A builder in China is using 3D printers to make houses, and not just parts of houses either. We’re talking a fully functional shelter. The cost is about $5,000, and the builder claims he can print 10 houses per day.
Not ready to build an entire house, but eager to be a part of the 3D printing revolution? Make, the magazine for makers, has an entire section devoted to 3D printing at home. Make offers tutorials and sample projects.
Amazon recently launched a 3D printing store offering a variety of 3D printers and supplies, how-to books, plans, and design software.
Now that you own a 3D printer, it’s time to eat. Yes, really. Students at an MIT manufacturing class created 3D printed ice cream. The students fashioned a modified soft-serve ice cream maker, liquid nitrogen tank and a 3D printer to make frosty treats. Now, if only they could find a way to keep them from melting before they finish printing.
Hard candy more your style? The Sugar Lab at 3D Systems are mixing powdered sugar, flavorings and cocoa powder (optional) inside their ChefJet 3D printer to create fantastically designed, fully edible sweet treats.
Water and sugar are bonded together by the printer to form a single layer, and then layer upon layer is added to print out a candy that can have the look of a small, elegantly designed sculpture.
Hershey is now a partner with Sugar Labs, and the ChefJet is now for sale to bakeries, caterers and confectionary companies. Available flavorings include mint, cherry, sour apple, and chocolate.
Yes, it’s a bit gimmicky, but the potential to do much more is there. Consider this: Modern Meadow is building a printer that uses stem cells from your animal of choice to manufacture edible meat-like products into the shape and color of, say, your favorite cut of steak.
The US Army is researching how 3D printers can instantly print out nutritious food rations closer to the soldiers, rather than have it packaged and shipped from overseas. 3D printed food can also radically expand the available options for each soldier. The hope is to “print” food that better meets the specific nutrient needs of each individual soldier at each meal.
One of the great things about 3D printing is its potential to touch all our lives in so many ways. This includes creating awesome tools and toys for children.
Barbie dress-up takes on a whole new dimension with this 3D printed Barbie armor. Ken is fun, but not as fun as slaying a dragon.
This successfully funded Kickstarter project reveals the potential of 3D printing. Create, then share your favorite designs or sell them online. Anyone with a 3D printer can print them out.
3D printing can also prove to be a useful educational tool in schools. Teens in Massachusetts are using 3D printers to build computing and communications equipment as part of their studies in engineering. It’s part of a joint project to foster (and validate) the inherent technical and self-directed learning capabilities of children.
Want your child to be part of the 3D printing revolution? Want all children to benefit from 3D printing? The MakerBot Academy is partnering with schools and non-profits to get 3D printers into “every school” in America.
This is not a far-fetched vision. Tom’s Guide rates the best 3D printers across multiple price ranges. Some cost nearly $10,000, but other 3D printers can also be had for less than $500. That’s less money than is raised during the average bake sale.
Still think the chances of 3D printers gaining mainstream acceptance are slim? Just remember, people used to say the same about those noisy machines that spit out spools of dot-lined paper (aka printers). It’s natural to be skeptical at first, but there are now plenty of reasons to believe the next revolution will be 3D printed.
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