Technology always seems to be pushing itself to match and surpass science fiction. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, replicators were used to produce meals and objects to a person’s particular tastes. These machines were first seen on screen in 1987, but in 1986, the first patent for selective laser sintering, a method for melting layers of materials into a 3D object, had been filed. At the time, practically the best thing we had in real life was photo printing and you had to literally walk to a physical store.
Since then, 3D printing has exploded as a technology, allowing people to print objects of all kinds in minutes. Today, scientists and manufacturers can produce medical supplies, everyday essentials, toys and more.
Below are some of the coolest things they are making right now using 3D printing.
Unlike most of the population, scientists are initially finding practical uses for 3D printing, and many of these are related to healthcare. Belgian 3D printers created a replacement jaw bone, and in the Netherlands, doctors fitted the jaw to a patient.
One of the problems with transplants and implants is that the body can react badly, thinking the new piece is harmful, and the only way to deal with that is to give patients immunosuppressants that suppresses the whole body’s immune system. Scientists have found a way to print implants that are pre-treated with immunosuppressants. These act locally, so the patient’s immune system still functions elsewhere in the body.
One company also prints cages for individual protein cells. This seems slightly useful, but researchers are very excited about the possibilities. With this technology, they can test chemicals and medications, and they won’t have to worry about cell-to-cell interactions.
Other Practical Applications
Health is not the only practical consideration we have, though, and 3D printing is answering our need for other daily necessities. In Paris Fashion Week, clothes designer Iris van Herpen showed one of the first collections of clothes made on 3D printers.
Housewares are also being printed. This lamp was created by printing the individual pieces, then putting them together. All that’s needed for a soft glow now is some wiring and a bulb.
Security is a real-world consideration, and 3D printers can help there, too. Below is a fully functioning combination lock, created with a 3D printer and some manual assembly.
One of the coolest ways 3D printing is being used is in the restoration of ancient artefacts. At Harvard’s Semitic Museum, researchers are renovating some of their artefacts by basing the design on more complete artefacts elsewhere, then using high-density foam, printed on a 3D printer, to build the parts missing from their own items.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and people are using their 3D printers to enhance play time as well.
Flutes are traditionally formed of metal or wood tubing, with holes that are covered by fingers. Their simple shape makes them ideal candidates for 3D printing.
Guitars are also being printed – well, their bodies are, anyway. It does result in some very cool design work.
It’s not just instruments that are being printed, though. Vinyl records’ materials, shape and need for miniscule variations in the depth of the groove to produce the sound are all suited perfectly to 3D printing.
Like the lamp and combination lock, bicycles are being printed piece-by-piece and assembled. This bike is made from nylon powder, which the creators say is as strong as aluminum but weighs 65% less.
Some printers are using this technology to create old-fashioned automatons. In this case, it is a sculpture of a dragon that, when the crank is turned, moves its wings and body to simulate flying.
One of the cool things about 3D printing is that it can also create things that are beyond the realm of what already exists. One company turns kid’s drawings into plastic models, creating beasts that look like nothing that has ever been before.
Photograph portraiture may be a thing of the past soon, as full-color statues of real people can be printed. The person simply steps into a booth, which scans their whole body. A 3D printer then prints out the statue in a matter of minutes.
The 3D printing process seems like such futuristic technology today, and it is hard to believe that people alive today will be able to produce whatever goods they need or want, based on existing objects or their pure imagination, in their own home. That time is coming more quickly than one might expect, however. After all, it only took inkjet printers about 20 years to go from futuristic technology to home necessity.
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What was your favorite 3D Printed Object? Have you printed anything with a 3D printer yet? What do you think of the trend? Let us know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!