My time in the 3D printing industry has been an amazing ride, both as an active participant and as an observer of the innovation and rapid growth happening in the field.
The sky’s the limit in terms of what you can make with 3D printers. Imagine: in the not-too distant future, we could be living or working in 3D printed buildings and buying cars equipped with printers that will let us simply make our own replacement auto parts.
Now that the cost of 3D printers is coming down, the technology is readily available for more people to explore at the consumer level. There are several good websites like Thingiverse and My Mini Factory that offer free 3D printing file downloads.
Every day brings new developments and applications. There are way too many to list here, but here are a few exciting developments in additive manufacturing.
3D Printing Advances Medical Frontiers
3D printing is revolutionizing medicine. At Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem N.C., researchers are developing working printed models of human body parts, including ears, noses, muscle tissue, skin and bones.
As far as building organs, the technology isn’t there yet. But researchers are working on the building blocks for kidneys, hearts and livers, and 3D bioprinting of skin cells and stem cells.
Use of 3D printing to build prosthetics has already had a major impact on the lives of many injury victims.
Glass Joins the Field of Materials
3D printed objects can be made from plastic, metal and ceramics, but until now using glass has been a challenge. A team of German researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have developed a process that mixes very small particles of quartz glass and liquid polymer, which is cured with ultraviolet light.
This development opens the door to new applications in optics and data transmission, which require precision custom-made glass components.
Printed Rockets: Ready for Liftoff
A group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students successfully fired a 3D printed rocket recently. Using a relatively low-cost printer — the Markforged Mark Two 3D printer, they built the rocket using a nylon material reinforced with micro-carbon fibers that’s designed to resist heat. The MIT Rocket Team also plans to experiment with larger motors and flight hardware.
The Art of 3D
In my hometown of Toronto, Custom Prototypes is using the technology to recreate works of art. They’ve designed and built a 3D printed stained glass window that duplicates the look and vibrant colors of real stained glass. Built with colored plastic instead of glass, it’s the result of an intricate and lengthy design process.
Last year, Custom Prototypes reproduced 19th century painter Vincent Van Gogh’s classic “The Starry Night.” The printed replica won first place in the Advanced Finishing category in 2016 at the Additive Manufacturing User Group conference.
And the list goes on. The field of 3D printing is limited only by the talents and imaginations of its best people.