By: Snethemba Ngcobo
The possibilities of 3D printing are just becoming apparent to most of us whereas 3D printing has been around and underestimated for decade. In South Africa an average printer with basic capabilities retails for around R 5000. The process of 3D printing first appeared in the 1980’s when it was known as Rapid Prototyping. The process was made to create demo products faster and cheaper this meant they were not as high quality as the finished product was imagined and in most cases did not have full functionality. Even though there are some glitches here and there the advancements are enormously impressive the 3D Printing Machines being manufactured these days use versatile materials such as metal, plastic porcelain and in the bio-mechanics world human tissue.
3D printing works through additive technology, this means it creates through special software a 3D image of an object then prints it out layer by layer.
“3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.”
The 3D printing process takes a picture or a picture is programmed into it and the machine copies and recreates the objects by dissecting then reconstructing all its elements and dimensions.
Scientists can print numerous objects through the use of 3D printing, transitioning from printing simple plastic toy, ceramic vases, metal tools and small machines, now food and body parts can be created. The printing of body parts has started and it is changing what is possible in the science of transplants. The parts that are commonly printed, even though not commercially yet available are ears (these take 4-6 hours to print), kidneys, blood vessels, skin grafts and bones (made of 70% ceramic). Most organs are made out of a material called bio-ink which is a mixture of biodegradable gel and human cells. The more simple organs will be the first to reach patients starting with skin treating injured soldiers within the next five years.