The revolution that is 3D printing never ceases to amaze me. Human prosthetics and engine parts have been successfully printed for a number of end uses, but what about houses, cars and shoes? Here’s a look at some of the more ambitious 3D prints to date.
Shoes and Clothes
Printed into woven-looking textiles and seamless garments made to precision and quicker than traditional sewing, 3D printing will one day be a cheaper way to dress with no room for human era. There is great potential for customization, tailor made fits in a flash and exploration of new materials. The process used to create the top shown below was explained on printingchoice.com, which described this printing method as a fusing of layers of recycled plastic powder into shape. There is ‘virtually no waste’ and the method is much faster than traditional weaving.
The designer of the 3D printed shoes (pictured above) collaborated with Freedom Of Creation to create the wedge heels that have conventional styling but bypass traditional cobbling methods that can leave shoes with joints that can eventually lead to weakening and breakages. The printing process will make customized shoes with arches and ankles shaped to fit individual wearers a possibility, finally creating truly comfortable heels to replace the pinching and sometimes ill-fitting stilettos that women have to put up with at the moment. According to Printingchoice.com, ‘Perhaps custom, 3D-printed orthopedic shoes will be the next wave in fashion (and medicine).’
In one of the greatest technological advances for the medical industry of late, organic material is now being printed by 3D printers. Real, living cells are printed and go on to create arteries and skin tissue. At the moment only parts and materials are printed, with a view to print complete organs in the near future. An article on Printingchoice.com, names Organovo, based in San Diego, as the company behind the 3D printer that is currently using inkjet cartridges to print the living matter that constitutes our organs. ‘The hacked ink cartridges are filled with live cells and hydrogel, a material that’s sprayed down and forms a scaffolding for the cells to form on. It takes 24-48 hours for the cells to bond and become an organ.’ Human trials are expected in three years or so, with the printers already being shipped to researchers this year.
Urbee Hybrid car
Not only are the methods used to manufacture this streamlined vehicle revolutionary, but the Urbee car itself looks like it came straight out of the future. The Urbee’s entire body, including its glass panels have been created using a Stratasys 3D printer. The car is energy efficient, can run on both gas and electronic fuel and is chargeable overnight from a standard home socket. It’s environmentally friendly and has the potential to be manufactured quite cheaply considering that handwork, tools and additional machinery are eliminated from the production process. The flying saucer look may not be to everyone’s liking but I’m sure variations on the design will exist when the printed vehicles are retailed publicly. Whenever that will be.
The boldest move in 3D printing must be the construction of an entire house using the largest printer in the world so far. Enrico Dini invented the ‘D-Shape robotic building system’. Gizmag.com says the printer is ‘potentially capable of printing a two story building – complete with stairs, partition walls, columns, domes, and piping cavities – using only ordinary sand and an inorganic binder.’ This would cut the current building time in half, also not requiring any specialist construction skills as all the plans would have been worked out in the CAD stage. The surface material of the house looks just like marble and is just as sturdy, making it ‘highly superior to that of masonry and reinforced concrete.’
It’s exciting to imagine a world where a patient waiting for a liver transplant will be able to order one from a printer, or an entire collection of clothing can be made to measure and printed in a day. On the other hand, this industrial revolution could potentially exclude unskilled labour from the job market in a way that no recession or war has ever done before. Only time will tell the real impact of 3D printing on the world at large.