3D Printing Is Becoming Unstoppable

In the beginning, most items were created with plastics, but that’s no longer the case and other elements can be printed. It is now possible to even print human cells.

3D printing has come a long way. From its early days of being a futuristic concept to building toys and simple models out of plastic, the possibilities now seem limitless, with metal and guns now being printed.

While recent developments have brought about new techniques and materials that are now printable, one instantly thinks of plastics when it comes to 3D printing. Thermoplastics, which are repeatedly heated and cooled until attaining the desired shape, and thermosetting plastics, which remain in a solid state after curing, are the two most used types of 3D printing.

However, fused deposition modeling, also known as fused filament fabrication, is a newer type of printing that is now employed to make basic proof-of-concept models and simple parts that are usually machined while keeping costs low.

The aviation industry now uses a technique called direct metal laser sintering to manufacture ready-to-install parts, and thus optimize operations. Yes, you heard that right. 3D printing of metal is now a reality. The fashionistas among you would also be thrilled to know about a mass market of 3D printed jewelry.

It is not just metal that now bends to the tune of the 3D printer. The world's hardest material, diamond, can now be printed in highly complex shapes. The "once thought to be an impossible achievement" was made real by global engineering group Sandvik, who can now form diamond composites in virtually any shape by utilizing additive manufacturing, and a proprietary post-processing method tailored to this purpose. While most of the material is diamond, the composite is cemented in a hard matrix material to make it printable and dense, whilst retaining the physical properties of pure diamond.

Speaking of hard materials, carbon fiber and plastic can now form composites that are easier to work with than aluminum, while also being as strong as steel.

Although these seem interesting, the material with the most enthusiasm around them is human cells. Research at the Wyss Institute has resulted in a multi-material 3D bioprinting technique that is capable of printing cells ten times as thick as previously engineered tissues. This approach has the potential to be used for regenerative medicine and drug-tested endeavors, by creating vascularized 3D tissues. Soon, we might be able to repair parts within our bodies or even replace them with organs and other body parts fresh off a 3D printer.

Research and advancements in 3D printing have got people attentive, with forums and people sharing recipes on the rise. Soon hearts, diamonds, and guns may well be a CTRL+P away.