10 Surprising Ways 3D Printing Is Being Used Now
1. A new generation of prosthetics
“Turning disabilities into superpowers” is the defining vision of UK-based Open Bionics. Their mission is to create “affordable, assistive devices that enhance the human body.”
Their first product was the Hero Arm, which they describe as “the world's first medically certified 3D-printed bionic arm, with multi-grip functionality and empowering aesthetics.” It is “a lightweight and affordable myoelectric prosthesis.”
The company now offers a selection of themed covers for the Hero Arm, including Star Wars BB-8, Marvel Iron Man, Disney Frozen and Deus Ex. They are “custom-made using innovative 3D-printing and 3D-scanning techniques.”
Dedication to helping children by providing them with 3D printed hands is also the driving passion behind a group of volunteers who formed e-NABLE. Its members now number in the thousands, and they have made it possible for thousands of children around the world to regain hand function. See the video below:
2. Printing skin for the face
This 3D Skin Printer Helps Heal Wounds and Burns explained how 3D printing can be used to bioprint replacement skin for wound and burn victims as you can see in the video below.
But that was demonstrated on an arm, but now the researchers at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) are developing a way to create a bioengineered BioMask that could be applied to people’s faces.
New solutions are necessary for the skin on the face because existing techniques for grafting skin “can often lead to scarring, infection or graft failure,” explains the press release. The BioMask delivers better results, as shown in the proof-of-concept study
“The mask was created by using 3-D bioprinting customized with a face CT image. Then, wound dressing material and cell-laden hydrogels were precisely dispensed by the printer and placed in a layer by layer fashion to create the skin constructs into the mask shape.”
Once the technique is adopted, it can prove life-changing for people who would otherwise have had to remain scarred forever.
3. Quick and economical home construction
Another way 3D printing is being used to make the world a better place is by reducing the cost of home construction enough to make new houses accessible to those whose income puts adequate shelter beyond their reach.
One company that has made this its mission is ICON. Its tagline is “We’re changing the way people live.” It set out to apply 3D printing to houses and envisions whole communities set up that way in a kind of 21st-century version of Levitton.
Last year ICON built the Chicon house, described as “the first permitted 3D-printed home built in the United States” in Austin, Texas in 2018. It took a few weeks to print “and sparked the imagination of customers, investors, press, and the SXSW conference community.”
Now it has advanced the technology to the point where it can get a house up in just a day and at a cost of just $4000 as you can see in this video:
ICON believes that its 3D printing applied to concrete is the solution to low-income housing, both in the USA and abroad. To that end, it has partnered with a charity called New Story that has provided funding for homes in Mexico, Haiti, El Salvador, and Bolivia and for needy households.
“By partnering with ICON in select regions, New Story will be able to see out their vision more efficiently and deliver the promise of a life beyond survival to thousands more,” it reports.
4. Homes on Mars
Applying 3D printing to home construction also has ramifications for the space program. In planning a mission to Mars, NASA has to deal with the challenge of setting up shelter for the people who will be living on the red planet. To that end, it launched the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge
See the video below:
5. Plane parts
Airbus adopted 3D printing technology for plane parts a few years ago. In 2016 it began using titanium for engine components, as you can see in this video:
“Not only are 3D-printed parts as strong as those made with traditional molding methods,” Airbus explained, but their reduced weight offers an advantage for efficiency, and now they are able to produce the parts with a look that can be “seamlessly integrated” into the decor of the interior of the plane.
6. Making music
In 2014 a complete band of 3D-printed instruments, including a drum, keyboard, and guitars, played together live at Lund University in Sweden. Lund University professor Olaf Diegel printed the instrument that were played by students at Lund University’s Malmö Academy of Music.
Here’s the video of that event:
7. Exquisite metal jewelry designs
It was possible to 3D print jewelry over a decade ago, though those were limited to what could be fashioned out of plastic. Now, thanks to advanced additive manufacturing techniques in metal, it is possible to design and execute delicate, metal necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, etc., as you can see in the video below:
Using 3D printing for metal can also be applied to recycling aspects of pieces that are not suited to modern tastes as explained in this video:
8. 3D printed eyeglasses
While you can 3D print individual glasses frames, as you see in the video above, that is not the most efficient use for the product. As in other areas of manufacturing the 3D printing is used for rapid prototyping.
“The ability to have our 3D printed concept prototypes mimic the exact same color and texture as the finished product has significantly accelerated the development of new eyeglass frames,” explained Daniel Tomasin, the Product Sample Coordinator at Safilo states.
As it eliminates the need to paint, they are able to create a prototype in ⅕ the time. As he said, “we can quickly respond to market trends and reduce our prototyping cycle from 15 hours to just 3 hours.”
Luca Bordin, a 3D Modeling Specialist at Safilo added, “This arms us to not only dramatically reduce our turnaround time, but helps improve communication with the designers, enabling us to achieve the best product possible.”
9. Vegan meat
Whether the interest stems from concern for health, animal welfare, the environment, or just developing more economical food choices, lately there’s been increasing interest in developing vegan alternatives to meat. And 3D printing is playing a central role in that.
Giuseppe Scionti, the Italian founder and CEO of Barcelona-based Nova Meat has developed a technique to 3D print meat that can duplicate the texture of beef or poultry using vegetable proteins. Unlike some other vegan meat substitutes, it does not have to be reduced to hamburger.
In an interview with Business Insider, Scopto pointed out that he selects his ingredients with sustainability in mind: "I used raw materials that don't have a negative impact on the environment," skipping the things that would have to be imported and so contribute to a “detrimental impact on the environment."
You can see how the process works in the video below:
10. This takes the cake
Dinara Kasko is a young pastry chef from Ukraine. She holds a degree from the University of Architecture and Design and has experience as an architect-designer and a 3D visualizer. She combined that expertise with her passion for cakes, and that’s how here business with specially shaped cakes made out of her specially designed molds was born.