[Image Source: Wikimedia]
3-D printing is not necessarily new, but the technology continues to make exponential progress seemingly all the time. From 3-D printed food to printing human organs, here are the top 6 breakthrough innovations in 3-D printing technology.
It comes as no surprise that humans desire convenience. Why go through all the trouble of actually making food when you can just slap some chemicals inside a machine and it will whip you up a nice tasty treat? That is what NASA is currently looking into with one of their newest projects: 3-D printing food in space. Current 3-D food printers have been able to make sweets and pizza, however NASA is looking to take it to the next level and develop a printer that can make a variety of food for their astronauts. Of course, this technology is still in the early stages of development and will likely take several years before it is implemented on a live flight.
[Image Source: Magic Candy Factory]
Naturally, humans are acclimatized to an engineered environment. As such, we require a roof over our heads and a controlled temperature to make our lives as comfy as possible. However, houses take a long time to build. Man-made construction could become a thing of the past with new companies providing 3-D printers that can print a full-size house in just hours. One such company is capable of (and has already successfully completed) building 10 printed houses- in just 24 hours! The Process requires bulky machinery, and refinements need to be made as well as providing a sufficient ground to build upon. The process is far from autonomous, however, future editions could see the houses be set up completely on their own.
[Image Source: Vocativ]
Prosthetics are incredibly expensive, mostly due to the fact that the parts must all be handcrafted with great precision under an extremely sanitary condition. However, a company devised a method to turn medical scans into a 3-D model that can then precisely match and fit a patient. The prosthetics can be printed on demand and can be printed more precise than ever, enabling people much greater mobility with much less pain. Some editions even include functioning ‘tendons’ that can manipulate artificial joints and give patients greater motor function such as walking and grabbing objects. The technology is reducing the exorbitant prices of prosthetic limbs, allowing more people to have greater adaptations to life than ever would before.
Hand printed with some integrated motor function [Image Source: UCSD]
A group of engineers successfully designed a working model of a 3-D printer that can print metal objects. The device functions by introducing powerful lasers to a metallic powder. The powder liquefies on contact and then solidifies to become the designated object. There is currently no large-scale operations, however, upon further refinement, the technology could be used to precisely print electronic components and high tensile materials that are also incredibly durable- without the need for creating a mold. The future of metallic 3-D printing remains a little murky- but the technology backing the system is simply epic. Harvard even created a metallic printer that can print the objects in midair! Check it out:
An integral problem of space is that it is difficult to get anything up there (and incredibly expensive!). However, NASA is tackling the issue head-on with 3-D printers. NASA recently sent up a 3-D printer that was even able to print a wrench needed for a project. The printer allows for greater dexterity while reducing the amount of tools needed. Instead of carrying the necessary replacement parts and required tools for installations, astronauts can now print the parts on a need-to basis.
This ratchet was printed in space! The tool was later used to fix a minor component [Image Source: NASA]
Most impressively of all is that engineers are now able to print living cells. While the functionality of the cells remain simple at the moment, future modifications could see robots printing live human prosthetics out of bio-organic material. The tissue created is be directed towards reducing costs for medical testing. Instead of live animal testing that often gets cut short thereafter (costing billions of dollars(!)), the animals can be spared and 3-D printed tissue can be used instead- even providing a much more accurate testing basis. The printer, developed by UC San Diego created a printer just 3x3 millimeters squared. The device can print tissue in seconds. The team is readying the technology to print more complex structures and cells which could open the door to “patient-specific organ printing”. Perhaps, exchangeable limbs could become a fundamental part of the near future. Brains often function for a very long time as the body begins to deteriorate, leaving a healthy mind on a malfunctioning body. However, the new technology could see the first ‘super human’ ever- made from engineered technology. We just hope it won't be reminiscent of the terminator.
Live printed tissue under the scope of a microscope [Image Source: UC San Diego]
The future of 3D printing technology will forever change the shape of the technology age. It has already contributed indispensable elements that are already being implemented into many businesses and being used by engineers every day. It is a cost-effective, practical way of quickly getting what you need. One day, it could even save your life.
Written by Maverick Baker