5 Reasons Why 3D Printing is Awesome

Developments in 3D printing show us that we have only scratched the surface of its possibilities. Here are 5 recent, groundbreaking developments made with 3D printing which prove how soon, we will be unable to live without it. 

1. NASA emailed a spanner to the International Space Station

Previously, if astronauts needed a specific tool or item, they could have waited months for it to be flown up to the International Space Station on one of the regular supply flights from earth.

However, on the 17th Nov 2014, a 3D printer was flown up and installed on the ISS. Now, astronauts on the International Space Station have used their 3D printer to make a wrench from instructions sent up in an email.

The possibilities are endless as spare parts, components and even equipment can be designed in CAD and sent to the astronauts to print. According to the company behind the printer, Made In Space, this is just the beginning of what they can do.


2. A dog was given 3D printed limbs

Unsatisfied with the restricted movement wheeled options to assist disabled dogs have, Ms Anderson, Derby the dog’s owner, decided to give him 3D printed prosthetic limbs.

Derby was born with underdeveloped front legs but this December, Derby was given an early Christmas present. Running 2 – 3 miles a day with his humans, his custom designed, 3D printed prosthetic legs couldn’t have got to him sooner.

Using different techniques, the South Carolina-based 3D printing company helping Derby, say that scanning for human prosthetic design does not work for furry animals. Also, not every animal requiring prosthetics is a good candidate however, Derby has shown that collaboration between vets, pets, owners and therapists on pet prosthetics, is possible and should be continued.


3. A 3D printed bionic eye

Using a$20,000 3D printer to print nanoparticles into a contact lens, a device that can project beams of coloured light has been created.

At Princeton University, the quantum dot-based light emitting technology (QLED), was used as ink to construct a microelectronic circuit in a plastic contact lens. This technology is usually used on 2D gadgets but being able to use it on 3D structures opens a whole new door of possibilities.

Although it’s not yet wearable, the hard plastic cannot be worn in the eye and it the circuit itself requires an external power supply; it does demonstrate how close we are to integrating 3D printed electronics into complex shapes, with the potential of printing 3D structures that could be used in the body.


4. A 4D printed dress

The Kinematics 4D dress was created by design studio Nervous System using a 3D printer. The dress is 4D as it is made from 3D printed parts that change over time in response to their environment.

Made from 2,279 rigid, interlocking triangles, connected by 3,316 hinges, printed in a single piece, the dress is created directly from body scans. The hinges in the garment allow the dress to adapt perfectly to the wearer’s body, movements and environment. The dress is made from a non-uniform textile which means it varies in rigidity, drape, flex, porosity and pattern.

Using an online app, anyone can design a Kinematics garment by uploading a 3D body scan. Body scanning and new design and fabrication techniques are opening up more possibilities which means people are able to customise their own clothing changing the way we shop.


5. A 3D printed edible pizza

This summer, a 3-D printer for food was developed with NASA funding which has been described as a mini food manufacturing plant shrunk down to the size of an oven.

The printer is still in its earliest stages, so the pizza it prints doesn’t quite meet the high standards of pizza we’re used to. But the basics are there: the printer lays down a layer of dough from a stock of simple, non-perishable ingredients, then layers the ketchup and cream cheese on top. A heated surface bakes the pizza.

As NASA ventures farther into space, they need to make improvements in life support systems, including how to feed the crew during those long deep space missions. Being able to send up a printer and special cartridges instead of boxes of food, means saving space and the astronauts can have a cooked meal. With this sort of technology, we could be on the path to increasing food sustainability worldwide.


Paula Clerkin

Image courtesy of Andrew Goldstraw via Flickr

Photographs: Nasa, 3DPRINT, Frank Wojciechowski, Nervous System and Popular Science.

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