Edge of Innovation

4 things you might not know 3D printers can do

 

In only a few years, 3D printers have gone from bulky $20,000 manufacturing machines to $100 desktop playthings. Give it a few more years and 3D printers will be as common in our homes as inkjets are today, printing out spare parts, toys, knives, forks, plates, lampshades, coffee cups, custom jewellery and much more besides.

And this is only the beginning of 3D printing’s journey. If you can’t see the point of sculpting plastic trinkets from lasered resin, just take a look at where 3D printing is (and might be) heading.

Christmas jumpers

Well, not specifically jumpers and not quite yet. But Manchester School of Art duo Laura McPherson and Mark Beecroft have been working on a way to combine 3D printing with knitting. “We have created a 3D printed knitted sample that has the fineness and flexibility required for textiles,” Mark Beecroft told 3DPrint.com, “and we have begun to combine this with machine knit.”

3d knitting prototype
Knitted fibres produced by a 3D printer. Photo courtesy of www.art.mmu.ac.uk.

Cheap housing

Not all 3D printers are getting smaller and cheaper. Some are getting bigger. Much bigger. Earlier this year, Minnesota building contractor Andrey Rudenko 3D printed a children’s castle in layers of cement and sand. In China, WinSun Decoration Design Engineering printed out 10 simple concrete homes in 24 hours using a printer measuring 10 x 6.6 metres. You wouldn’t want to live in one of these simple dwellings, but as a proof of concept, it’s an inspirational feat.

Replacement body parts

While medical 3D printing, aka 3D bioprinting, is still in its infancy, scientists have been successfully printing human tissue for several years. While print-on-demand heart transplants are still some way off, consultant orthopaedic surgeon Craig Gerrand has already constructed a tailor-made titanium pelvis replacement for a cancer patient. As for real organs, Dutch artist Diemut Strebe has already regrown Vincent Van Gogh’s severed ear and US company Organovo predicts 3D printed livers will be viable in 4-6 years.

Food, inglorious food

Food printing is nothing new. Specialist 3D printers can already print out chocolate, pizza, sweets and biscuits. The Barilla Group is reportedly working on a machine that can print pasta in any shape you can think of and NASA is investigating 3D food printing for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The Foodini 3D printer from Natural Machines can already print out spaghetti and spinach quiche dinosaurs, even squirt beef paste into mini burger shapes.

Foodini printing burgers
The Natural Machines Foodini 3D printer can print out mini burgers.

Most interestingly though, startup Modern Meadow is using the latest advances in tissue engineering to grow artificial leather and to bioprint meat-free meat, all without ‘raising, slaughtering and transporting animals’. It’s a lofty and tasty goal. Put that together with new vertical farming techniques and the world’s food problems could be solved.

Are you excited about the prospect of 3D printing? Have you used a 3D printer (and if so, what did you make)? Let us know by leaving us a comment below.

 

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