Everywhere you look, large companies around the world are coming out with 3D printing solutions, nations are creating programs and providing grants in this field, and new research facilities are opening their doors. The 3D printing world is buzzing, we had a look at some of its most interesting developments.
3D printing capabilities are in use with dozens of well-known sportswear, car manufacturing, and even aircraft manufacturing companies. The most important thing is that 3D printers can help restore the health of thousands of people thanks to quick printing of prosthetics and medications.
3D Hand for a Superhero.
A boy in Oregon named Juan lost his fingers and a part of the wrist on his left hand but kept his sense of humor and his dream of becoming a superhero. This child’s story was made world-famous by Intel engineer Shashi Jain. He created a 3D Spider-Man-themed prosthetic hand and helped restore the boy’s confidence.
The story inspired Shashi: he collected over sixty Intel 3D printers, enlisted the help of 250 of his colleagues, “handy” volunteers, and produced a hundred hands in two hours. Now these prosthetics are essential to the lives of hundreds of Haiti residents who suffered from the massive earthquake of 2010.
Intel engineers have managed to significantly reduce the cost of a robotic hand. This has been invaluable to LimbForge, an organization that helps people from developing countries replace amputated limbs using 3D printing. For an individual Haitian family, this revolution is as important as the third industrial revolution was for the entire world.
Sneakers of the Future
Adidas promised to fulfill athletes’ dreams. The ultimate running shoes, Futurecraft 4D, are already being printed, and so far the developers plan on producing over 100,000 pairs. The company had previously used 3D printing, but only to create soles for running shoes, and one pair would take all day to create. At this rate, they wouldn’t get very far.
New technology allows them to print objects from a continuous stream of light-responsive polymers. It is faster and cheaper than traditional printing in layers. Ideally, a new pair should be ready faster than the company CEO would be able to complete his morning run. Futurecraft 4D is more durable and flexible than its predecessors. Adidas plans on launching an online service where customers can custom-order shoes and later print them on a home 3D printer.
The Footwear of Champions
Today, Adidas is far ahead of its competitors even though Nike pioneered 3D-design technology. They hit it big in 2013 with Vapor Laser Talon Cleats that had almost weightless 3D soles, but in 2016, Nike engineers put the budding revolution on pause.
Olympic champion Allyson Felix won a gold medal in the 400-meter relay while competing in Nike shoes at the Rio Olympics. The textured surface of the Zoom Superfly Flyknit shoes is essentially a solid part with spikes created by means of 3D printing with the perfect balance of firmness and flexibility. Yet Zoom Superfly creators turned down the mass-production option and promised to use their invaluable development in creating new collections of footwear.
“Dear passengers, our airplane has been printed by a 3D printer!” Meanwhile, additive manufacturing technologies have long been in use by the aircraft manufacturing industry. The wide-body Boeing Dreamliner 787 will become the first commercial airplane with titanium load-bearing structural components printed by a 3D printer. The developers plan on saving up to three million dollars on each Dreamliner at the production rate of 114 airplanes per year.
Airbus announced the exact launch date of a new-generation airplane. According to the concern’s designers, a transparent, light, economical airliner of the future with shape-shifting wings will soar into the skies in 2050. In the meantime, the company is implementing one additive manufacturing solution after another: interior lining components, titanium brackets for the wings, and engines with 3D-printed injectors. The company has moved on to develop load-bearing structures. In the near future, Airbus plans to create a 3D-printed bullet-proof crew cabin wall. And then a whole airplane won’t be far away.
3D Printer Vs. OSAGO
A personal vehicle printed by a 3D printer in your back yard isn’t far away either. Local Motors has already developed the first such car: their Strati model was produced in only 44 hours. Ford prints hundreds of car parts every day. The Volvo factory in Leon is now able to produce many truck engine components in two days that used to take a month.
Audi is working on its own additive manufacturing technology center for prototyping parts and creating ready-made race car components. BMW has the same goal, as 3D printing technologies help create prototypes faster and cheaper. Toyota has assembled a car with 3D-printed internal components that adapt to the owner’s requirements in that the design of many components can be adjusted using a 3D printer. Soon minor insurance risks will be eliminated by the ability to print a bumper or a side panel in a few minutes.
Print Me Some Citramonum, Please
Printing car parts is one thing, but replacing a human organ is another thing altogether. The development of 3D modeling and 3D printing has already produced a new profession, the bioarchitect. Scientists and doctors around the world save lives by transplanting printed body parts.
The largest 3D metal printer manufacturer, LayerWise, produced the first ever titanium lower jaw implant. A leader in additive manufacturing called Oxford Performance Materials created the plates that replaced 75% of the skull of a US patient. Pfizer successfully uses 3D printers to manufacture medications used in the treatment of arthritis. Scientists predict that soon it will be possible to print any pill at a pharmacy and then later at home, with the formulation of the medication adjustable for each individual patient.
3D printing is the latest thing in dentistry. The large Dutch company NextDent B.V. manufactures temporary dental prosthetics, implants, surgical guides, and aligners. New 3D printing technologies allow companies to adhere to strict criteria for safety and biocompatibility, as well as strict medical parameters. Apparently, 3D printing has yet to reach its full potential in the medical field. Experts believe that real-time organ printing will be next.
Here and Now
The German company Siemens was one of the first to start using 3D printers. Company experts developed robot spiders – small 3D printers for commercial manufacturing of machine components.
General Electric is another pioneer. Today, 10% of their products are produced using additive manufacturing technologies. Recently, experts managed to not only print a miniature copy of a jet engine, but start it and bring it up to 33,000 rpm. These 3-D printing experts have proved the technology’s horizons are limitless.
Printers will get cheaper, printer capabilities will improve, and the range of materials and methods used for producing a certain part will expand. As production costs are reduced, speed and quality will improve, shortening the distance between the manufacturer and the customer, meaning now anyone can participate in designing products. Additive manufacturing technologies open new doors every day. This technological revolution is happening right before our eyes.
Written by Irina Loban