12 Applications of 3D Printing [Part 2/2]
3D Nano-Printing Technology
With the increasing performance of 3D printers in accurately printing smaller structures, electronics companies could not have been happier. A cutting edge technology known as “two photon lithography” uses a laser beam and a set of mirrors to harden a resin at very specific points in order to create a structure as small as a grain of sand.
This new method is not only very accurate but also incredibly fast. According to one of the professors involved in its research from the Institute of Materials Science and Technology in Vienna: “the printing speed used to be measured in millimeters per second – our device can do five meters in one second.” This high speed and performance is the Holy Grail for computer electronics manufacturers who can now create smaller and more powerful electronic parts that are increasingly more difficult to obtain through traditional manufacturing methods. And the applications don’t stop here. The “two photon lithography” can be used to create the much needed scaffolds for 3D bio-printing and even tailored made parts for biomedical technology and for any other industry that could benefit from nanotechnology.
Arms & Weaponry
Like with most new technologies the military applications of 3D printing are far more complex than we can cover in a blog post like this. Weapon and military equipment companies could use (probably they already are) 3D printing to create customised body armours for soldiers or even ‘invisible’ coatings for stealth vehicles with the help of nanotechnology.
However, with the advent of additive manufacturing, not only the existing manufacturers get more power but so do the consumers. Printing the parts of a rifle from some 3D blue prints bought online could soon become more popular than we think. Home-made weapons might be the trigger of a new wave of conflicts in which everybody could be considered a terrorist. And with laws and regulations being updated slower than the speed of adopting new technologies, this might not even be considered illegal.
‘Home Printed’ Food
3D bio-printing could predominantly help human bodies but it is not restricted to this. Although printing animal organs may not be such a cost-effective process, “printing” meat and other animal parts for human consumption may be. Eating a burger with 3D printed beef, free of any disease and obtained without any environmental degradation or animal cruelty could be a solution for many environmental, moral and world hunger issues. And because meat is already dead tissue, the vascularisation issue critical for live human organs is less of a challenge. How a 3D printed steak will look like, how it will taste like and what texture it will have are all to be considered before everybody will rush to buy it.
A more basic and less complex application of 3D printing is in semi-prepared food products. 3D printed pasta became an over-night sensation when Google decided to showcase their creativity not only on web but also in their kitchens. Employees from their California headquarters can now experiment with customisable and weird shaped extruded pasta. And if convenience is what drives your food choices why not try the 3D printed burrito? Fully personalised, perfectly balanced and ready to eat burritos could soon be prepared in a matter of seconds whenever you are looking for a quick snack.
3D Printed Buildings
If 3D printed scale models are already taking off in the building and construction industry, full scale extruded building parts are also very close to becoming reality. Massive 3D printers capable of printing an entire house in a few days could be highly cost-effective and time-efficient in disaster relief situations and developing nations. And because they are no longer dependent on a right angle “squarish” design like most of today’s buildings (restricted by the shape of the materials used), the degree of customisation can reach new levels and design can fully take advantage of all geometric shapes.
With a working prototype already available that uses a magnesium and sand based paste which has a structure similar to rock when solidified, small constructions can be created in less than a day. It may not be long until we are able to hire such a contraption and build our dream house in less than a week with a tenth of the costs of a traditional house.
3D Printing in Education & Learning
Replicas of art objects and relics, models of body parts, oversized chemical structures, science projects prototypes and many more could be quickly and most importantly cheaply made available in schools through the help of 3D printers. These enhanced teaching aides could bring a breath of fresh air to many classical and sometimes outdated educational systems across the world. Raising the students’ interest through visual representations and increasing the courses’ interactivity through cooperative 3D projects will not only make the whole learning experience more fun and informative, but it will also lead to the development of a more pragmatic way of thinking.
3D printers have already been used in universities for some time now, however mostly for engineering and IT-related courses or for the more creative degrees (arts, architecture or design). It’s only a matter of time until we see schools taking advantage of this great teaching opportunity.
Custom 3D Print… Anything
When we are holding the power to make our wildest dreams come true we only need a little bit of imagination to open ourselves to an infinite number of possibilities. From personalised jewellery inspired by nature to intricate and uniquely shaped furniture capable of being both highly functional and extremely beautiful, there is no limit to the degree of customisation that additive manufacturing can offer. With 3D printing, shape and structure are no longer an issue, as you are only capped by the physical weaknesses of the materials used. Custom-fitted cycling helmets for professional cyclists and 3D printed machines are only a few examples of our future custom 3D printed world.
Home ‘3D Printed’ Delivery
If until now we have slowly moved from a bricks and mortar (only offline) to a bricks and clicks (offline and online) shopping culture, what will be the next step?! Maybe a ‘click and print’ society where instead of buying a product online and waiting for it to be delivered to our home, we can buy a one-time use of a 3D model of our desired product and print it directly at home – similar to legally buying and downloading media files. No more waiting, no more lost deliveries and with a good return policy and customisable options it could become the next shopping crave. Just remember to stock up with the ‘inks’ you need – a selection of the most 5-10 popular ‘inks’ should be enough for over 90% of your daily items.
With such a great variety of applications and benefits already out there and many others appearing every day, 3D printing is slowly but surely becoming an integrated part of our lives. It could potentially have the same disruptive effect as television, computers or the Internet had on our society in the last century, if not greater. But with any new technology and therefore power, there is a great amount of responsibility which, if mishandled, could shake many ethical and social values.
How will 3D printing evolve in the next five years? Which of the above applications do you think will seriously take off and why? I am very interested in finding out your opinion about 3D printing. If you have any comments or questions please write them in the box below.
This post is part of the 3D Printing series.