Printing has come a long way in a short amount of time. Not long ago, we were happy to print out documents on our dot-matrix printers, tearing off the perforated sheets. Now we can print objects using 3-D printers. Although 3-D printers are still developing, the basic models are affordable, widely available and simple to use.
Because more people are discovering the advantages of 3-D printing, they’re playing around with the technology in an unbelievable way. New printing materials are being introduced, and new functions are being discovered by people who don’t necessarily have a background in engineering or design. Although 3-D printers were originally used to make tiny plastic baubles, they can now be used for more practical and innovative applications. Read below to check out the most incredible products that can be made using a 3-D printer.
Food that’s created with a 3-D printer isn’t just for show; it can actually be eaten. These types of printers work by dripping a viscous substance onto a surface. When 3-D printers are used with melted plastic, they can create toys, mechanical parts and other objects. When they’re used with edible materials, they can create products that you can pop in your mouth.
NASA is using 3-D printers to make food for astronauts. Freeze-dried food is packed into capsules, giving it a long shelf life. When added to the printer, the capsules are mixed with water or oil and printed onto a surface. Because the printing plate can be heated, the food can be cooked as it prints. Bread dough, tomato sauce and cheese can be layered to create the perfect pizza. The long-lasting food powders and ability to concoct nutritionally appropriate meals could eventually end world hunger, says Anjan Contractor, an engineer who is working on a practical 3-D food printer.
Textile production has always been intricately linked with technology. With a 3-D printer, you can create cloth out of flexible plastic filaments and use that material to create clothing. Fashion student Danit Peleg used a 3-D printer that cost less than $2,000 to produce a stylish collection for her graduate project. The garments that were created aren’t all futuristic, either. Peleg created a contemporary version of the little black dress and a maxi skirt. The 3-D printer takes the middle man out of fashion design. Individuals can instantly manufacture their own designs, hastening the process of creating clothing.
- A Nano Sculpture
When you think of a sculpture, do you think of a monumental piece of stone looming over you in a museum? Artist Jonty Hurwitz took the category to new heights when he created a series of microscopic sculptures. Hurwitz wanted to blend science with art, and he used concepts from physics and mathematics to create the world’s smallest sculptures. His pieces were smaller than the width of a strand of hair and could fit inside the eye of a needle. To create the sculptures, the 3-D printer directs a laser through a microscope, printing one pixel of physical material at a time. The artwork is only visible using an electron microscope. In fact, the sculptures are so small that after viewing them under the microscope, Hurwitz dropped them. Those pieces are going to be difficult to find.
- Prosthetic Limbs
Engineers have always tried to improve the design of prosthetic limbs. In the past, the creation of prostheses has been complicated and expensive, and it results in a less-than-pleasing aesthetic design. The 3-D printer can create a more attractive and ergonomically correct prosthesis by generating an exact replica of the intact limb. Scanners measure the specific dimensions of the existing limb, reversing it to print out a flexible, lightweight and strong prosthesis made of titanium. This technique makes manufacturing prosthetic limbs cheaper, faster and more effective. Prostheses that are printed from 3-D printers fit better and look more like the real thing.
- 3-D Printers
One of the most surprising things about a 3-D printer is that it can print another 3-D printer. Adrian Bowyer created RepRap, a 3-D printer that can replicate itself. With a 3-D printer, you can scan and duplicate parts from any machine. The RepRap does exactly this, printing out pieces that can be assembled to produce another printer. This puts manufacturing in the hands of the people, making 3-D printing technology even more affordable and more accessible. While this may take away from the exclusivity of the product, it opens the door for creativity and innovation.
- A Car
The cars that we buy today are built using 100-year-old technology. Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, changed that by building the Strati, an electric car that was created using a 3-D printer. The car is built piece by piece and layer by layer, and it can be completely customized. Local Motors has also developed the LM3D Swim, a beach cruiser that is ready to come to market. Printed cars are cheaper to make, and they don’t require the creation of a prototype. They’re also completely recyclable. The car can be melted down, and the plastic can be used to print a new one.
In 2014, the Chinese company WinSun printed 10 structures in one day using a giant 3-D printer that fabricates pieces from construction and industrial waste. The parts are then put together like a traditional pre-fabricated home. Reinforcements and insulation are added during construction. This building method is affordable and environmentally friendly. Because it uses recycled materials, the construction method doesn’t require the use of resources like wood and stone. It’s also faster and creates less waste. WinSun hopes to use this technology to create homes for people who otherwise couldn’t afford them.
Scientists are using 3-D printers to create replicas of human organs using soft gels. These models are made using materials that closely resemble tissue found in the human body, such as collagen and alginate. They are working towards being able to bioprint living cells, creating a framework from which living cells can continue to grow. If machines can create operational human organs, patients won’t have to wait for organ transplants; human parts can be produced on demand. Although this technology is still developing, researchers hope to implement it in the medical field in the next 10 to 15 years.
About the Author:
Matthew Young is a freelance tech journalist and blogger hailing from Boston. He is passionate about new, emerging tech in the industry. When Matthew is not busy writing about awesome new technology, he usually spends time fiddling with his camera and learning a thing or two about photography. You can reach Matthew on Twitter @mattbeardyoung.