3D Printing – shaping the world we live in.

February 19, 2013

in Technology

Back in January 2012 we ran a blog post introducing 3D Printing.  Thirteen months is a long time in technology and so we thought we’d take a look at the advancements made since then, with five examples of how 3D Printing is beginning to improve our lives.

Medicine and Health

PrintedStemCellsThis week it was announced that 3D printers are being used to create human embryonic stem cells for clinical research.  The immediate benefit will be to produce cells for high volume  pharmacutical testing with a view to being able to create regenerative cells for implantation treatments and eventually the possibility of ‘growing’ complete human organs.  If you’re interested in ‘how’ then please click here for the full story.

 3D Printing has created the term ‘Digital Dentistry’.  Conventional manufacturing processes would mean that dental models for implants, dentures and mouth guards could take up to two or three models produced in an intensive work hour.  Apex Dental Milling are using the Objet Eden 260V 3D printer to make 20 or 30 dental models at a time.  The printer uses a dental-grade plastic resin and can be left running  overnight.

Emma-Magic-Arms-3D-PrintingProsthetic limbs have been built using 3D printing technology for a couple of years but it is now being used to build ‘robotic’ limbs.  These are specifically relevant for young children where conventional heavier materials are unsuitable.  US company Stratasys have developed the Wilmington Robotic Exoskeleton (WREX) with Ekso Bionics.  WREX can provide mobility to wheelchair users and children with debilitating diseases that was considered unachievable a few years ago.  See how the WREX  ‘magic arms’ made a huge difference to the quality of life for one little girl.   This success story has now resulted in the “magic arms” 3D-printed WREX exoskeleton being nominated for the Designs of the Year 2013 awards by London’s Design Museum.

Renewable Energy

Xerox have created a 3D printer that uses special silver ink.  The technology can produce paper-thin solar panels at a fraction of the cost compared to conventional solar panel production.  This will bring low-cost energy to remote places that currently have no energy source apart from wood-burning .  The solar panels could be printed and installed by travelling crews and the beauty of 3D printing is that the machines can produce their own replacement parts.

Iceclay is a thin insulation material that uses 3D Print technology to fuse nano-sized particles of low-cost polymers and water into film or sheets used to insulate energy efficient buildings.  They can be integrated or retro-fitted and offer a much cheaper alternative to high-performance insulation materials such as the supercritical-dried silica aerogel.

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When we first spoke about the potential of 3D printing we quoted Nesta as saying that we could all be receiving 3D printed Christmas gifts by the end of 2012.  These five examples prove that the fulfilled potential and opportunities have gone way beyond that concept.

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