We've all heard the buzz surrounding 3D printing. Some called it the 3rd or 3D Industrial Revolution. But what exactly is 3D printing? And how big of an impact will it have on our future? The concept is quite simple. Much like your printer prints ink on a page. A 3D printer spit out material—whether it be plastic, metal, or even concrete to form a three-dimensional object. But instead of printing one layer, as ink from a normal printer does. Multiple layers are stacked upon each other to create complex 3D structures.
Good Things About Three-Dimensional Printing in the Near Future
Think of it like making sliced bread, but in reverse! After putting one layer down. Another is built on top of that, and so on. Until the whole loaf of bread is put together!
- Lost or broke something that you can no longer buy? Simple—create or download the design online, and 3D-print it out!
- Have a specific or personal holiday present idea and can't find it? Print it! In fact, some website were doing exactly this for the holiday season.
- If you require moving parts in your design. The printer simply leave gaps in the right spots, or uses a special gel that can be dissolved or rinsed off afterwards.
- Speaking of design, 3D printing paves the wave for incredibly customized objects made on demand to fit your requirements. Not only does this mean furniture, shoes and appliances built to fit your lifestyle. But things like prosthetic limbs can have completely customized user designs, as opposed to generic mass produced products.
- Need something small and intricate? Typical 3D printers create layers approximately 100 micrometers thick. But, some high-end machines can print as small as 16 micrometers. To put this in perspective. A typical bacteria cell has a width of between 1-10 micrometers. This has opened the doors to using molecules for ink, and has lead to successful 3D-printed pharmaceutical drugs, such as Ibuprofen. The tiny molecules are organized perfectly to create the desired drug effect.
- Hungry? In the future, you might be able to ask Siri to 3D-print a meal, perfected for your palette. But, perhaps the most significant application is creating 3D structures out of living cells—or bio-ink instead of using plastic or metal.
- Imagine 3D printing tissue to replace damaged skin, or to reproduce entire organs from scratch. Instead of needing an organ donor. You just print one based off of your genetics. Amazingly, this technology is already being developed.
- For burns or scrapes, a scanner is used on a patient's wound, and a personalized skin map is created. After this, the printer lays down cells one layer at a time. Until the area is covered.
- Organs are much more complex due to their large size, vascular networks, and interactions with the body. A scanner takes X-ray images of, say, a patient's kidney, as cross sections with incredibly intricate detail. And just like any other object, these organs are reproduced layer by layer. Specifically, designed for each individual.
3D Printing Advance Benefits May Take Some Time
Although these are years away from being functional. It will certainly have a huge impact on the medical community. So, while it may be a while before you end up with a 3D printer in your home. You can be sure that by the time it happens. The world will be a different place.