During the past few weeks there have been some articles indicating the future may be closer than we thought. There have been great strides made in 3D printing. This is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of any shape from a digital model. 3D uses an additive process where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes. Digital technologies are allowing this to take place.
Some of the areas where this process was being used included jewelry, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction, automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering and many other fields. The cost for the printers has come down considerably from figures like $10,000 to around the $1,000 mark. And you can get applications for some of the programs through open spaces.
There was a lot of interest when news came out that you were now able to build a gun using a 3D printer. There are limitations but you can fire one bullet at a time. Then there was the news that the Pentagon was working on a printable drone. Now a company is working on developing a method for using the printer to make pizza. For folks familiar with Star Trek, this process is already helping with our plans for space travel. We would require far less prepared food and more ingredients for our favorite dishes.
In the past year, some firms and research schools have looked at tissue engineering applications where organs and body parts are made using inkjet techniques. In this process, layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium or sugar matrix and slowly built up to form 3D structures. Consider our current state of organ transplants. Whether they come from another human or from an animal, there is usually some type of rejection that takes place. Drugs are used to reduce the rejection process. Never-the-less, there are some organ recipients who are unable to keep their new organs for a long period of time. With 3D printing, the recipient’s dna as well as stem cells can be used so that even though this organ is developed outside of the body, it will be identified as part of the body and not rejected.
There are other uses for tissue replacement. Hip replacements can be produced in one pass, with the ball permanently inside the socket. New chemicals can be created by using this process. So far there has not been anything useful pursued with this application. Various forms of customized food have been produced. This would provide many more opportunities for expanded space trips to other planets since the meals would not require refrigeration. And, in fact, NASA has been looking at the different food possibilities.
Just how far into the future 3D printing will take us depends only on how creative we choose to be. Can you imagine bringing your personal printer to an empty lot, plugging in to a power source and then producing a four bedroom, two bath home with unique details that may not be found in other homes? And think about the changes in our engineering. Being able to fabricate anything on site will make a big difference, especially in space exploration. Imagine sending a robotic space ship to an asteroid, printing up whatever supplies it needs, and bringing back a large portion to earth. The possibilities are limitless.
3D printing – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia