Some of the newest concepts and developments in 3D printing seem about as realistic as a hover board from Back to the Future Pt. II, but among all of the breakthroughs in 3D technology over the past year is a German engineering firm that figured out how to 3D print a full-sized car frame.
3D printing is an additive process that uses a machine to build layers of a certain material (plastic, alloy, or even stem cells) into a three-dimensional object. The design is built in a computer program and constructed using the machine called a 3D printer. Only a few years ago, no one owned these machines because they were enormous and expensive, but just as personal computers evolved, now anyone can own one.
These incredible machines can churn out some fun, frivolous objects, but 3D printing technology is being used in bigger ways than the world could have expected. Here are just a few of the ways 3D printing will change everything in the future (and has already started).
Organs and Tissue
Russian scientists to unveil 3D bioprinted transplantable organ in March 2015
Imagine a world in which terminal patients don’t have to wait years for new organs. Imagine how many lives would be saved. Well, 3D printing research and development teams are already working on new ways to print “organs on demand” using a the patient’s own stem cells. It’s called “bioprinting” and doctors are already making progress with printing tissue for patients in need of skin grafts.
Construction & Farm Equipment
World’s first 3D-printed apartment building constructed in China
Depending on the project and scale, construction and large-scale farming operations have to wait for customized equipment and supplies, slowing down business or even stopping it for spans of time. This problem may soon be remedied with 3D printing that is changing rural America by creating unique items for farmers and blue collar workers. Although 3D printing and materials aren’t able to do 100 percent of the work just yet (laborers still need equipment like backhoe loaders and compaction machinery to lay the foundation) it’s a feat that is expected in the near future.
Space Station’s 3D Printer Makes Wrench From ‘Beamed Up’ Design
This one might be the most exciting. 3D printing is so useful, it’s going beyond our own atmosphere to astronauts living in the International Space Station who constantly need supplies. Rockets from NASA, Boeing, SpaceX and other companies shuttle new parts to the ISS every few months to get the astronauts what they need, which is super cool, but it’s also super expensive (i.e. millions of dollars per trip).
Unfortunately 3D printing can’t print everything (e.g. food, water, oxygen), but other necessary supplies can be. For example, if the crew needs a new wrench, they don’t wait for the construction of a new rocket, they just print one like they did last year.
The Bullet That Could Make 3-D Printed Guns Practical Deadly Weapons
3D printing of firearms is perhaps the most controversial of all. In May of 2014, a young entrepreneur named Cody Wilson designed a 100 percent printable firearm he named The Liberator. However, the gun itself is not what’s causing controversy, but rather the fact that the designs for the weapon are available online for free, which means anyone who owns a 3D printer can download the plans and print out the guns for themselves, including convicted felons and other individuals who could be a danger to themselves or others.