What’s next in 3D printing?
From human body parts to edible sugar work, 3D printing is only just beginning to fulfil its global potential
Music artist will.i.am recently exclaimed in an interview, “3D printing will print people. I’m not saying I agree with it, I’m just saying what’s fact based on plausible growth in technology… If you can print a liver or a kidney, god dang it, you’re going to be able to print a whole freaking person”.
Whilst most people wouldn’t go as far as the famously outspoken Black Eyed Peas frontman, it’s fair to say that 3D printing has captured the public’s imagination in a way few other technologies have been capable of. And it’s the sheer breadth of applications that make it such a fascinating topic for debate.
“Lives can be saved or made easier with the help of 3D printing”, says Andreas Langfeld, General Manager at MakerBot Europe. “This always fascinates me the most. In the end, it all depends on the variety of materials that can be used. The more materials or composites are available, the more use cases are possible. I can easily see my dentist 3D printing my inlay or filling in the near future”.
In fact, the applications of 3D printing often seem to be boundless, whether it’s catering to the food industry via the ChefJet (a higher-end 3D printer for crafting creative sugar work from 3D Systems), or helping the movie props industry reinvent itself. And using new technologies, such as HP’s yet-tobe-launched Multi Jet Fusion technology, print times are set to be
slashed by a factor of 20 to 30 within the next 18 months.
But it’s the possibility of working with more than one material, and ones that can’t currently be printed, that excites many. “At the moment the vast majority of 3D printers work with plastic, which is an incredibly useful material. But it has its limitations”, says Adrian Bowyer. “People are starting to add electrical conductors… which means printable electronics embedded in the plastic… Soon we will have machines that can work with half‑a‑dozen materials with radically different physical properties in a single print. This will mean a steep rise in the complexity, usefulness and value of what can be 3D-printed”.
“I ca n eas ily see my dentist 3D printing my inla y or fill ing”
Kickstarter is how most 3D printers are born, such as the triangular-bodied FLUX – a compact home printer that’s also expandable with modules for laser engraving and 3D scanning.
Another Kickstarter project, the iBox Nano is being pitched as the world’s smallest and cheapest 3D printer.