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

Mac Format - - GET INTO 3D PRINTING -

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”.

New hori­zons

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.

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