A technology that seemed relegated only to science fiction 3D printers have proven useful to many fields of industry. While invented in the late 20th century it was not until recently its potential has been realized. Also, applications for this device have spread to manufacturing and architecture as well as numerous industries. One interesting prospect that could be innovated by 3D printers is the medical field which has only just begun. But, with the rapid development in this device, and the gain in popularity of recent years the future of this technology could seem without limit. While this device is multifaceted in its uses the drive of innovation will certainly make this a mainstay of modern technology.
The development of 3D printers begins with Charles Hull who invented the process known as stereolithography, which is the process of lasers heating the polymer into a malleable form to shape the desired object (Hsu, Jeremy). This breakthrough eventually led to the development of the first 3D printer which was later marketed by the company Hull co-owned called 3D Systems in 1986(History Printing). While the name 3D printing has stuck originally this process of stereolithography was called Rapid Prototyping technology (History Printing). On a side note, although Hull is credited as the inventor of this technology, in actuality a lawyer named Dr. Hideo Kodama filed the first patent for rapid prototyping technology (History Printing). However, due to a technicality in the filing process he was denied a patent and this was in 1980(History Printing). Despite this invention reaching the market in the late 80s it was of little note as it was not widely used.
This would change as the popularity of 3D printing surged about 20 years after its invention. Some of the reasons that the public took a liking to this device is because of lower costs, more accurate printing, and more user friendly designs encouraging hobbyists (History Printing). Also, while initially upon invention 3D printers could only use plastic, polymers to be more specific, currently depending on model some can utilize materials such as metal, glass, paper, and wood (History Printing). This is why some have speculated that a 3D printer will be more of a house appliance instead of a hobby related item.
While it may seem obvious in how a 3D printer works there is in actuality many steps which involve computers heavily. It all starts off with what the user is looking for as well as the size of the 3D printer. First, one must either create their own model using 3D modeling software or download it from a website one that is recommended to new users is called Tinkercad (3D Printing). After selecting the model to be printed it must be prepared to print by slicing it (3D Printing). Slicing for 3D printing means that the model that is going to be printed will be broken down into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers (3D printing). The process of slicing may be done on slicing software, but some 3D printers have their own slicing software built in (3D Printing). After this it is uploaded to the printer and slowly printed one layer at a time.
Seeing the usefulness of 3D printing to industry it is no wonder it is expected to be a 15 billion dollar endeavor by 2020(3D Printing). It is no doubt that in the upcoming years that the applications for 3D printing will grow in scope.
Part of what brought 3D printing to become as popular as it is now is its ability to print other creations done by others. These can take the form of anything from a cable organizer to a neat little sculpture type thing. Some items printed include jewelry, movie props, and even models for various jobs. Of note architects who have to create a physical or digital model of say a building that a client wants this would allow for a model to be made easily and cheaply.
But, some uses that are more profound in how they are used in other industries include automotive manufacturing. How the automobile industry mostly uses 3D printed materials to create various tools, jigs, and even spare parts (3D Printing). Even in the design process of new vehicles 3D printed parts are a cheap option to help test part fits especially if it requires tough fits or flat surfaces (Auto Manufacturing). As mentioned before jigs can be important to the design process but some advantages of 3D printing a jig is that it is cheaper and takes less time to manufacture (Auto Manufacturing). Also, combined with those advantages 3D printing jigs can work with complex geometry which is one reason it takes great effort to produce something similar by traditional manufacturing using the least amount of material (Auto Manufacturing).
Another new purpose for 3D printed parts for cars is for specialty parts for antique or rare cars. For example, those who can collect Porsche cars know there are various models with limited manufacturing and getting replacement parts would have to be custom made ,but 3D printing allows for the parts to be made cheaply (3D Classics). One example of this application is a project that involved the restoration of a 1937 Ford Eifel in which a few companies collaborated using 3D scans to print replacement parts (3D Classics). This was all done without any manufacturer specs and was successful in saving one of the few cars produced in Germany and Hungary during the mid-30s (3D Classics).
Another field impacted by the use of 3D printed parts would be that of the aviation industry. While using 3D printers before they really became popular NASA has seen the value of what it can do (Gipson, Lillian). Naturally, most of the material used for aviation is metal, like aluminum, and this had to change the way NASA prints some parts which is done by instead of lasers an electron beam used against the metal to create the necessary component (Gipson, Lillian). What makes 3D printing suitable for things like jet engines is the complicated parts that may not have a standard geometry which can help in producing more using some composite metal or alloy that can withstand the heat (Gipson, Lillian). Also, NASA is researching along with the FAA on the possibility to utilize 3D printers for manufacturing specifically using carbon nanotubes to decrease the weight of airliners (Gipson, Lillian). Overall, the technology to use 3D printers in aviation is cutting edge and as a result is one of the aspects of 3D printing that will receive a lot of innovation and attention.
On the cutting edge of research and testing is the introduction of 3D printing in the medical industry. What once was thought of as incompatible or science fiction is becoming a reality with the increased practicality of 3D printing in medical procedures. While many uses for this device have become critical for creating new ways to treat patients. One such advancement is the use of 3D printing in creating prosthetics. While before using 3D printing prosthetics tended to be very expensive and might require further modification to fit right. But, an advantage of using 3D printed materials allows for the cost to drop significantly as well as providing a custom fit for the patient (Ventola, Lee). Furthermore, with design and creation of implants using traditional methods may take weeks but with 3D printing all that is needed is a few hours and it is complete (Ventola, Lee).
The introduction of 3D printing into the medical industry began in the early 2000s but initially it was limited in its use (Ventola, Lee). First, used mainly for dental implants and prosthetics the development of this technology has come leaps and bounds since then (Ventola, Lee). Most importantly, the use of 3D printing, in this case bio printing, in the creation of tissue and other organs as research seems to suggest (Ventola, Lee). This is a major breakthrough as the need for organs to be transplanted is critical (Ventola,Lee). While organ transplant procedures can be very expensive and many who are placed on a list never get the transplant they need to survive this offers an alternative. While this is still under development it is something that may take decades to integrate into the medical industry as an option. Mostly due to FDA concerns as well as for more critical organ transplant success rates. But, once it is proven it will change the industry and maybe increase life spans worldwide.
Traditional methods of transplant depend on the compatibility of one patient to another to avoid the body rejecting the organ. A work around for bio printing is that it utilizes cells form the patient’s body to create whatever organ or tissue graft that is needed (Ventola, Lee). Also, with regular transplants the recipient must take immunosuppressants for the rest of their life to prevent any sort of rejection (Ventola, Lee). The advantage of bio printing is the use of patient cells in preventing this and the costs for a lifelong medication add to the pros of this development (Ventola,Lee).
While the process of how tissues and organs are printed is complex. The basic steps for the procedure involve creating a blueprint that maps the organ needed along with its irregular shape (Ventola, Lee). Next, generate a plan on how it will be made essentially where to start and once this is established the machine will isolate the stem cells (Ventola, Lee). Then, the stem cells are designated into what organ they will be utilized for and other cells specific to the organ will be stored and used to create the organ (Ventola, Lee). While still in trial phases there have been successes which have piqued the interest of medical professions. That being the creation of a spinal disk, heart valve, various cartilage and bone structure, and even an artificial ear (Ventola, Lee).
This process seems simple but there is a lot of research that needs to be done to make it plausible. The main concern is that most organs needed are the kidney, liver, and heart which are quite complex in cellular structure (Ventola, Lee). Also, the material just cannot be stored and printed since it is living cells it needs oxygen to live which is normally achieved by blood vessels exchanging gases (Ventola, Lee). This problem is being looked into by many researchers but recently a collaboration of some of the top universities bio printed a fisable structure of capillaries (Ventola, Lee).
3D printing has a multitude of uses by aiding in the creation of various implants. Due to many implants needing to be custom made 3D printing using polymers and metal has helped in reducing manufacturing costs. In fact, about 99% of hearing aids that are all custom made are done so using 3D printing technology (Ventola, Lee). Not only that, but since 3D printing allowes for even the most irregular geometry of an implant to be mapped and then created its versatility and potential is endless. As such, various hip, spinal, and hip implants can be fabricated using a 3D printer (Ventola, Lee). The most beneficial part of this technology is its use in orthopedic and skull scenarios where an irregular shaped implant is needed (Ventola, Lee). In use for orthopedic implants surgeons must use drills and scalpels to fit the implant to the patient and for patients with skull injuries where part of the skull must be removed to allow the brain to swell the implant that will replace the section of skull is critical in shape to provide the brain protection (Ventola, Lee).
The use of models can be important for the medical industry in terms of teaching new students to planning a major surgery overseen by a team of doctors. The introduction of 3D printing in the process of model making as a result visualizes complex structures ,and other biological material not visible to the naked eye to be seen. Using these often detailed models at Japan’s Kobe University allows the doctors to gain awareness of the anatomy of a patient in liver transplants (Ventola, Lee). Other highly complex procedures that require the use of detailed models such as these include. Using a model of a calcified aorta to plan out how the surgeons will go about to remove the plaque to prevent a heart attack (Ventola, Lee). Even mapping out premature infants lungs in order to determine the best way to study delivering air to the body to help them live (Ventola, Lee).
With the continued advancement of 3D technology in medical procedures there will be difficulty in implementing them. As mentioned before the FDA regulations on certain procedures will impede implementation. While other countries may accept them sooner which may lead people to traveling out of country to get surgery at a cheaper price is the best alternative for most people. Also, patent and copyright concerns arise as these procedures will be developed and with them prices will rise and ethical concerns about access to lifesaving treatments will be made (Ventola, Lee).
Part of the many applications of 3D printing is food preparation by using the printer it is completely automated. This can be done with all kinds of foods and is mainly a way of creating foods that are visually appealing are also meant to enhance the taste and textures of the food (Houser, Franklin). This technology may prove useful in space travel by providing astronauts a certain amount of foods that can be selected (Houser, Franklin). And while all of the previous uses of the 3D printer are practical and are great advances in industry this technology is kind of a hindrance in the food world. Mainly for reasons like mass food production or even spices since the machine cannot tell if somethings is sweet or bland (Houser, Franklin). Also, the speed at which it can create dishes especially at the rate a busy kitchen gets, it would not keep up (Houser, Franklin). The biggest worry for consumers would be how these machines are up kept as every part must be food safe this means daily cleaning and other regiments to avoid any contamination (Huser, Franklin). With all these concerns in mind and with an expensive type of printer meant for food only the use of 3D printing food is really only a curiosity and is not the new kitchen appliance restaurants would look for.
All the possible applications of 3D printing it is a wonder it has not become a household appliance yet. But, technological advancements have made this machine a utility and the future of this device appears to be favorable. But, it is the future and some unconventional uses could be discovered for this device. As a thought now 3D printers can make any type of model it could be possible if IKEA stores got large enough 3D printers and used the right material they could produce their own furniture and may provide an even cheaper solution to home furnishing. One might joke even if accurately printed pieces will still not fit together. Also, in many factories parts are already assembled automatically by machines so it is not impossible to see that business owners would further implement 3D printing to create some of the parts in house instead of ordering them. The downside obviously being that somewhere someone will be out of a job which is nothing new to automation. Maybe 3D printers will be utilized in construction and be an easy way to quickly produce emergency shelter for a lot of people.
But, it is important to see that currently reports of 3D printing are exaggerated but some procedures may very well be developed and further utilize its capabilities. Some of the medical procedures in time can become a staple of the medical world as a surgery to prevent those from dying while waiting for an organ transplant. Also, as mentioned before with developed tasks on a 3D printer may become copyrighted or patented which could affect the market for those that utilize 3D printers.
In conclusion, the effect of 3D printing on industry has only increased and with further development it could become a device not unlike some in science fiction. While not a noteworthy device upon release it soon became the innovative device we know it as today. Some may see 3D printing as only a hobby but when companies like NASA or Ivy League schools invest time and money into this technology it is a tool that can be used for a multitude of industries. From areas of aeronautics to complex surgical procedures it would seem no task is to challenging for these modified 3D printers. What makes them so useful is their capacity to use materials such as polymer, metal, cell material, to even things like food. The use for 3D printing will only go up in demand but it is no doubt that industry will change as a result offering things such as cheaper products to longer lifespans.
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