3D Printing: A New Frontier


Can you really print underwear, human organs and pizza? At the start of December, Nils Peter, and I visited the Experimentarum here in Copenhagen to see what the experts were saying about the future of 3D printing. It was a day well spent…

Experimentarum’s conference put together some of the cleverest minds in Denmark to tell us more about the cutting edge of 3D printing. In Northern Europe, the Danish Technological University (DTU) is leading the research field in 3D printing, and is striving to develop new materials that can be used to help produce structures and topology that, as of now, are only found in nature. We learned, to our surprise, that it is possible to print human cells and get them to function! A human  liver was produced by the American company Organovo, and their latest print survived 40 days of testing.

We are about to enter a new era, because 3D printing is developing quicker than ever. One major factor that will affect the printing market in 2014 is that many of original patents are running out. This freedom to operate will democratize the whole 3D market. New machine types and new materials are on the way!

The traditional method of CNC’ing or molding parts will be complimented or replaced in a big way with 3D printing, giving geometrical freedom that was unthought-of 10 years ago.

Moreover, the future consumers will be much different. They will no longer buy products, instead, they will purchase the licence and code for a product, and then utilize cloud manufacturing to bring it into reality.

To give you a rough overview, 3D printers come in 3 different forms:

  • Wire-based. A thin plastic thread is feed into the machine,and then piped out into one long “sausage” that slowly builds up upon its self to create a part.
  • Powder-based. This type of printer is mainly used with metal printing material. The product is built layer by layer and a projection unit (most often a laser) sinters the material. The outcome is quite porous and is at the moment is used mostly in the medical industry. The technical head at GE Aviation, however, has stated that within 20 years, 50% of all their components (airplane engines) will be printed in super alloys. The patent on the metal printer ends in 2014 and companies in Japan are ready to release their new 2nd generation printers!
  • Resin-based. These printers use a chamber where the material is polymerized. It is used mainly within the dental and hearing aid industry.

Here are some links to show you what happening out there:

3D Printed Shoe
  • Innovation – In fashion it is possible to create interesting designs that have not been seen before, like this shoe from Anastasia Radevich.
3D gift vouchers
Once you gave gift vouchers for products, now you can give gift vouchers for making your own products !
  • New business models are springing up. Companies are now selling 3D printed products, you just select the product or gift you want to buy.
  • Technical adaptation
    • It may soon be possible to print with different materials –  research is focusing on producing leather, cotton, silk on 3D printers.
  • Crowd-driven hub production is emerging, such as companies like shapeways, which works much like the Apple App Store.3d-kids-optimised
  • Image if a consumer could take a picture of their kids, upload it, and get 3D printed dolls back within 14 days. Believe it or not, this is possible right now on this exciting site called Cubify.
  • And for those of you that thought it was impossible to print your own underwear, take a look at this 3D-Printed Underwear (uniquedaily.com).

Want to find out more, we can recommend this blog, “3D printing is cool”, which focuses 100% on 3D printing, with everything from 3D printed trainers to pizza!

I hope you enjoyed this blog.

Emilie Ganouna-Cohen  Intern at Attention 6 Dec 2012

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