A lot has changed since the first 3D-printer was invented more than 30 years ago, and today’s 3D printers are incredibly capable. Here are a few exciting and very different examples of how 3D printing is creating a new world of opportunities.
At Attention, we use our 3D printer all the time for making prototypes of various shapes and sizes. But 3D printing is also increasingly used for actual production, making small and customized production setups practical and financially viable.
What’s even more exciting, are the many ways 3D printing is opening a whole new world of opportunities, with the advances made in printing human organs being just one obvious example. In the world of industrial design, 3D printing has the potential to push and change the very way we look at product design and production.
Cheaper, custom made prosthetic limbs
One of the most powerful cases is probably the way 3D printing can help change the lives of thousands of people in developing countries, who have lost a limb. While conventional prosthetic limbs are expensive and difficult to customize to the individual, 3D printing is a fantastic instrument to break down both barriers.
Project Daniel, for example, has shown that it’s possible to print a simple prosthetic arm in 6 hours, at a cost of around US$ 100 , using a consumer-grade 3D printer.
One very interesting case on how 3D printers can challenge the way we look at both form and functionality is the Exo Prosthetic Leg, which explicitly departs from the dogma that prosthetics should be made to resemble a human limb.
How about a 3D printed car?
Last year, Local Motors presented the world’s first drivable 3D printed car. While the Strati, as the car is named, may not be able to replace your average family sedan, it points to some very exciting perspectives for the future of car manufacturing.
Firstly, 3D printing will allow for a much faster delivery of very customizable cars; the Strati can be printed in about 40 hours. Some parts, like the engine, suspension and tires, can’t be printed, but the entire non-mechanical structure is 3D-printed, so you can tweak most of the car to suit your style and desires.
What may turn out to be even more important for the case of 3D printed cars, is the fact that it allows for a far simpler production setup. For example, the Strati contains only 49 parts, compared to the 25.000 parts of an average car. Another company, Divergent Microfactories, recently presented a modular chassis design to serve as a platform for 3D printed cars.
The design drastically reduces chassis-weight with as much as 90 pct compared to an average car, requiring far less material and energy to produce, allowing for a cleaner, more efficient manufacturing.
3D printing in space – from simple containers to habitats
3D printing is also becoming a vital technology for advances in a completely different sector; deep space exploration. Specially designed 3D printers are already being tested on the International Space Station, and the next challenge is designing a printer that will work in the cold vacuum of actual outer space.
With the ambition to go deeper into space on future missions, re-supplying on equipment will become increasingly difficult and expensive. Consequently, the ability to print-on-demand e.g. containers, which are used in large amounts for testing and collecting samples, will be crucial for longer missions.
But the ambitions go a lot further than that. Currently, NASA is hosting a competition to develop architectural concepts for 3D printed habitats on distant destinations, like Mars. Part of the challenge is also to find new ways of using available materials, even including waste, for the 3D printing process.