The phrase “3-D Printing” might actually be misleading, but getting the real gist of the process only makes it seem more incredible. While the “printer” is actually a machine that utilizes anything from metals to ceramics to plaster, it still follows the instructions sent from a desktop or notebook running computer-aided design (CAD) or animation modeling software, much in the same way we send Word documents to ink printers.
The software transforms the designs into cross sections, which become the physical layers applied during printing. 3-D printing is also referred to as “additive manufacturing,” which is a fancy way of saying that it builds things, layer by layer, as opposed to “subtractive manufacturing,” which creates items by removing material (by cutting, carving, etc.)
As a simplistic example, in the movie “The Fifth Element,” futuristic scientists rebuild the body of the “perfect being,” starting with bone material, moving on to muscle and then giving the form its final layer – skin. In contrast, Michelangelo’s “David” is a fine example of subtractive manufacturing; the “David” was carved from a piece of supposedly flawed marble; every curve and line on that most harmonious of figures exists because Michelangelo chipped away the layer above it.
And speaking of masterpieces, while 3-D printers are still just a bit too expensive for everyday home use (MakerBot has a 3-D printing kit available for a cool $1,000- try using your discount printer cartridge in that), those lucky enough to have access to them have done some pretty amazing things. Jewelry, clothing, models of just about anything you can imagine, even busts of famous celebrities…3-D printing is a true modern marvel. Check out these too cool examples below:
1. Human Organs
While not ready to be delivered inside human bodies quite yet, a company based in San Diego, CA called Organovo, has used 3-D printer technology to develop the NovoGen MMX Bioprinter, which “prints” human cells and shapes them into 3-D tissue. Suddenly, that previously mentioned scene from “The Fifth Element” doesn’t seem so futuristic.
On that note, scientists and others in the health field can hook up CT scanners to 3-D printers and create exact replicas of human bones, a quicker and more accurate process than casts or molds.
3. A Bikini
It’s called the “N12” and it was designed and created by Continuum Fashion, which describes itself as “part fashion label, part experimental design lab.” The high-tech swim suit is named after the material from whence it comes, Nylon 12, a strong yet porous material.
4. Wedding Rings
An employee at 3-D printing company, Shapeways, got a considerable workplace perk when he designed and printed his and his fiancé’s wedding rings. The lucky guy used the 3-D modeling program Blender and was able to personalize his fiancé’s ring with a Beatles lyric. True love and technology: what a beautiful thing.
Dental plan! Believe it or not, those Invisalign braces are the product of 3-D printing technology. Instead of a mouth full of metal, you get barely-there orthodontic genius, with the actual dental wear drawn from scanned teeth data.
It’s every Carrie-Bradshaw-via-Vera-Wang wannabe’s dream: designing and manufacturing your own shoes. Like so many things, though, fashion design is perhaps best left to the professionals, like Pauline van Dongen, who added stunning 3-D printed platforms to her repertoire with her 2010 Morphogenesis Shoe Design collection.
7. Miniature House Replicas
Building a house from the bottom up can be one of the most stressful experiences out there and that’s before you even break ground. Don’t break ground until you have gone to i.materialise.com and printed out a dollhouse-size version of your dream home, giving you the ultimate visualization of the finished product.
You’ll need to fill your perfect new home with something, right? Not only is furniture made with 3-D technology higher quality than most low-price goods, design-wise it’s at once intricate and seductive.
9. Chess Sets
3-D printing is great for all manner of toys and games, but for the cultured intellectual who likes leather-bound books and Scotch, a personalized chess set will knock their horn-rimmed glasses off. Check out Shapeways.com.
10. Stephen Colbert’s Head
Those funny people over at MakerBot printed out a bust of Stephen Colbert’s head and then sent it via weather balloon into space. If that’s not an impressive and significant use of modern-day technology…what is?
This blog post was written by Peter Darner. Peter is a computer engineer and makes sure to always stay up to date with all the latest technology.