Innovation | June 3, 2022

Everything is printable

3D printing is becoming more and more present in our daily lives. For more than 30 years it has been used at an industrial level for specific applications, but it is getting closer and closer to the consumer sector. It is a sector in constant evolution and growth, an industry expected to reach a market volume of 32.8 billion USD by 2023.

Chocolate, the sweetest 3D printing material.

Much more common than it may seem to us, 3D printing with chocolate is among the most widely used methods. The process is similar to FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printing but with different cooling properties than plastic. Well-known companies such as Hershey’s have developed projects and even specialised printers for chocolate printing.

Recycled plastic.

The speed of adoption of 3D technology at a user level is unstoppable. More and more people are taking low-cost printers into their homes for DIY, or "Do it Yourself" projects. In line with this trend, projects such as Filabot or Strooder have been developed to convert plastic waste from household waste into filament for 3D printing in a cheap, functional, and sustainable way.

Human cells

In bioprinting, cellular structures, including human ones, are made from bioink loaded with stem cells, which are deposited layer by layer to generate skin, tissue, bone, and even organs. Although the technology is in an early period of maturity, there are exciting projects outlining what is to come. Joint research at Weill Cornell Medical College and Cornell University of Bioengineering has successfully developed an almost identical, human-like ear using 3D printing. Injectable gels composed of living cells have been used.

Printers of the future

Foodini food printer

In Star Trek, futuristic replicants create fully formed food. The closest thing to that here on Earth is the Foodini, a prototype 3D printer developed by Barcelona-based Natural Machines. The Foodini can print dough, sauce, minced meat, and other food materials to create perfectly formed pizzas, chicken nuggets or even ravioli.

Self-replicating printers

Self-replicating printers are capable of making copies of themselves to build other 3D printers. This could have a pedagogical purpose as the idea is that they could be used in educational institutions and teach how to use design software. These self-printable printers could help mass adoption of the technology. There is a large online community of hobbyists sharing their models and knowledge on collaborative platforms to encourage the development and growth of the technology and make it more accessible.

«Made in Space» 3D Printer

Most 3D printers rely on gravity, with material falling from an extruder onto a printing plate layer by layer to build objects from the ground up. But what if you wanted to print something in space, where there is no gravity? California-based engineering company Made in Space is working on a 3D printer that can print in zero gravity. And they're getting closer: a Made in Space prototype will be sent to the International Space Station for testing. We can't wait to see the results.

Most curious uses

Your unborn child in 3D

Among impatient parents, the option of taking home a 3D replica of their unborn child is an increasingly popular souvenir. Going one step further, the Japanese company Fasotec is taking advantage this business niche, and offers you its product "Shape of the Angel". Created through an MRI scan, an image of your child is dimensionally shaped through software, before being manufactured using white resin and a 3D printer. If a photo isn't enough, take home a 3D model of the future member of the family for the bargain price of $1000.

Synthetic meat

Food production in the future may become a problem. The human population is growing and with it, our need for meat. Beyond scientists trying to create test-tube meat in laboratories to prepare for the possible crisis, the Thiel Foundation has granted funding to US biotech company Modern Meadow to try to create bioprinted meat. The company wants to use 3D printing to create synthetic meat in a way that consumes fewer resources while still meeting the human need for protein.

Houses on Mars

Many construction and infrastructure companies are introducing 3D printing into their processes, either fully or partially, achieving never-before-seen shapes and designs and taking imagination to the next level. Beyond the earth, the application of 3D printing to housing construction also has ramifications for the space programme as the technology offers a wide range of possibilities for manufacturing in hard-to-reach locations or hostile atmospheres. In planning a mission to Mars, NASA faces the challenge of creating a shelter for the people who will live on the red planet. To this end, it has launched the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge.

These examples show us that the human imagination has no limits, thanks to 3D printing and continuous innovation, we can materialise our wildest ideas.

Food, clothing, meat, jewellery, houses, ceramics, human fabrics, electronics... few sectors escape the adoption of this versatile technology.

We hear the first rumours about adaptive materials and 4D printing... What will be the next step?


Written by Abraham, Radical innovation Intern at TheCUBE


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