A ball gown, a gun, and an ear. What do these objects have in common? All three can be created on a 3D printer; a computer-directed machine capable of building any object layer by layer. This new, rapidly evolving technology has been used in the aerospace and automotive industries for decades. Now, this revolutionary technology is expanding into the home and could change our lives in many unexpected ways. According to Forbes, the market is expected to reach 21 billion dollars worldwide by 2020. Here are five ways we expect 3D printers to directly affect our lives:
1. Hair and Makeup products
For years, beauty companies have struggled to find safe ways to test their products. Countries like China demand animal testing in specialist products such as hair dyes, sunscreen, and antiperspirants. L’Oreal recently partnered with Organavo, a human tissue company, to print 3D human skin for product testing. With this new 3D printing technology, we can all look forward to a day when our makeup and hair products are tested on printed skin rather than mice and rabbits.
TurboRoo the Chihuahua and Derby the dog were both born with deformed front legs. Through the use of 3D printing technology, both learned how to walk. Pushing with his two back legs, TurboRoo now effectively moves on a cart that is custom-built to his body. Derby runs two to three miles a day thanks to a set of 3D printed prosthetic legs. Using 3D Printing technology is faster and more efficient than sculpting new legs, makes the prosthetics easy to replace, and gives both of these dogs a chance at an active life.
3. Human Organs
Scientists have successfully printed human ears, noses, skull bones, jawbones, tracheas, skin sections, bladders, arteries, and fat. Larger, more complex organs like livers and hearts are in the process of being developed. Today, over one hundred thousand people in the United States are waiting for an organ donation. Printing functional organs will save thousands of lives by allowing patients to receive organ donations fairly quickly instead of being placed on an extensive and potentially fatal wait-list.
3D printing is revolutionizing dentistry. 3D printers are capable of creating teeth, crowns, veneers, and inlays in a single appointment. A digital camera placed in the patient’s mouth generates a 3D image of the damaged tooth onscreen, design software quickly fits the image to the new part, and a 3D printer in the office prints the new tooth immediately. Whereas this process would have previously taken multiple appointments and countless hours, with 3D printing technology, it is now efficient, easy, and reliable.
Even food can be printed! A NASA-funded project created a 3D printer that makes pizza. The machine has three nozzles to print dough, cheese, and sauce. By using these ingredients as the “ink” of the machine, layer-by-layer the printer slowly builds a pizza good enough to eat. Chocolate, carrots, cookies, ravioli; the list of foods that can be printed, like the list of opportunities this technology provides, is limitless.