The answer is, probably not much yet, but that’s about to change. 3D printing has been around since the 1980s, making jewellery, toys, furniture, cars and more, but the technology has become cheaper, more popular and more advanced since 2000.
The present and the future for 3D printing look exciting, and it’s all thanks to inventive engineering. London’s Design Museum is currently running an exhibition called The Future is Here, where you can find out more. We’ve been inspired to take a look at five current and future uses for this amazing engineering technology…
Futuristic meaty treats
Engineers have already created a chocolate printing machine. In Japan, chocolate lovers have been scanning their faces into a computer before eating chocolate-y versions of themselves, but living cells are rather more difficult.
Dutch scientists recently unveiled a £250,000 artificially laboratory-grown, stem-cell burger, and American company Modern Meadow is hoping to create a meat printer with a “bio-ink” cartridge containing live cells. Meat printing fans say this modern meat will be more environmentally friendly, healthier and will mean less animal slaughter, even as global meat-demand increases.
Grand Designs for hermit crabs
As hermit crabs grow they need to “move up the property ladder” and climb into larger sea shells to protect their soft abdomens. But why use a boring old shell if you can parade about majestically in a fairy tale palace, or under or the New York skyline? It’s surely what every homeless crab has dreamed about since they were a little nipper…
Japanese artist Aki Inomata captured 3D images of the inside of an abandoned sea shell using x-ray scanners to create a home that would fit a crab’s needs. He then used computer modelling software to design these small but spectacular shelters and brought them to life with a 3D printer.
Print your own property
3D printed homes are not just for crabs, and in the future we’re likely to see robots making spaces for humans to live and work in. Creative homeowners will be able to design their own homes using Computer Aided Design (CAD) software before sending the information to the robot manufacturers. For example, a Dutch company, Universal Architecture, are planning the spectacular and unusual “Landscape House” using the world’s largest 3D printer, D-Shape.
It’s not just about personalised designs though. Behrokh Khoshnevis, an engineering professor at the University of Southern California (USC), says 3D printing will make the construction industry safer and more efficient. He suggests “printed” buildings could replace shanty towns in developing countries, which are often over-populated and unsafe. They might also use the technology to build on inhospitable environments, like the moon! Watch his TED Talk for more…
James Bond film props
If you’ve ever seen 007 in action, you’ll know he can be quite reckless with very nice vehicles, which can get very expensive!
For Bond’s most recent outing, Skyfall, German 3D printing company Voxeljet created 1:3 scale replicas of Bond’s 1960 Aston Martin DB5 using a VX4000 3D printer. The parts were assembled and painted in London before being blown up in the film’s explosive climax, while the original Aston lives on to Die Another Day.
An 83-year old woman from the Netherlands had her entire lower jaw replaced with a new titanium printed jaw. The patient had a bone infection called osteomyelitis and surgery to reconstruct her jaw wouldn’t have been possible because of her age.
Scientists are also looking at whether it will be possible to 3D print body parts such as heart valves and even whole organs.
To find out more about The Future is Here at the Design Museum, take a look at their website.
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