3D printers are so embedded in our society now that we feel like they’ve been around forever! However, the 3D printer was only first conceptualised in 1986, when the first patent was issued for stereolithography apparatus (SLA). This patent belonged to one Charles (Chuck) Hull, who first invented his SLA machine in 1983. Hull went on to co-found 3D Systems Corporation—one of the largest and most prolific organisations operating in the 3D printing sector today.
So how far have we really come in thirty years? How much does 3D printing currently impact the world we live in?
The medical profession is seeing unique advantages developing as a result of 3D printing. 3D printed materials can be used for prosthetics and smart bandages and research is ongoing as to the possibility of 3D printed organs, or 3D printed solutions to common but deadly health concerns such as heart disease. On top of this, the ability to use 3D printed products for testing procedures, teaching students and exploring new treatment avenues for existing diseases, is opening doors to new possibilities and improving knowledge across the sector.
Environmental issues are at the top of many government agendas and as the world faces uncertainty in relation to the effects of climate change, 3D printing technology is being used to assist in a variety of troubling scenarios.
In Australia, 3D printed coral reef is helping scientists to better understand the structure of coral reef, with the hope of uncovering how the Great Barrier might be rejuvenated.
Plastic waste is a global problem. However, a company in India partnered with litter pickers to recycle discarded plastic into filament for 3D printers. This not only helps to repurpose the plastic but gives local employees fair wages and working conditions.
Research has suggested that 3D printers may be able to help tackle the shortage in affordable houses, by 3D printing parts made from concrete and steel. Dubai, for example, already has one of the world’s first 3D printed offices!
Using 3D printing to produce food is a dream that is finally becoming a reality. Printers are already able to make items such as chocolate, but now, technology is so advanced it is possible to 3D print foods such as pizza from fresh ingredients. Having huge implications on reducing world hunger, improving the nutrition in food and lowering our carbon footprint, 3D printing food has the potential to revolutionise our society.
This is the next stage for 3D printing and involves the production of an item which can react to stimuli post production. For example, Georgia Tech, Singapore University of Technology and Design and Xi’an Jiaotong University have been working on 3D printed objects that change their shape when the temperature changes. These experiments may pave the way for the production of items with differing stimuli and not just heat, which has a significant number of application possibilities.
It’s certainly remarkable what 3D printing has already accomplished; the scope for what it might be able to do in the future is vast. What’s the most amazing thing you’ve seen which has been 3D printed? Let us know in the comments below!