3D printing may seem like a science fiction fantasy to some, but in fact significant strides have been made in recent years towards developing 3D printing solutions. There has been a focus on creating 3D printers that are priced effectively for regular people to be able to afford them. 3D printing is being developed to address a wide array of different problems and is starting to get close to offering solutions for the military, to build houses, and even to create human organs. The innovations in this industry are quite outstanding.
Looking at the example of house building in particular, in 2013 and reporting for MSN, Mark Hattersley explained that a 3D printer is being tested that can build a house in just 24 hours. The concrete printer is hailed as “revolutionary” and with the ability to build a 2,500 square foot home. The technology is known as Contour Crafting. It could be used to create shelter for people living in dire circumstances, replacing slums. Indeed, this has very interesting ramifications for dealing with poverty and natural disasters. As explained by Mark Hattersley:
“After an event such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which has displaced almost 600,000 people, Contour Crafting could be used to build replacement homes quickly”.
The system is basically a robot that automates tools that would previously have been used for manually building. The only interventions that humans would have to do would be to clear the land and level the site, lay rails down and then ultimately hang doors and put in the windows. Of course all of this also brings positive change in terms of health and safety, avoiding the accidents that all-too-commonly seem to occur in building sites. One criticism is that buildings could all end up looking the same, but the critics have been told that the computer programme can be altered to get a different look for the house. There are also concerns regarding construction worker unemployment as a result of this technology that need to be addressed.
3D printing of human organs
Another very exciting innovation in this area is the research into 3D printing of human organs which was reported on by Brandon Briggs on CNN in 2014. There is still much research to do in this area, but as Briggs explains:
“While printing whole human organs for surgical transplants is still years away, the technology is advancing rapidly”.
It is explained by Briggs that the process to build the organs is not that difficult. The problematic part is the materials themselves from which to print the organs, since these are biological and not easy to work with. For example, Briggs outlines that building inanimate objects is easier because body cells will die if they are not stored in a way that keeps them fresh. The way that 3D printing of cells, tissues and organs works is that scientists use human cells and let them multiply. This is then inserted into a 3D printer that can arrange the cell types. The ramifications of this type of technology are quite outstanding, though there is still some way to go.
There are many other different ways in which 3D printing is already being used in a very innovative way, and Charlie Osborne reports on these in ZDNet in 2014. For example, did you know that UK fighter jets have already flown with parts that were built using 3D printing technology ? Staying with the military theme, according to Charlie Osborne a company called Defense Distributed has developed and released blueprints for 3D-printed parts with a focus on guns. A gun was constructed using the technology and this fired 200 rounds with no problems identified. Of course there are issues associated potentially with the use of this technology and it would be problematic if it got into the wrong hands.
Ceramic 3D printing has also been achieved, and it is argued that this could have a positive effect on the costs of manufacturing. Human faces have also been created in this way, and a man from Cardiff had his face reconstructed as a result of 3D printing. 3D printing innovations also extend to cars, artificial limbs and prosthetics and drones.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.