3D printing is slowly but surely finding its place in manufacturing. In recent years, the technology has become much more accessible to the general population. Today, 3D printers are often available at libraries, and office supply stores frequently sell them to customers who make figurines, hardware and other small items.
But there are those thinking about bigger, more complex projects. Here are five unbelievable creations from 3D printers.
One day, construction companies may garage all that earth-moving equipment and instead use 3D-printing robots. Earlier this year, researchers at MIT announced that they've developed a 3D-printing robot that can construct a building. The construction-oriented robot has one large robotic arm and a smaller robotic arm at the tip. While the larger arm moves around the structure, the smaller arm sprays concrete, insulation, and other materials to build the structure in roughly 14 hours. But don't count on moving in just yet: The current buildings are dome-shaped and, at least for now, seem best suited for environments hostile to construction.
As unbelievable as it seems, firearms can be built using the most common type of 3D printing, known as fused deposition modeling (FDM). FDM is the primary method used to make working 3D-printed guns. Those with an in-home 3D printer can download the necessary files from Defense Distributed. Gun-control advocates have voiced their fears about this ability; however, concerns about controlling or regulating 3D printable firearms may be a bit premature, as it takes considerable skill to build a gun this way. In addition, the explosive force of firing a bullet is generally too powerful for most thermoplastics used in 3D printers. To address that shortcoming, some hybrid firearms that comprise parts made from separate 3D metal and plastic printers are in development.
#3 Musical Instruments
On a more peaceful note, acoustic guitars, fiddles and flutes are just a few instruments that have been created out of metal and/or plastic using 3D printing. Some of those instruments look very different from their traditional counterparts, yet still render impressive sound quality. Stringed instruments are especially popular for 3D printers. For example, Harris Matzaridis’s ViolinoDigitale project combines 3D-printing technology with luthierie, the term for traditional violin-making techniques.
#4 Medical Models
Custom 3D-printed medical models could improve the experience of doctors and patients because the printing of the models is so accurate. Surgeons use them to plan a surgery or simulate a procedure before the patient actually goes under the knife. Applications include orthopedics, oncology, oral and maxillofacial, trauma and transplant surgery. 3-D reproductions of CTs or MRIs give doctors more information than they can gather from traditional scans, so they can more accurately diagnose and determine treatment for a specific patient. In July, for example, a 3-D printed brain model [like the one in the photo above] helped surgeons save a 60-year-old patient with a cerebral aneurysm.
From bikinis to blouses to boots, 3D printing can create clothing that fits every customer perfectly. With the help of software that collects their body measurements, shoppers can get garments that fit precisely, with less material waste. The challenge is in selecting printing materials that are flexible and soft, rather than rigid and rough. It’s not as easy as simply altering the original material’s makeup. Often, that leads to a final product that is brittle and likely to shatter.
3-D printing has evolved considerably from the turn of the 21st century, when the technology was a victim of its own hype. Today, printers are capable of creating products using various media, so popularity has increased. And the cost of the hardware continues to drop. As more and more industries investigate how 3D printing can benefit them, the technology will steadily approach its tremendous potential, a market estimated to reach $32.78 billion by 2023.
Content sponsored by Digi-Key Electronics.