3D printing is one of the most fascinating technologies to come along in quite some time. Few would disagree with that notion, and yet many don’t quite realize the full extent of the technology’s implications. We see it demonstrated now and then, and most have some idea of what it might be capable of. But learning more about how and where 3D printing is really being put to use only makes the technology seem that much more incredible. For that reason, we’re writing here about some of the most exciting 3D printing possibilities that have emerged since the technology first came about.
1. Surgical Implants
Back in 2018, we published a story about a 3D-printed implant saving the life of a dog, specifically by helping to reproduce the original shape of the dog’s skull after it was altered in the removal of a tumor. This 3D-printed implant quite literally contributed to saving the animal’s life, and as the story spread, it raised questions about whether or not the same thing could be accomplished in human medicine. This story did not directly cause people to begin researching the idea of medical implants for human operations. Since the success with the dog, however, we have been hearing and seeing more about 3D-printed parts being applied similarly in human medicine, from implanted pacemakers to replacement tissue.
2. Startup Prototypes
It’s less specific, but maybe the most important shift that’s occurred in 3D printing is that it’s become a more feasible option for smaller companies and individuals, as opposed to being reserved for larger industries and applications. This is thanks largely to improving commercial 3D printing services. Among its resources covering this technology, Fictiv explains that custom-ordered 3D-printed parts and prototypes can be designed as fast as 24 hours and then shipped back for validation, which opens up all sorts of amazing possibilities for entrepreneurs and startups who want to experiment with products. Specifically, a customer can choose a material, pick a particular version of printing technology, and provide a design from which a near-instant prototype will be made. This will lend countless startups the ability to assess and test products they may otherwise never have gotten around to making.
3. Art & Fashion
Art and fashion have proven to represent surprisingly busy possibilities in the realm of 3D printing. Early on, we thought of this technology as dealing predominantly with plastics and ceramics, and producing somewhat blocky, solid products. As 3D printing has improved, however, a greater variety of compatible materials and a virtually limitless capacity to handle complex design have opened the door to art and fashion applications. Now, various companies and individuals are producing everything from sculptures and ornate figurines to dresses and accessories, with each design seemingly more creative and interesting than the last. It’s quite possible that art and fashion together will come to represent one of the most high-volume categories for 3D printing.
Perhaps because 3D printing can so easily be used to create small models, people began to wonder fairly early on if it could also be used to make full-scale buildings and assist with other construction projects. People have gone back and forth on the likelihood of 3D printing establishing a meaningful place in the world of construction, but Engineering.com pointed out that the idea is proving to be more than overhyped promises, and is beginning to produce some fascinating real-world results. What is already beyond doubt is that 3D-printed materials and sections of constructions can certainly be used to expedite larger projects. But what we’ve begun to see more of is the use of construction-scale technology literally printing out entire structures – sometimes as big as two-story houses.
This is somewhat related to the idea of medical implants in that it’s another potentially game-changing idea for the healthcare industry. Still, the possibilities of 3D printing prosthetics are beginning to become apparent, and they’re incredibly exciting. Creating prosthetics through this technology cuts costs, makes the pieces more adjustable (such that a growing child in need of a prosthetic can upgrade when needed), and can in some cases speed up the process. Naturally there’s still plenty of other significant technology that goest into making the 3D-printed parts fully useful, but as a sort of foundation for new-age prosthetics, 3D printing is a wonder.