11 Promises for 3-D Printers: Products to Planets

1. Consumer Products

Have an idea? Make it real. Not hard nowadays.

3-D printers can develop product prototypes for testing before mass production. Quirky uses a quarter-million dollar printer that allows a community of users to design and refine products; everyone gets a piece of the pie if the product sells at Amazon, Target, or other large stores.

Individual users can design and even sell their own items with help from companies like Shapeways, Ponoko, and Cubify; some people have entire storefronts on Etsy that only sell 3-D printed items, like CarryTheWhat Replications.

2. Jewelry and Flowers

Forgot your anniversary? Last-minute Valentine’s gift? It’s late;all the stores are closed…what are you going to do?

Have no fear, 3-D print is here! From jewelry to flowers to, yes, even chocolate, 3-D printers take care of your last-minute gift needs, and now print precious metals.

3. Body Parts

Cars go when fixed…can people?

In a medical first, an elderly woman got a new lower jaw from a 3-D printer. Her jaw had developed a serious bone infection. After they finished the CAD drawings, the titanium replacement created by Layerwise took a few hours to print, was inserted in a fifth the time of reconstructive surgery, and allowed the woman to chew and talk right after surgery.

Research is being conducted to print bone scaffolds that can fix broken bones, jawbones, and fuse spines (sounds nice). 3-D printers can create blood vessels, artificial limbs, and mummy replicas. Someday, but perhaps not in our lifetimes, they could be used to print entire organs.

My question is: if worn-out parts can be replaced, will your human body ever wear out?

4. Robots

Jumping spiders and made-to-order robot replicas: I for one can’t get enough of robots.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer organization in Germany have designed a robot spider that’s printed around its mechanical parts. The spider can jump and crawl in places where few robots could, making it ideal for rescue operations. One day, the robot spider could be fitted with cameras and sensors to help its missions.

On the other hand, if you just want to print some robot buddies, then go to MyRobotNation, where you can design your own robot figurine with assorted parts, features, and colors, and then submit it for 3-D printing. Sizes range from 2”- 6”, and there are often special holiday-related robotic attachments.

5. Masks

Stare at yourself staring back.

I could get a mask of my own face. I could wear it to meetings and look perpetually interested, or peacefully take a snooze with the same plastered look on my face.

The Japanese company REAL-f can make an identical copy of your face, right down to its individual pores and eye vasculature.

Maybe I’ll wear one of my wife…after all, imitation is the best form of flattery.

6. Micro → Macro

3-D printers can make models of the microscopic world, from molecules, proteins, and DNA to carbon nanotubes and buckyballs. Any little thing with a three-dimensional structure can be printed.

These would be handy for educational purposes, but I’ll be honest, I don’t know what else it could be used for, but it would be cool to hold the microscopic world in my hand…and actually be able to see it.

7. Fashion

Dresses, swimsuits, shoes, even eyeglasses…design it, print it.

Designer Jiri Evenhuis said  “Instead of producing textiles by the meter, then cutting and sewing them into final products, this concept has the ability to make needle and thread obsolete.”

Now if I had the fashion sense for these infinite possibilities.

3D Printing Process: ‘The FOC Punch Bag’ from Freedom Of Creation on Vimeo.

8. Food

Extrude your food!

Not the most appetizing catch phrase, but food printers can produce unique patterns with anything pasty, like icing, chocolate, or masa (corn meal). So decorating cakes and cookies is a snap, as are made-to-order corn-chip shapes…DaVinci…or poodle with salsa, anyone?

I honestly don’t know what a “scallop nugget” is, but apparently they’ve made one that looks like a space shuttle.

All well and good, but what about made-to-order banana splits and cheeseburgers? Something about an extruded sandwich just doesn’t make my mouth water.

In the future, 3-D printers could combine proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and other components into tasty meals with all the right proportions, with the design of it up to you.

You could make your steak look like chicken, your ice cream taste like bacon and your morning toast like cotton candy!

9. Moon Colony

You can extrude a 3-D moon colony.

Robots are sent to the moon, turn the regolith into cement, and extrude structures layer-by-layer. “Contour Crafting” is a process created by University of Southern California engineer Behrokh Khoshnevis, who says that once developed, it could build a 2,000 square foot house in only 24 hours. It’s being supported by a NASA research grant, and could one day build lunar houses before we even get there.

If they could extrude a vanilla ice cream house in the middle of winter, that would be fun.

10. Cities

Imagine robot construction everywhere.

Vehicles assemble entire cities for optimal social interaction and environmental sustainability.

Social engineer, futurist, and inventor Jacque Fresco envisions a total redesign of our culture that, among other things, includes modular structures that robots build for us. The Venus Project is not just about robot construction, though; Jacque has all sorts of plans that any aspiring futurist should check out.

Any shape is possible too…even crop-circle shape.

11. Planets

In Moonrise and Moonwar, Ben Bova writes about how nanites construct moon bases, inter-planetary spaceships, rocket fuel, and pretty much everything in-between. His little robots provide plenty of conflict with the (proverbial and well-executed) plotline, “what-happens-if-the-nanites-go-berserk?”

Someday the simplest, tiniest machine might transform entire planets for us.

3-D print a planet. I’ll bet some company will someday offer custom-carved asteroids. They’ll send little robots to the belt, and before you know it, a giant rock hurtling through space will be the shape of your head.

Get your own 3-D printer!

Makerbot offers a reasonably-priced consumer model, and claims that if you get one, you’ll never have to buy gifts for anyone ever again.

Whatever the case, this technology continues to advance. This is one of those leaps in technology that takes engineering, medicine, food, and consumer goods to an entirely new level.

Expect it to be a big part of our future.

What would you print in 3-D? What would you design?

3 thoughts on “11 Promises for 3-D Printers: Products to Planets

  1. Love nanites. They are fantastic pieces of creativity and Ben Bova’s not the only one who uses them (unless he writes under a pseudonym, too). They do have the potential to go berserker and wreak havoc. But they are still one of my favourite created things.

    I’ve heard of 3-D printing but until now, didn’t know I’d ever seen it. What a great invention!

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