MOSCOW, September 11 (RIA Novosti) - Making itself known to the public just a few years ago as a technology capable of producing plastic widgets such as jewelry, figurines and cellphone cases, 3D printing has gained recognition as a serious innovation which may change our everyday lives. Recently the technology has been used to manufacture more and more useful things: this week in Chicago, a 3D-printed car was presented which had been created in just 44 hours.
The car was manufactured by the US-based, crowdsource-funded company Local Motors on-sight at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Illinois. Called the “Strati,” it features only 47 parts; its few mechanical components, including its powertrain, battery, wiring, and suspension, are connected to the carbon-fiber reinforced ABS plastic vehicle using only 32 bolts. The car was fully assembled and driven off the showroom floor by the exhibition’s end on Sunday.
The Strati is not the first fully-functional 3D-printed vehicle, but it is the fastest-created, simplest, and cheapest vehicle to have been made using the technology so far, taking just a few days and about $7,000 to make. Local Motors hopes to reduce the time necessary to make the car to just one day, allowing car-buyers to pick out or even create a completely customized new vehicle for order in a matter of hours.
Automobile manufacturing is not the only sphere where BAAM (big area additive manufacturing) 3D printer technology has been used. Ambitious New York architect Adam Kushner has already designed an entire estate which may be made out of 3D-printed components. The project will use a revolutionary technology capable of creating stone-like objects out of a magnesium-based binder of sand particles which has been pioneered by the Italian company D-Shape. The project, to be built in Gardiner, New York, has already been approved by the local department of buildings, and will include a 4-bedroom, 2,400 square foot home, along with a swimming pool. Analyzing the use of 3D printers for creating a variety of plastic trinkets, Kushner said that the idea quickly came to him to explore “the bigger potential for 3D printers in the construction industry,” as 3D printing news site 3DPrint.com reported.
And if you need clothing to go along with your future 3D-printed car and house, avant-garde clothing designers such as Iris Van Herpen will have you covered.
Advances in the materials available for 3D-printed clothing may soon expand fashion designers’ opportunities to print ready-made clothing and other soft items, something beyond the capabilities of the flexible plastic and polymer compounds being used today.
Another, more dangerous area where 3D printing is sure to make an impact is that of weapons manufacturing, both by governments and individuals. Governments have already shown concern that 3D-printed guns could soon be made by individuals using plans freely available on the internet. Requiring a firing pin, a spring, and bullets, the plastic guns will have the potential to create problems in gun control, and for conventional weapons detectors, which may not be able to detect the odd weapons.
Regarding government use of the technology, Joris Peels of the blog Inside3DP.com has noted that he is “very uneasy at the prospects of militaries using 3D printing,” but noted that there is little doubt that “they are researching and investing in it and that [it] will occur at scale.” 3D printing technology can be used for making everything from soldiers’ gear to drones, as well as advanced components for things like rockets. NASA has already publicized its recent experimentation with the technology to create cost-effective rocket parts, according to Nature.
In medicine, 3D-printed components made out of plastic and other non-organic materials have been proposed and developed over the years, including prosthetic limbs, dentures, components for facial and ear surgery, and even bone replacement. However, some of the most exciting developments, which are being researched by companies like Organovo and universities around the world, are the attempts to create fully-functional organs using 3D printing technologies, including kidneys, hearts, and even blood vessels.
The process involves the creation of an artificial shell of an organ, which can then be seeded with cloned stem cells to create working living tissue which won’t be rejected by the body. Investigating the topic, British technology blog MakeUseOf.com notes that the potential of these technologies might mean “an unlimited supply of bio-compatible organs,” which could “drastically [change] the nature of medicine.”
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has been around since the early 1980s, and has been used most notably in the auto industry to create prototypes of vehicles designed using computer-aided design (CAD) systems. However, only recently have prices for the technology dropped enough for tech-savvy consumers to use and even create 3D printers themselves, and for innovative business startups to start looking for ways to revolutionize processes in automotive manufacturing, construction, medicine and many other areas.