3D Printing

Photo: AirWolf3D, Wikimedia Commons
Photo: AirWolf3D, Wikimedia Commons

Life has been pretty interesting in the past few weeks. I met awesome people and found out lots of new things. One subject that particularly interested me was 3D printing. After watching a brief introduction on it online, I thought, life is going to get even more interesting now, with 3D printing being made available to majority of us in the near future.

3D printing lets you create a three dimensional object by building it layer by layer, one on top of the other, until the entire object is complete. The printer would require a Computer Aided Design (CAD) file before it is able to start printing. The CAD file can be created from square one or from a model created by a 3D scanner. The digital model in the CAD file will then be separated into many layers, which then will be printed to form a real 3D object.

Can’t wait to own a 3D printer of your own? Well, they can be rather expensive now, but hey, look on the bright side: they’re getting cheaper and cheaper. Soon, you might be able to have one for a couple hundred dollars. The cheapest out there, as of now, is the Peachy Printer which costs USD $100 and uses resin as a print material. The Peachy Printer doesn’t require microprocessors, bearings and frames to keep the printing platform flat, making it much cheaper to produce. And when things are less costly to produce, they are more likely to be cheaper in the market. The only thing is…it’s currently not on sale. The developers sold the printer during the Kickstarter campaign and will start selling it again after it is over. I guess this is the “in-between” junction then.

Initially, I felt sceptical about 3D printing because it’s not every day that you get to see 3D printing in action. What can it really do? Well, here’s what I found:

Organs: Skin (the largest organ of the body) can now be 3D printed, though scientists and doctors are trying to find ways to print skin directly onto burn victims.

Dinosaur bone replicas: They can now be produced by using Computed Tomography (CT) scans and 3D printers! The CT scan helps create a digital model of the fossil and with the aid of the 3D printer, voila! The dinosaur bone is “cloned”!

Human stem cells: Researchers at the University of Edinburgh made a printer that can create droplets of embryonic stem cells. Stem cells are unspecialized cells in the body that have the potential to become skin cells, nerve cells, muscle cells, hair cells, blood cells or any other cell in the body. Stem cells have the potential to restore damaged tissue.

Clothes: Architect Francis Bitonti and fashion designer Michael Schmidt printed a 3D dress. The dress has 2,500 intersecting joint pieces linked together manually, and embellished with 12,000 Swarovski crystals.

Guns: Solid Concepts, an engineering firm, has made the first 3D printed metal gun. 50 rounds have been fired and 500 more are planned to be fired to prove that the gun is stable and in full working condition. But don’t ever 3D print a gun if you don’t have a firearms licence!

Artwork: Singaporean artist, Jeremy Sharma, used 3D printing technology to create his artwork Terra Sensa-Lovell, an installation comprising of 3D mountains and valleys printed on high density polystyerene foam. This artwork is featured in the Singapore Biennale 2013. Feel free to check it out in the Singapore Art Museum!

The 3D printer has the potential to make many great things, and I’m pretty sure the future will be chock full of possibilities. Just think about it – successful printing of organs and dinosaur bones? It’s pretty mind-blowing, isn’t it?

Rebecca Lee is a Junior College student who had undergone internship at Science Centre Singapore (SCS) in Nov/ Dec 2013. She has written this blog post during her internship at SCS.

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