3D Printing: One Step Closer to a Star Trek Future?

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3D Printing: One Step Closer to a Star Trek Future?

On the original Star Trek TV series from the 1960s, they had their fictional replicator technology that materialized food, drink and non-edible objects. Well…now 3D printing is turning fiction into fact. There’s even a 3D printer by MakerBot Industries called the Replicator. Okay, we’re not quite at the Star Trek level yet, but the number of objects we can “print” is quickly growing, and the list includes useful things such as human organs, limbs and even synthetic food including pizza. Chefs probably don’t have to worry about their jobs just yet, as some of this 3D-printed food so far is intended for consumption by astronauts in space — where 30 minutes or free for pizza obviously isn’t an option. As well, 3D printing is in its infancy. In the near future, though, you could very well order something online and have it created in front of you from a home or office 3D printer — not unlike the Star Trek replicator.  

What Can You Make With 3D Printing?

The range of items already 3D-printed is quite lengthy. Some are toys, puzzles and trinkets, others are much more functional. They include:
• 3D puzzles and toys — including from characters in mobile apps for children.
• Bicycles, trikes and helmets.
• Clothing and accessories: gowns, capes, dresses, bikinis, gloves, hats, headdresses, handbags, shoes (heels, sneakers), shoe insoles, athlete shoe cleats, masks, costume fingernails, jewelry (chains, pendants and abstract 3D shapes), watch frames, eyeglass frames, leather. While some of these items offer questionable comfort in extended wearing, performance artist/model Dita Von Teese wore the first fully-articulated 3D-printed gown. It had 3,000 joints and was made specifically for her, to flow around the curves of her body.
• Fetus replicas, using ultrasound to form the baby’s 3D model equivalent.
• Geometric shapes: These are theoretical shapes that may not occur in nature.
• Musical instruments and related items: guitar, flute, drum set, violin, vinyl records, headphones, custom music boxes.
• Organs: ears, bones and skin, heart. Can already print liver tissue and embryonic stem cells using bioprinters and a “cell gel.”
• Prosthetic limbs, other non-organ body parts, and healthcare-related items: hands, arms, legs, arm and hand casts, partial skull replacement, jaw bones — including a synthetic leg for Dudley the duck, who apparently lost one leg in a fight with a chicken.
• Statuettes and figurines: Besides lifelike selfies and mini models of “sad” Keanu Reeves (actor), one team is using 1/25th scale models of two statues of Buddha, destroyed in Afghanistan by the Taliban. These models will be used to attempt to reconstruct the damaged originals — formerly two of the largest of their kind in the world.
• Synthetic food: chocolate, meat, cheese doodles, veggie patties, breads, and pizza. A NASA-funded project for printed food to feed astronauts in space resulted in pizza.
• Trees: 3D-printed wood using bioprinting technology
• Vehicles: quadcopters (toys), toy cars, concept cars (Honda, Urbee 2), fighter jet parts, drones. The SULSA drone has a top speed of 90 mph and can stay aloft for 30 minutes. It takes 10 min to assemble from printed plastic parts, without screws and other fasteners.
• Weapons: Liberator gun
• X-rated items: dildos, vibrator sleeves.
• Prototypes — full-size or scale — in rubber or plastics, etc., before actual production in the final materials. For example, bicycle chain stay guards and handlebar grips.
• Miscellaneous: guns, hearing aids, rooms, house keys, wheelchair ramps, smartphone cases, crime scenes for use in court, 3d replicas of Hubble Space Telescope images, inflatable flowers and many more.
This is just a small list of objects and items 3D-printed so far, but quite possibly the most interesting at least to tech nerds is the ability for a 3D printer to print a 3D printer. Mind blow? One example is the RepRap 3D printer, which costs $500 – $600. As well, in the near future we could be printing any or all of the following, beyond prototypes.
• Entire houses instead of just parts: University of Southern California has large 3D printer that has the capability to build a 2500 sq ft home in 24 hours.
• Moon bases: The European Space Agency (ESA) is considering the possibilities.
• Windpipes and additional other functioning organs.
• Potentially anything that can be 3D-digitized.
 

Why Would Anyone Want to Print Meat and Leather?

Modern Meadow has managed to use bio-ink to 3D-print both synthetic meat and leather. Why? Here are some stats they provide which gives their motivation:
• Over 75 sq ft — amount of land needed to make one burger
• Droughts have shrunk cattle herds to a 60-year low
• 18% greenhouse gas emissions are created by livestock
• 70% of the wet weight of leather is from toxic solid wastes
• Up to 20% of leather is wasted during manufacturing
• 70% more meat needed by 2050 to feed the world
• 1/3 of available land is used for livestock production
• Over 270 lbs — amount of meat the average American eats per year
• 50 gallons of water to make one burger
• 7 iPads fully powered take less energy than what’s needed to make one burger
• Over 1000 miles — the distance livestock travels from farm to fridge
As well, if we’re serious about manned Mars missions in the future, being able to print meat, pizza and other foods might be a necessity.  

How Does 3D Printing Work?

There are multiple types of 3D printer and the materials used for the actual printing is a factor. However, material states range from powders to viscous fluids to spools of filament to bio-inks and more. While there are three types of 3D printing, all use layering to form objects. One method uses a pool of chemicals and light (UV laser). Another method uses molten “ink” that becomes solid as it is extruded from the print head. In a nutshell, the very generalized process is as follows:
• Use software or 3D scans to design and create a 3D model.
◦ Autodesk offers a series of free software tools for 3D modelling, including “123D” (some desktop, some for smart phones and tablets, some for web browsers) — see 123dapp.com.
◦ Blender.org offers the popular free cross-platform 3D rendering package Blender.
◦ Adobe is planning to add a 3D printing module to their image processing software, Photoshop.
◦ These are just a few options.
• Load the digital model’s file into the printer’s memory or some external computer that can control the printer.
• The model is then digitally sliced horizontally into very thin cross sections.
• The first cross section layer is printed onto a base or into supporting material in the “build box” and solidified with a laser, heat or other techniques. Not all 3D printers use the “laser sintering” process to solidify layers, but it is a common process.
• Each subsequent layer is printed on top of the previous layer. In some printers, the print bed (surface) moves around to aid in the layering process.

In the case of powdered materials, the process appears to be a block of loose powder, but upon completion, excess materials are brushed or vacuumed away to reveal the solid object.  

What Materials Can You Use in 3D Printing?

The list of materials already in use in 3D printing might surprise you at the diversity. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
• brass
• carbon fiber
• ceramic
• cloth
• concrete
• edible materials such as cheese, chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter and other materials. The ChefJet 3D printer can produce a variety of edible products including ravioli. Other printers can produce pizza, chickpea nuggets, corn chips, sugar candies.
• glass
• metals and transition metals: steel, titanium, aluminum, gold.
• plastic – several types
• wax
 

The Market for 3D Printing

Chris Anderson, former longtime editor of Wired Magazine and author of several books on technology — including Makers: The New Industrial Revolution — quit journalism to become a 3D entrepreneur. His feeling is that personal 3D printers will be bigger than the Internet in terms of personal impact — allowing us to have our own factories at home, replacing the personal computer printers many households now have.
• 3D printing technology has been around for at least 25 years and been in long use by carmakers and aerospace companies.
• 3D printing has also made its way more recently into the medical field and others.
• Industrial strength printers can run from $5K to $1M, and use different multi-colored plastic and other materials.
• Consumer 3D printers are dropping steadily in price — some now sub-$1,000, with professional models running from $15K-59K.
• The 2011 market just for 3D printing (worldwide, including printers, materials, service, etc.) was around $1.7B.
• The 2012 market $2.2B — an increase of 29% from 2011.
• $3.7B is the estimated market size by 2015.
• $400B is the price paid in Jun 2013 by Stratasys for Makerbot Industries — in which Amazon’s Jeff Bezos had a small stake.
• Dell Computers ordered at least 5,000 units from Zortrax in Jan 2014, for use in some of their own Asian offices.
• In addition, Dell will be reselling at least Makerbot printers as of Feb 2014.
Several key patents for 3D printing technology expired in Jan 2014, with more expiring later in 2014. What this means is that there is the immediate potential to bring much lower cost 3D printers to consumers. Want speedy delivery of select items? How about “now”?  

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References:
Information for this article was collected from the following pages and web sites:
1. http://www.3ders.org/articles/20140127-dell-to-resell-makerbot-replicator-3d-printers-and-scanners.html
2. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-04-26/3d-printers-make-whatever-you-want
3. http://pulse.edf.com/en/personal-3d-printers-will-bigger-revolution-internet/
4. http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Technology/Building_a_lunar_base_with_3D_printing
5. http://modernmeadow.com/
6. http://www.physics.org/article-questions.asp?id=120
7. http://readwrite.com/2014/02/14/3d-printing-printers-projects-applications-prints#awesm=~owJ5rjuQwrW5Ne
8. http://readwrite.com/2014/02/17/future-of-3d-printing-what-can-we-3d-print#awesm=~owJ5kWp8hIIgeT
9. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/29/3d-printing-limbs-cars-selfies
10. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887323716304578483062211388072