Straight out of Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, Matter Compilers have finally arrived. Well, maybe it’s not exactly like The Diamond Age, but they’ve arrived in the form of 3D printers. In the not-so-distant future, the creation of almost any item desired will be possible. The manufacturing of food, clothing, and even body parts could soon be as simple as printing out a Facebook profile picture is now.
It may seem a little difficult to believe, but 3D printers capable of producing items from a variety of materials have become much more common over the past few years. The technology is making leaps and bounds towards integrating itself within the daily lives of society. Through the use of additive manufacturing, these printers create various products out of seemingly thin air. Here are five ways which 3D printers will change the world a lot sooner than you think.
Ever try searching the clothing store for hours on end, only to not find the right size shirt? Or maybe all of the shoes they have are just a bit too wide? Those days will be a distant memory with 3D printing.
Shapeways has released the first 3D printed bikini on the market; each one is custom-printed to order. While they are currently only available in select sizes, it won’t be much longer before a customer is able to upload a few photos and receive a bathing suit specifically printed for their body.
It’s not all just bikinis and bathing suits, though. The technology could be integrated into other clothing items as well. When a company claims that something is “custom-fit” it could soon be 100% true. Nike has been experimenting with the use of 3D printing technology for the manufacturing of shoes custom fit to athletes’ feet. Once that type of production reaches a consumer level, the possibilities could be endless. Every pair of shoes could be designed to fit perfectly to a person’s foot. Forget the days of searching endlessly through the shoe aisle for a pair that doesn’t exist. Instead, just make one!
These days, phone cases are a dime-a-dozen. Even things like furniture are sold in mass quantities with the hope that two people who purchased the same generic lamp from IKEA won’t ever become friends.
The company Cubify has begun selling a slew of custom printed products ranging from phone cases to decorative lighting and even furniture. They also provide consumer-level 3D printers aimed at allowing anyone to “print what you use.” With a few steps, it would be possible to create a completely ergonomic phone case based on an individual’s handprint.
Cubify has also made a big push towards entering the consumer-shoe market with custom designs that they say can be printed overnight. Imagine waking up with a brand new pair of shoes every single morning. And they’re guaranteed to always fit, too!
Custom-printed furniture could change the way people decorate their homes in an instant. Changing the color of the walls and need a new chair or lamp to match? No problem! 3D printing will allow for fully customizable decorative capabilities. Two people may never own the same lamp again.
3. Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing:
Designing and manufacturing products takes time, and of course, time is money. 3D printing could help save both of those things by shifting the prototyping paradigm.
Both General Motors and Ford have begun utilizing 3D printing in the prototyping of automotive parts. Ford, specifically, has been 3D-print-prototyping cylinder heads, brake rotors, shift knobs and vents. This allows more research and development to be done electronically through the use of computers before a prototype is produced, and leads to less waste in the long-run.
With the advancement of rapid prototyping and the materials used to do so, rapid manufacturing is also becoming possible. A major benefit to rapid manufacturing is the ability to cost-effectively produce small runs of custom items. A trend that should hopefully result in the overall reduced cost of goods.
It’s no secret that building a house requires a ton of work, so it’s also no secret why costs range well into the six-figure range. But what if 3D printing could be used to change all of this?
A China based company called WinSun Decoration Design Engineering, has successfully printed ten, one-story homes in 24 hours. To put that in perspective: that’s three whole 2,100 sq foot homes constructed during the average eight hour work day. As if this could get any better, the cost to build each home? Less than $5,000.
If 3D printing can make its way into this market, the construction industry will never be the same. Add in the customization component of 3D printing and the idea of ‘cookie-cutter’ homes could quickly become a thing of the past.
1. Blood vessels, Skin & Organs
Perhaps one of the most fascinating areas of 3D printing is the subset known as 3D Bioprinting. This type of printing essentially uses living tissue and cells as “ink” to produce fully functional body parts. And these aren’t the cliche sci-fi movie cybernetic enhancements that will ultimately result in the complete annihilation of mankind. They are 100% created from living cells, often times harvested from the same person they’re being printed on. It’s like growing a brand-new body part.
Labs in Germany, Boston, and San Diego have successfully printed blood vessels, human tissue and layered tissue with blood vessels. A lab in the UK has printed custom made spinal implants, while others have printed human kidneys.
This means, there could be a day where donor lists become non-existent. A replacement body part could be bought as easy as ordering a stack of business cards is now. Prosthetic limbs could also become a thing of the past. If a patient loses a leg, doctors could use that patients’ own living cells to print them another one.
It’s all a bit intimidating to think about, really. But the fact of the matter is that 3D printing will soon change the way society builds, buys and ultimately lives. Within the next decade 3d printers will most likely become as common as the household inkjet printer is now.Follow @EricCzekner on twitter