3D printing can now save lives
It feels like it’s been around for ages, but 3D printing it still very much in its infancy. Whilst we were once promised we would be able to print anything we could ever desire from home, we now know this isn’t the case. However, that doesn’t mean this technology is fading away.
3D printing has saved a dog’s life. Back in 2017, Kris Depowski was petting her dog, Murphy, when she noticed a large lump on his head. When she took him to the vets, she discovered the lump was a rare form of cancer that was pressing into his sinuses and, unfortunately, his brain. The only option was to have it surgically removed; however, this also required the removal of more than half of his skull. It was an incredibly risky procedure.
Despite the odds being against Murphy, 3D printing saved his life. A titanium implant was designed to replace the skull that had to be taken out, and this was duly created with a 3D printer. In that moment, the technology was no longer a gimmick, it was a life saver.
3D printing is slowly becoming the standard for specialised industrial applications. Manufacturers require parts that are perfect, and 3D printing creates precise, exact replicas every time.
3D printing certainly looks to be taking over the aerospace industry. The Airbus A350 houses more than a thousand 3D printed parts. For context, the A350 is Airbus’s answer to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Both planes are considered ‘best in class’ for a new standard in long-haul flying. For Airbus’s flagship airliner to be so reliant on 3D printing proves that the technology is ready to take a greater hold of other manufacturing industries.
3D printing has a positive impact on the environment, too. It relies much less on overseas production—cheap labour will no longer be a factor if parts are created locally via a 3D printer. Parts will no longer need to be shipped halfway across the world, which means a much smaller carbon footprint for many companies. There is also less waste from 3D printing, as it is additive. Traditional manufacturing is subtractive, i.e. you start with a large piece of raw material and work away at it until you’re left with your final product. This isn’t the case with 3D printing. The final product is made layer by layer, which means no waste materials.
A new wave of on-demand manufacturing is on the horizon. We’ll no longer need huge container ships, massive polluting planes, or over-capacity trains. Instead, parts would be transferred digitally as files, ready to be printed as and when required. This on-demand manufacturing also negates the need for large warehouses to stock parts in readiness for when they’re required.
More intricate and complex parts can also be created, thanks to 3D printing. Stronger structures could be created that are also incredibly lightweight—and cooling channels could be directly implemented into structures, rather than being added as a separate entity. Dr Tim Marshall of Cambridge University believes 3D printing is primed to be the fourth industrial revolution. He thinks it will be just as influential as steam power, mass production and the digital age.
Financially, there seems to be evidence that 3D printing is becoming the technological breakthrough we were promised. Whilst it’s currently a $7.3 billion industry, it’s forecast to reach $28 billion by 2028.
It’s not just smaller products and parts that can be created on a 3D printer. Over in Canada a company is using a huge 3D printer to create buildings, layer by layer. The construction industry is one of the largest in the world, yet it features little automation. 3D printing is set to change that. Concrete walls are literally being printed in front of our eyes. The technique also removes human error, which is common in construction. With each brick that’s laid by a human, there’s arguably an opportunity for error that could affect the building’s entire structure. 3D printing removes this ambiguity and risk of error.
In the twenty-first century, humans are living longer than ever before, and the need for organ transplants is only increasing. There is a huge shortage of suitable organs, but 3D printing could solve this. Major breakthroughs in 3D printing involving human tissue are occurring all the time. We’re on the precipice of being able to print simple organs; recently, a human bladder was printed and successfully transplanted in a recipient.
It does seem a while since we saw the last technological breakthrough. Some believe technological advancements have stagnated, but there’s every chance we are about to see the fourth industrial revolution: 3D printing.
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