3D Printing and The Future

3D printing is a manufacturing process that takes a digital design to create a physical object in three-dimension by a layering process which has been around for more than 30 years. The digital design acts as the blueprint for the physical object which gets sliced to thin details for the 3-D printer to create those slices. There are two types of methods used to do the layering: melting of plastic material and selective melting of metal powder at high temperatures in industrial setting. Due to the amount of details required to complete the design, it takes hours for the printer to complete one job. Figure 1 shows the most common ways 3D printers work.

Chuck Hull invented the first 3D printing in 1983. His patent used light curable liquid to print 9ultraviolet curable material) but after a while he realized that it can be done with any material that can alter its physical state — this lead to the invention of the additive manufacturing or 3D printing as we know. Until 2009, 3D printing was limited to only industrial setting but patents started to expire which resulted in development of desktop 3D printing. Per 3D Hubs, in 2015 there has been over 200k 3D printer sales but looking back at 2007 only 66 sales were recorded.

Like everything, there are pros and cons of 3D printing. Even though it is a rapidly growing technology, it comes with benefits but lags some manufacturing processes in some ways. Some pros of 3D printing are:

· Complex designing: 3D printing allows creation of complex shapes and parts

· Customization: Making customized objects are as simple as changing the digital design or the blueprint.

· Lower fixed costs: Back in the days, people used molds and other tools to create an object in 3D but 3D printing is a “single tool” process so there is no need for extra moldings or tools.

· Speed and ease of prototyping: Designers can use 3D printing to create prototypes to collect data regarding the sales or consumers interest on the product.

· Less waste: 3D printing only uses what it needs layer by layer to create the physical object.

Some cons of 3D printing are:

· Large production: Cost can increase depending on the production amount.

· Material choices, colors, finishes: Even though there are many materials available, the choices are still limited compared to conventional materials.

· Strength: Layer-by-layer formation can cause some unevenness or uniformness and sometimes are weaker.

· Precision: Precision is lowered due to design details and working parts capabilities.

3D printing is being used in every setting whether its personal, home goods, manufacturing

car parts, medicine, etc. 3D printing is used in the automotive industry for prototyping and has been widely used for years. In medicine, one of the interesting facts is that mostly all the hearing aids are created through 3D printing technologies. Even in the shoe industry, 3D printing is being used for customized shoes. Adidas was the first to develop a 3D printed midsole for their ready-to-wear shoes and is manufactured on-demand.

3D printing is being used in the medical field more now that the product is being widely

available. One of the things that researchers in medicine at Harvard University can produce using 3D printers is tissues with blood vessels. The custom-built 3D printer and a dissolving ink is used to make a tissue that contains skin cells woven that can be used as blood vessels. Low-cost prosthetic parts are also being developed through 3d printing technology. As explored above about the production of detailed design using a blue print allows the researchers to customize the prosthetic for a patient with ease. Medical models are also very in-demand to help model the progression, growth, and spread of infectious tumors such as cancer. This 3D model aids researchers in finding ways to counterattack or develop medications to reverse the tumors. Some other developments in the medical field through the usage of 3D printing are: ear cartilage, medical equipment, cranium replacement, synthetic skin, organs, heart valve, bone, tailor-made sensors, and drugs.

Similarly, education plays a large role in advancement and innovation in this century. The traditional teaching methods are being dropped for more engaged ways to teach students. A few centuries ago, affordability of computers were very low but today every single person has some form of a computer. Likewise, in the future every classroom and students will have a 3D printer available to them for learning purposes. MakerBots Industries wants this to become a reality (Forbes.com), giving students the capability to come up with a design, print it, and solve problems using that physical object creates a broader educational engagement. MakerBots have created a 3D student curriculum which is being utilized in New York City school.

3D printing capabilities in education can transform the way teachers teach and the way students learn. It will provide teachers with a 3D visual in the classroom to illustrate a hard-grasping concept. Keeping students interested in a subject is very hard for teachers, however with the help of 3D models students can seize the interest of the students easily. Hands-on learning is enhanced through this for those students who find it easier to learn by doing.

The article 3d Bioprinting of Tissues and Organs by Sea V Murphy and Anthony Atala speaks of the development of 3-D printing from the 15th century woodblock printing to the industrial-scale printing press to today’s printing equipment’s. Over the past few decades, printing has evolved from two-dimensional to three-dimensional additive process of printing using layers of materials to from a shape. This allows industrial wide prototyping and manufacturing of products for personalized customization, household products, and parts for bicycles and electrical equipment’s. Not only is 3D printing making production in industries easier, it is also contributing positively in science and education. In recent years, archeologists utilized this tool to replicate rare artifacts or fossils. 3D printing is also being utilized by students and researches to model complex molecules and protein interactions, allowing students to design, visualize, and test their ideas in real space.

3D printing as Murphy and Atala state, was introduces in 1986 by Charles W. Hull. Hull’s method used thin layers of material that were cured with ultraviolet light which were sequentially printed to create the 3D object. This was later used to create sacrificial resin molds “for the formation of 3D scaffolds from biological materials” (Murphy and Atala, 2014). The next evolvement of 3D printing was bio-printing as a form of tissue engineering. In bio-printing, layers are precisely positioned around biological equipment’s, biochemical, and living cells to fabricate 3-D structures. Biomimicry, autonomous self-assembly, and mini-tissue building blocks are some approaches that researchers are using to fabricate 3D functional living human constructs. A challenge that they face is adaption of technologies developed to print molten plastics and metals to the printing of sensitive biological materials.

Bio-printing is at its very early stage and there are many challenges relating to specific technical, material, and cellular aspects of the process. Fabricating the human anatomy can take a very long time depending on the precision of the cells and this is one of the setbacks of bio-printing. Materials that are currently being used for printing is selected due to their compatibility with cell growth however they do not have all the properties required to recapitulate the tissue function which is introduced as another setback by Murphy and Atala. There are great advancements and researches are being conducted in this field and in the future, these setbacks will only help the researchers move forward toward a resolution.

The article Laparoscopic Acetabular Fracture Fixation after Three-dimensional Modelling and Printing by Can-Jun Zeng, Wen-Hua Huang, Hua-Jun Huang, and Zhang-Lin Wu research on a 43-year-old male who fell from a height of 3 m which resulted in a fracture in his right acetabulum anterior column. Acetabular fractures are very complex and treatments are not minimal with mortality ranging from 5% to 25% (Zeng et al., 2017). Current treatments require a large incision causing tremendous amount of blood loss and a long recovery. 3D reconstruction was performed and a model of the acetabulum and fracture was printed during this case study.

The 3D model in this case helped the precise determination of the length and position of the screws which simplifies the surgery and minimized any errors during surgery. The CT images were used for 3D editing and virtual fracture reduction. This was then used to develop a 3D reconstruction of the fracture to locate the best position for fixation plate. The researchers then printed the fracture using 3D printers and placed the plate in the position identified by 3D modelling. Based on these findings, a simulated surgery was conducted on the 3D-printed model which was recorded for usage during the actual surgery. This case study goes to show that 3D reconstruction and printing can allow for very accurate preoperative planning leading to less surgical errors.

3D printing is becoming widely used in biological settings such as the article above. This advancement in technology is assisting doctors in making precise decisions based on predetermined outcomes and creating less room for errors during operations. The first article speaks of bio-printing human anatomy, specifically tissues. Murphy and Atala introduce a few setbacks but in the future, these will just be obstacles they have overcome. In recent studies, 3D printing is being used in medical settings very successfully.

In conclusion, 3D printing plays a vital part in the ways that a few decades ago was unimaginable. Mostly every field of study has used 3D printing in some way or the other. Doctors, dentist, scientist, engineers, and even students have utilized this technology to make the lives of those around them easier and bring new ideas to the table. The most important and innovative ways 3D printing is being used is in the medical fields in which cost of medical products such as prosthetics, hearing aids, and dentures are lowered due to the low cost of 3D printing. Doctors and surgeons are also able to perform simulation of a surgery beforehand to reduce surgical errors.

Using 3d printing in an educational setting can help raise the bar of how students learn. In most cases, keeping students interested on a subject is very hard and with 3D printing technologies, teachers can have a visual representation to help them convey a subject. 3D printing also gets students interested in developing new ideas and problem solving. Students in colleges can utilize 3D printing tech to help with research on important life-changing subjects such as cancer. Researchers all over the world are using this technology to help move forward with their research. As mentioned, professors at Harvard use 3D printing to create blood vessels and low-cost prosthetics. 3D printing is becoming more and more important and maybe one day we will see it in every household.

Works Cited

Murphy, Sean V, and Anthony Atala. “3D Bio printing of Tissues and Organs.” Nature

Biotechnology, vol. 32, no. 8, May 2014, pp. 773–785., doi:10.1038/nbt.2958.

Huang, Wen-Hua, Can-Jun Zeng, Hua-Jun Huang, and Zhang-Lin Wu. “Laparoscopic

Acetabular Fracture Fixation after Three-dimensional Modelling and Printing.” Indian Journal of Orthopaedics51.5 (2017): 620. Web.

McCue, TJ. “3D Printing Will Transform Education.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 08 Feb. 2012.


Petch, Michael, Rushabh Haria, Beau Jackson, Tanveer Khorajiya, Katie Armstrong, and

Bertalan Meskó. “12 Things We Can 3D Print in Medicine Right Now.” 3D Printing Industry. N.p., 03 Oct. 2017. Web.

“What Is 3D Printing? The Definitive Guide.” 3D Hubs. N.p., n.d. Web.

“Importance of 3D Printing in Education.” Educational Technology and Mobile Learning,


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