The next industrial revolution
November 25, 2014
Whirring mechanical beeps peal from the cubical-shaped machine. A carriage inside slides up and down a metal pole, drawing molten substances in layers onto a pane of glass.
In the beginning, the layers look indecipherable. In a matter of hours, however, a 3D model is built onto the platform.
The 3D printer came into existence 30 years ago, but only appeared to the public in 2009 as the price lowered. Printer accessibility has generated creative responses from many.
IMPACT ON LOCALS
Sophomore Addie Andrews owns a 3D printer.
“I got [my 3D printer] last Christmas,” she said. “In my house, if we get something really expensive, we’ll spread it out through Christmas and birthdays. So I didn’t get a birthday present this year and don’t expect anything for a while.”
Experimenting on her own, she printed out models of ears, bears and even a device for schoolwork.
She once made her mother’s birthday present using the printer. The model she was just designing came in handy.
“For my mom’s birthday I printed her a nose,” Andrews said. “It was the night before my mom’s birthday. I had forgotten it of course, so I told my dad, ‘I’m going to print out a nose,’” she said. “He asked, ‘a rose?’ And I said, ‘No, a nose.’”
While junior Nandi Salahuddin has yet to create body parts like Andrews, she has experience in using 3D printers. Last summer, she first used the printer at the Westwood College STEM camp and designed an air screening device with it.
“When I first used the printer, I was really excited,” she said. “I sat in front of the printer for a while as my device was printing out because I thought it was cool how the part that prints out the plastic goes row by row to create a 3D object.”
Salahuddin would like to use the printer again.
“It can cause a spark and really inspire someone to go more into design,” she said. “There are so many possibilities that a 3D printer can make.”
Decatur Makers, a local nonprofit makerspace, plans to help bring many of those possibilities to come true.
Chris Goode, Georgia State psychology professor and member of Decatur Makers, was “pleasantly surprised” at the “quality of detail” of 3D models when printed.
“I wasn’t expecting much in terms of 3D resolution, even for current printers,” he said. “As far as I know, we have only printed an octopus, but it’s a really cool octopus , and is my favorite thing in the makerspace so far.”
A MEDICAL REVOLUTION
From artificial bones to organs, printers are already generating models and surgical implants.
Dr. Nicholas Giovinco from the University of Arizona is one of many doctors working with 3D printing to transform the medical field.
“The truth is that everything will be affected by 3D printing,” he said, “from the most common and mundane [prosthetics] to the high end [human organ transplant and replacements.]”
One of Giovinco’s ongoing projects is using 3D printing to reconstruct the Charcot Foot syndrome, a serious condition that weakens the bones in the foot and causes them to fracture and deform, often resulting in amputation.
Giovinco is working to change that. He recently used 3D printers to create personalized bone implants for patients with Charcot Foot.
“Many leading members of the field believe that we are going to have 3D printing and other similar methods to regrow organs and other composites in lab,” he said.
This organ growing technique is possible because of Thomas Boland, a professor and researcher at Clemson University. In 2000, Boland modified ink jet printers to print human cells in cell patterns, which he later patented.
Similarly, the Canadian team PrintAlive Bioprinter is printing skin grafts for burn victims. This new method is much faster than typical healing methods, and since patient survival for burns greatly depends on how quickly they heal, this is potentially a life-saving revolution to medical 3D printing.
While Boland and PrintAlive Bioprinter are taking 3D printing to the world of skin grafting, David Frakes at Arizona State University is working to change the face of cerebral aneurysm surgery. A cerebral aneurysm is when a blood vessel in the the brain swells up and fills with blood, potentially rupturing and damaging brain cells.
The typical aneurysm surgery requires clamping the aneurysm to keep it from filling with blood and bursting. Frakes is revolutionizing this procedure by printing a series of coils to then fill the aneurysm with in order to keep it from bursting and collapsing in on itself.
3D printing also has the capability of reducing costs and the time frame of several medical procedures.
“It holds much promise and could likely decrease time and money,” Giovinco said.
Despite its possibilities, bioprinting is still under improvement and refinement.
“So far, no insurance companies are paying for this,” he said. “[But] other applications in 3D printing are things like orthotic arch supports and prosthetics. This is marginally covered by insurance but has shown a good growth in market uptake. It’s very exciting to see.”
The 3D printer brings many possibilities to everyday life, but like any other technology, it comes with possible negative consequences.
The Undetectable Firearms Act, renewed in Dec. 2013, leaves a loophole in the law for 3D-printed guns. Guns with small amounts of metal are not banned.
In May 2013, the U.S. based organization Defense Distributed successfully designed “the Liberator,” a 3D printed gun that had its design plans posted online.
Goode believes that ethical problems could challenge Decatur Makers.
“The Decatur Makers board needs to consider whether people will be allowed to print things that can be used as weapons and that’s an important ethical question,” he said. “You might think, ‘No way, no guns at all.’ But how about squirt guns? You can print those on a 3D printer. Marshmallow guns? How about a potato gun — those can be dangerous, depending on the size of the potato… so it’s not a simple question.”
Bioprinting also raises ethical concerns.
Organovo, a medical laboratory and research company, has successfully printed strips of a human liver and eye tissues from donated cells.
Successful printing for whole organs and body parts could save the lives of people who can’t receive transplants in time.
“If a functioning organ is perfected, a patient in need of an organ implant may not have to wait on a long list putting their lives in danger,” Giovinco said. “Also 3D printing could potentially lower the costs of medical procedures.”
Not everyone is comfortable with this process, however.
Researcher Pete Basiliere believes that bioprinting will generate mass controversy within a few years.
According to a recent report from Gartner Inc. by Basiliere, “3D bioprinting facilities with the ability to print human organs and tissue will advance far faster than general understanding and acceptance of the ramifications of this technology.”
Goode thinks of the 3D printer as a double-edged sword.
“You can hit someone in the head with a hammer, but you can also build someone a home with a hammer,” he said.
He believes that the potential benefits outweigh the possible negative consequences.
“Consider the customized prosthetics folks have printed, at much lower cost than medical supply companies can offer. These range from legs and hands for amputees, to replacement facial structures for folks who need plastic surgery,” he said. “One kid even printed a webbed foot for a duckling who hatched with a disability — how cool is that? Well, you tell me. Do you think the benefits outweigh the risks?”
3D PRINTING AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL
Agnes Scott College Chemistry Professor Leon Venable wishes he could use a 3D printer in his class, but his request for one was turned down.
Venable planned to construct models of molecules for his chemistry classes. Being able to print them out would make the slight differences in molecules more noticeable than a small graphic on a textbook page and let students have see “what the shape actually meant.”
“Unfortunately the price tags are still a bit high, approaching $5,000 with the required computer to run it,” Venable said.
For a larger school like Georgia Tech, however, printers are easier to secure.
Tech’s campus has a makers space called “The Invention Studio” with 15 to 20 3D printers, according to local Decatur maker and Georgia Tech Professor Lew Lefton.
“They have so many 3D printers that you can actually go to a website and upload your .stl file and send it to the 3D printer and go pick up your object later,” he said. “They are used in a lot of the architect classes and engineering design classes.”
Tech students are making good use of their school’s 3D printers.
Students Maren Sonne, Jordan Thomas and Julia Brooks designed and printed out high heels that were modeled after the university’s iconic car, the “Ramblin’ Wreck,” according to 11Alive.com. Maggie Bridges, a Georgia Tech student and this year’s Miss Georgia representative, wore these in the pageant.
“To say my shoes are perfect for the Miss America #ShowUsYourShoes parade is a mild understatement,” Bridges said on her Facebook fanpage.
Soon, the growth of 3D printers could reach the entire world and beyond.
“If we were going to colonize a planet or if we were going out into space, it would be very difficult to get supplies [into space from earth] . . . They could print the object on the other planet or on the space station,” Lefton said.
NASA has recently begun working with tech company Technology Demonstration Office to bring zero gravity printers into space.
According to NASA, “3D printing serves as a fast and inexpensive way to manufacture parts on-site and on-demand, reducing the need for costly spares on the International Space Station and future spacecraft.”
3D printing could even eventually be used to print entire cities, Lefton said.
The versatility of the printer also could allow the U.S. to save big money.
According to CNBC, American manufacturers will be able to make cheaper goods with less waste than ever before with
the use of 3D printers. This means that American companies would be able to fabricate their goods in the United States
and not have to import them from countries like China.
In Decatur, ideas are beginning to sprout.
Graphic design teacher Mark Jones believes that the printer could be used for many classes at Decatur.
“The architectural drafting class would definitely utilize it. Possibly our robotics team and our woodworking students here
and at Renfroe Middle School. I could see my students utilizing it for package design and character development,” he said.
Goode thinks that “schools are the first places that should have 3D printers” and believes that 3D printing will soon be used as often as regular printers.
“Think of the all the 3D things you have in school that you reference. Dioramas, models for anatomy, physiology, musical instruments… and think of the things you should have in 3D,” he said. “Maps and models of spaces, planets, molecules, the earth, animals, machines like levers and screws… musical instruments that haven’t been invented yet, gears, mechanical computers, and more.”