The wild & wonderful world of 3D printing

LinkedPrintToPeerIn a recent report published June 2013, ID TechEx reported that by 2025 the 3D printing market would be worth $4 billion dollars. The 3D printing industry has received much attention in the press over the last year, as we reported in our March 2013 issue. 3D printing has been hyped as the technology to bring about a third industrial revolution, but in fact it was invented in the late 1980s.

Growth of the 3D printing market is being driven by a number of factors and the technology is now being used by many sectors such as aerospace, automotive, consumer products, medical, dental, jewellery, architecture and the design arts. As reported by ID TechEx, the medical/dental sector has strong growth potential. Currently valued at $141M, it will grow to $868M by 2025, led by dental applications and increasing use for the manufacture of orthopedic implants. Growth will also be rapid in the jewellery, design arts, and architectural sectors, which will see a combined compound annual growth rate of 20% for the period.

Following the latest trends, here are a few of the wild and wonderful products available with the help of 3D printing.

3D printed toothbrushes

Tailored to your teeth, these new 3D printed toothbrushes can clean the mouth in six seconds. Engineers at have developed a new kind of toothbrush tailor-made to fit a person’s mouth. All a person must do to brush is bite down. All Blizzident-bristles are tailored to your own teeth. They are placed on the surface of your teeth at a 45-degree angle. They are also aligned exactly along your gum line at a 45-degree angle. For tailoring they use a 3D model of your teeth (created from an impression or scan of your teeth by your dentist). By grinding (left-right and backward-forwards), while your teeth are closed, you brush according to the “Fones” technique. Visit their website to see this 3D brush in action.

NASA to launch 3D printer into space

As reported by the CBC, NASA is preparing to launch a 3D printer into space next year. It will be a toaster-sized game changer that will greatly reduce the need for astronauts to load up with every tool, spare part or supply they might ever need. The printers would serve as a little factory that could use an infinite number of designs to create any object required by extruding layer upon layer of plastic from long strands coiled around large spools. The space test is slated for fall 2014 and NASA has more than a dozen 3D printers to choose from, ranging from $300 desktop model to a $500,000 warehouse builder.

“Safety has been one of our biggest concerns,” said strategic officer Michael Chen. Sparks, breakages and electric surges can have grave consequences in the space station. “But when we get it right, we believe these are the only way to manifest living in space.”

World’s First Collaborative 3D Printed Sculpture Links Art and Engineering

On the fun side – what happens when a huge number of people get together to create a 3D printed art installation? PrintToPeer, the company behind the idea, is trying to find out. “Linked” as the work in progress is called, will be built with 3D printed medallions that have been customized and sent in by people all over the world. Artist Jeff de Boer, who helped design the medallions’ basic shape, will then assemble the medallions into what PrintToPeer calls the world’s first collaborative 3D printed sculpture. Once all the medallions are in, de Boer will link them together to form an art installation that will be displayed at Beakerhead, the festival of art and engineering held in Alberta. I’ve already signed up and hope to contribute a medallion. So let the fun with 3D printing begin!

Printing Key chains and Shower Heads

A study, published in a July issue of Mechatronics Journal, explains 3D printing is about to go mainstream. In the study, an associate professor at Michigan Technological University, Joshua Pearce and his team worked with twenty common household items listed on Thingiverse, a website containing designs of all sorts of things that can be 3D printed. Ranging from toy figurines of black dragons to customizable bracelets and rings, the designs are used and contributed by members of the community. Pearce’s team then used Google Shopping to find out the maximum and minimum cost of buying those 20 items online and compared the costs to making the items with a 3D printer. The conclusion? It would cost the average consumer anywhere from $312 to $1,944 to buy those 20 things compared to $18 to make them in several hours. Novelty products will soon become a lot more affordable and accessible – that’s where 3D printing is taking us!