Five marvels of 3D printing

In just about every walk of life, 3D printing is redefining the boundaries of creativity while expanding the frontiers of what’s possible. Here’s but a glimpse of what caught our eye in the past year. There are literally thousands more fascinating stories to discover online. And be sure to check out our “3D Printing” category at graphicartsmag.com.

3D-printed robots from living tissue

Students at the University of California Merced are building Bio-Bots – tiny robots made from living tissue. They move and they walk, but they don’t have electronic parts. What they do have are muscles! Students culture cells within a hydrogel so that they grow into rings of muscle. The muscle is then attached to a 3D-printed ‘backbone’. The muscles are responsive to blue light, which the students then shine on their creations to get them to contract – in effect exercising them to build strength. The contraction of the muscles is what drives their movement. Students are working on creating heart tissue derived from stem cells that could be used to repair damaged human hearts. They’re not quite there yet, because they haven’t come up with an effective way to integrate the contracting muscle patches with the cardiovascular blood supply.

Bone fractures fixed by 3D bio-printed silk from spiders and moths

Seoul South Korea’s Rural Development Administration and Hallym University have collaborated to create a 3D Silk-Printing System that produces components suitable for use within a living organism. The new silk ‘filament’ is made from fibroin protein that also constitutes 75% of the silk naturally produced by spiders and moth larvae. The fibroin will be used to recreate the plates and screws used to fix broken bones. One problem this overcomes is that traditional metal implants, at some point, may have to be removed from the body. While there are other plastic polymer substitutes trying to solve the same issues, the ‘silk ink’ in this research could be a stronger, more durable and a lower-cost option.

The world’s first 3D Printed office

Created using a 20-foot-tall 3D printer with a 120-foot-long robotic arm, it currently sits in Dubai. In fact, leaders in the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates have revealed plans to 3D-print about 25% of the city’s buildings by the year 2030. 3D-printed buildings can reduce and often eliminate many traditional construction costs, time, labour and waste. Futurists have predicted that smaller, more self-sufficient houses are poised to redefine how we live. They also predict that 3D-printed “slot-together” properties will emerge that will forever change our traditional ideas of brick-and-mortar homes. Future houses will be smaller, operate more efficiently and will be prefabricated – sharing similarities to that of houses made from Lego!

The world’s first 3D printing restaurant

The world’s first 3D printing restaurant opened its doors late in July at Shoreditch in London, UK. A nine course dinner was completely 3D-printed live by an international team of chefs, artists and technologists. The landmark event also showcased eating utensils and furniture that’s produced entirely through 3D printing. The 3D “Pop-Up Dinners” were scheduled to make stops in major cities worldwide – including Toronto!

A $35 device for diagnosing respiratory diseases

Maya Varma, a 17-year-old engineering student at Stanford University in California, has developed a 3D-printed device that can analyze a patient’s breath, helping to diagnose pulmonary diseases. One of the current tools used is called a spirometer. Very expensive, it measures the amount of air a patient takes in and breathes out – enabling doctors to diagnose asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or restrictive lung disease. Varma created her device with just a few simple parts – a 3D-printed mouthpiece, an electronics board, and a smartphone. It works by having the patient breathe into the 3D-printed mouthpiece which is connected to a PCB that processes the breath data. This information is then sent to a companion app hosted on an Android smartphone or mobile device that analyzes the results, leading eventually to a diagnosis. Best of all, Varma was able to make her breakthrough device for only $35, which would be a groundbreaking benefit to those in developing countries who can’t afford traditional diagnostic equipment.

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.