3D printing has taken the world by storm. From small trinkets, to gargantuan aviation equipment, to biological material including human skin and tissue; 3D printing’s near boundless realm of applications makes it an ideal solution for virtually any unique manufacturing endeavor. A process nearly 40 years in the making, 3D printing, and additive manufacturing in general, has come a long way from its beginnings as simply a prototyping technique. We now have the ability to 3D print anything from baubles to buildings and beyond and this burgeoning industry’s potential is only increasing.
Uniquely Versatile Manufacturing Potential
A prime example of the manufacturing scope of 3D printing is the work being done by scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Oak Ridge has consistently been at the forefront of 3D printing possibilities, using the technology to create a Shelby Cobra sports car, a fully functional excavator, a house/car energy system, and an Army Jeep.
More recently however, they created the world’s largest 3D printed object when they produced a 3D printed version of a “trim-and-drill” tool used by Boeing to build the wings on its passenger aircraft. After 30 hours of printing, the behemoth tool was about the size of an SUV weighing in at 1,650 lbs and measuring 17.5 feet long, 5.5 feet wide, and 1.5 feet tall. As impressive as Oak Ridge Labs' accomplishments are, the potential of 3D printing extends much further into a wide array of industries.
3D x Bioprinting: Regenerative medicine scientists at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine created a 3D bioprinter (Integrated Tissue and Organ Printing System), that can produce replacement tissues strong enough to endure transplantation. They were able to print ear, bone, and muscle structures that, when implanted into animals, matured into functional tissue and developed a system of blood vessels. Madrid’s Universidad Carlos III has even created a prototype for a 3D bioprinter that can print totally functional human skin for applica