3D printing has made a big impact in the last couple of years, even though many of us have no experience with the technology beyond reading about some of the things it can do or will do in the future. But right now, there are already countless awesome applications for the technology. Here are just a few of the coolest.
Because there’s no point in having technology unless you can make a giant version of that technology, the University of California is testing out a giant 3D printer. And yes, it’s good for printing houses. Called Contour Crafting, the giant printer can use concrete as its medium and create a 2500 square foot home in under a day. This technology could be used to dramatically reduce building costs as well as for effective disaster relief efforts.
Few applications for the 3D printer have proven to be more impressive so far than this, the ability to quickly and easily customize prosthetics for those in need. The price is low and they can be custom designed for each individual, rather than forcing people to try to adapt to something designed by someone who had never met them before. They’re functional, easy to use and they can be made anywhere you can get a 3D printer.
This has the potential to be the biggest thing in 3D printing since the technology was first conceived. While there’s no doubt the medical and military potential for the technology is important, it’s also very niche. To the average consumer, it’s totally irrelevant. And the basic functionality available right now, 3D printing plastic toys, knick knacks and random little models is cool, but do most people need those things? Of course not, it’s just more clutter to dust at the end of the day. But if you could print custom made chocolate Gary Busey heads? Now that’s something.
People love kitchen gadgets and are more than willing to spend few hundred on something like a Panini press, a pasta maker, a rice cooker, a soda fountain. While a machine like the Chefjet Pro may only print in sugar and chocolate now, it’s obvious more innovation is on the way. But even with sugar and chocolate, look what you have – Valentine’s day, Christmas, Easter, birthdays, Halloween and more, huge markets for candy that can be done at home now with no limits on creativity. Your kid always wanted a chocolate bunny that’s riding on a wolf and belching fire? You got one now. Print them off and sell them at you Etsy store.
Since 3D printers started making news, one of the big selling points has been parts. Soldiers in the field could use a 3D printer to make spare parts in the field, maybe repair a vehicle that broke down in the middle of nowhere, that sort of thing. Now, if you’ve seen 80% of the crap people makes with 3D printers, you wouldn’t be faulted for wondering how likely it is that you could repair anything, but the fact is it does work. You probably need something better than one of those 3D pens to do it, but it can be done.
British Tornado fighter jets have already run successful flights using parts 3D printed for them. Why 3D print parts for the military? It’s hugely cost effective, potentially able to cut millions from a budget, and also a massive time saver. Why wait for a part to be shipped across the country, maybe across the world, when you can make it right where you are for a fraction of the cost?
New parents love those sonogram pictures and lord knows, to the rest of us, they tend to look like Rorschach images. One company has decided to take sonograms a step forward and offer new parents, and blind parents, something a little more tangible however – a simple 3D model of their unborn child. The concept is very basic in fact, most 3D printers are able to render a 2D image into a 3D figure now, this is just one of the more creative and interesting applications of it.
Busted femur? Hole in your skull? Missing teeth? Now is a great time to be alive. While it’s not 100% real bone you can print with a 3D printer, what science has created is a perfect scaffold for bone that looks and feels like it and allows actual bone to grow over it.
Made from calcium phosphate, silicon and zinc, the fake bone can be custom designed to replace any bone or piece thereof and, once in place, allows your natural bone to heal over and dissolve the fake bone with no ill side effects. Arguably this means dentures, fake hips and other bone replacing technologies could be made obsolete.
You may have heard of this before but it’s worth noting this really happened, someone really made a real, living tissue ear. Using the cartilage from sheep and some wire to hold its shape, plastic surgeons designed the look to be as natural and “real” as possible and a 3D printer did the rest, putting the cells together to make a functional outer ear. Admittedly it’s not like a functional pancreas or a liver, but it’s a step in the direction towards being able to simply replace broken and damaged human parts and that is pretty amazing.
Just imagine if, as a society, we were no longer bound by the rules of the Happy Meal toy lifespan. That’s the wish of the McDonalds elite, who pondered the idea of having 3D printers installed in restaurants so that Happy Meal toys can be printed on demand. Never has a new, awesome and useful technology propelled itself so quickly towards uselessness.
It’s worth noting that the media ran with this story based entirely on an offhanded comment made by a McDonalds IT guy at a conference on emerging technologies. McDonalds isn’t planning to do this, it was just an idea of what they could do with the technology. Kind of like how planning to hang out in the lady’s locker room if you could turn invisible doesn’t necessarily mean you’re planning to become The Invisible Man.