3D Printing technology is an emerging industry which is proving to have more uses than its predecessor, the ‘normal’ 2D Printing. 3D Printing, also known as desktop fabrication or additive manufacturing, is a prototyping process where a real object is fabricated from a 3D design. 3D printers are mainly used for industries such as construction, aerospace manufacturing, automotive manufacturing and medical engineering. Nowadays, 3D printers are also sold for personal use.
The technology has many advantages. Although there are some strange uses to it such as cloning yourself as a doll, printing racecars and producing printed clothing, 3D printing can offer much more value. Architects use 3D printing to create prototypes which are low cost projections of their models. Engineers use it to put different parts together and test the fit, before it undergoes the costly process of the material or tool’s production.
The technology of 3D Printing is also highly beneficial for the medical industry. Stem cell research is a critical field in advancing life-saving surgery. The 3D Printing technology is now enabled to print human embryonic stem cells which can be used to treat conditions in human beings. It is still under study but according to the researchers from the University of Edinburgh, theoretically possible. Other outputs that 3D printing can provide are blood vessels and heart tissue, skin, the repair of damaged hearts, cartilage and bone, and even organs. It can also be used to manufacture an extension to a limb, such as the ‘Robohand’, a mechanical hand prosthesis which is durable and strong enough to be used on a daily basis. Another advancement is the printing of life-like human ears which will be used to address congenital deformity microtia, and those who have lost their ears from cancer or accidents. The technology is also being explored to help improve the manufacturing of solar panel and photovoltaic cells to bring about developments in harnessing solar energy.
The novel and interesting field of 3D printing holds immense potential. The future prospects especially for treatments in the medicine and surgery field are too valuable to be overlooked. Hopefully, the progress in this technology would make it more available and affordable as well as create more opportunities for implementation.
Guest editor: Kristine Rowan