Imagine having the capability to download a certain product and being able to fabricate it through a 3-D printer. Individuals no longer have to imagine that. The reality is 3-D printing has become a proficient way of mass customization, a manufacturing revolution and an innovation for regenerative medicine. 3-D printing has been around for 30 years, but has recently become more prevalent in today’s society as well as the economy.
3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, uses layering technology. Instead of using traditional ink, these printers use other materials such as plastics, glass, sand and glue mixes, metal, polymers, human tissue, wax, and edible materials. The most common material used for printing is plastic.
Data is available to download on the Internet for individuals interested in 3-D printing. Almost everything can be printed: food, toys, shoes, weapons and other tangible items. For beginners, 3-D printers priced at less than $200 are available for purchase. Of course, the material will not be the exact replica of what the real item is made out of, but for a cheaper price, these items are said to be in decent condition.
This technology has also made a medical breakthrough; it allows scientists to use cells and tissue for regenerative medicine. Bladders and kidneys have already been printed that function inside a person. Sadly, these organs only last up to four months.
According to Anthony Atala, bioengineer of Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, there are three challenges for this field: biomaterials, cells and blood supply channels. There are only a few types of materials that the human body can do well with and certain cells cannot grow outside the human body. With improvement to these medical advances, soon enough, people in need of organ transplants will no longer have to wait in line for the next donor.
Avi Reichental, president and CEO of 3D Systems, has used this technology to help those in need of prosthetics. Prosthetics are pricey, but are becoming affordable with the use of printing. Oftentimes, finding the right fit of a prosthetic goes through a lot of trial and error.
“3-D printing is changing personalized medical devices as we know it,” said Reichental in his TED Talks video. “From new beautiful conformal ventilated scoliosis braces to millions of dental restorations and to beautiful braces for amputees.”
With 3-D printing, people can now find the perfect fit through this printing and scanning machinery.
Along with the good of 3-D printing, some bad may come from it. This technology has also been used to develop weapons. This means any individual who has access to a printer and the available data files for these weapons is able to create one. Weapons such as small handguns, rifles and even AK’s have been printed using this technology. With the recent events of mass shooting, this could cause more issues in the near future. However, avid second amendment rights supporters are for having the capability to print weapons. Cody Wilson, creator of “The Liberator” pistol and owner of Defense Distributed, has made data available to let gun fans print these weapons.
The bottom line is that 3-D printing has become one of the cheapest options for manufacturing products quickly and efficiently. Although this technology was only brought to light a few years ago, it has become one of the fastest growing technologies available today. 3-D printing has done greater good than bad. The future of regenerative medicine will exceedingly grow with the use of newer and better ways to print organs. Lives may be saved with the future use of these improved machines.