When I graduated from high school and was perusing my options for universities with no idea of what I wanted to do with my life, I stumbled upon a 3D printer for the first time in my life. It was brand new, just acquired by the IADE (a private design-only university in Lisbon) for their Industrial Design students. I watched in awe as it poured down thin strings of plastic, slowly constructing the hollow structure of a perfect cube.
In a 2013 episode of Gadget Man, titled “Home Improvement”, Richard Aoyade hosts a tea party using only cups and cutlery produced with a commercial 3D printer. Tools such as the 3Doodler, a pen that allows you to ‘draw in 3D’, cost less than £100. But as Lipson and Kurman repeatedly point out in Fabricated: the new world of 3D printing, this growing technology is neither purely recreational nor technical. In the particular case of fashion design illustrated in chapter 10, the environmental factor is very clear when a student declares he decided to choose 3D printing as his method for producing his shoe design after he had seen how much of a negative impact contemporary factories have on the environment, particularly in terms of releasing chemicals.
3D printing will not only have a serious impact on designing and producing consumer products and manufacturing parts, but also architecture as a whole: certain structures, such as the naturally-occurring three-dimensional “lattice” structure Lipson and Kurman refer to, can only be produced realistically via computer algorithms. Enrico Dini produced ‘parts of houses’ and architectural structures via 3D printing, but how could this impact our lives as city-dwellers, especially the housing industry and increasing housing crisis in big cities such as London? Could printing our own houses actually make homes cheaper, depending on how popularised 3D printing becomes in the next decade?
It is, nonetheless, now becoming an industry in and of itself and not simply a tool, and it could be one to save lives. Lipson and Kurman mention 3D printing prosthetics for medical use, and recent developments in this field highlight the endless possibilities for 3D printing in healthcare, particularly reconstruction of body parts or even transplants. Kristen Brown wrote earlier this year, in an article for Fusion, on the potential of printing actual organs:
“Since then, researchers have printed all sorts of human tissue: living human kidneys and livers, albeit miniature in size; the first ever artificial cells of a beating human heart; and part of a kidney that survived in vitro for two weeks. Both the heart cells and the kidney tissue were remarkable for the complexity of the tissues recreated—the kidney tissue, for example, was made up of three different kinds of cells, a step towards creating even more complex tissues and eventually entire organs.”
We may not be there just yet when it comes to creating entirely new organs ready for transplant, but we’re certainly on the right track; just last year, a two-year-old girl born with a heart defect survived a difficult operation thanks to a 3D printer. It produced a perfect model of her heart that allowed surgeons to carefully plan out the procedure.
Our grandchildren may one day owe their lives to printers.
Lipson, H. & Kurman, M., Fabricated: the new world of 3D printing, Indianapolis: John Wiley
3D printed heart helps to save girl’s life, BBC News [online], 27 January 2015, Accessible at < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-30996506 >
Brown, Kristen V., How close are we to a 3D-printed human heart?, Fusion [online], 17 February 2016, Accessible at < http://fusion.net/story/269559/3d-printed-organs-can-live-in-animals/ >
Gadget Man, “Home Improvement”, S02E05, Channel Four, Accessible at: < http://www.channel4.com/programmes/gadget-man/on-demand/56350-005 >
Dehue, Robert, The Story of Enrico Dinin – The Man Who Prints Houses, 3D Printing, 9 July 2013, Accessible at: < http://3dprinting.com/materials/sand-glue/the-story-of-enrico-dini-the-man-who-prints-houses/ >