3D Printing

3DPI Writer, Shane Taylor’s Top 5 3D Printing Apps of 2013

Over the festive season 3DPI writers and contributors have all spent some time rounding up their personal, favourite 3D printing applications/developments that have emerged during 2013. Here, it is the turn of 3D printing writer Shane Taylor.

5. 3D Painting / 3D Aerosol Jet Printing

3d frog paintingGeneral Electric (GE) is experimenting with ’3D painting’ or ‘cold spray technology’ to repair metal parts. The innovative process involves spraying metal powders at rapid speeds (up to Mach 4) to add material to an existing metal part for repairs. The spraying of material using a jetting process to form structures additively is already renown thanks to the DARPA funded initiatives enacted by Optomec, where circuits are built additively by their patented 3D Aerosol Jet Printing technology.

Optomec’s analogous Aerosol Jet Printing is an existing digital manufacturing technique for creating miniaturised electronic circuits and components, that works with a wide range of functional materials: conductors, semi-conductors, resistors, dielectrics and encapsulation materials are printed on to virtually any surface material. This technology, which could also potentially be referred to as a kind of ’3D painting,’ has been around for a while now.

These additive manufacturing processes stand apart as quite distinct from the majority of 3D printing processes. The potential range of applications is immense. I would speculate that in time, using aerosols and other airborne particle methodologies will have an impact in extra-terrestrial environments. Whilst gravity, pressure and atmospheric composition are key variables in such processes, metals can be manipulated by strata within the electromagnetic spectrum to be directed and formed into desired structures.

For more on 3D Painting, you can check out our coverage of GE’s announcement of 3D painting here. GE’s fascinating new process can be perused in video format here.

4. Bioprinting: 3D Printed prothetics / organs

3D printing catModified 3D printers developed at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, US, that print human cells in hydrogel-based scaffolds, backed by USD$24m (£15m) from the U.S. Department of Defence, have accomplished the feat of printing miniature human organs to test new vaccines in a lab. The “body on a chip” project replicates human cells to print heart, liver, lung and blood vessel imitating structures.

The US Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), a division of the US government, which combats nuclear, chemical and biological weapons – three of the four main categories of weapons that are capable of destroying cities, along with cyber attacks – has financed the project as it “would significantly decrease the time and cost needed to develop medical countermeasures” for bio-terrorism attacks, as stated by Dr Clint Florence, acting DTRA Translational Medical Division branch chief of vaccines.

The applications of bio-printing that are of interest to myself, however, are the alleviation of suffering of species (not just humans) by replacement organs and the potential to finally bring an end to animal testing, which, in the context of testing make-up and other vanity products. The appalling amount of suffering enacted on millions of living, breathing, feeling creatures for the sake of vanity in recent history is something that can soon finally be brought to an end.

Recently we have seen the unveiling of the first human body part bio-printer, check out this short from CNN on YouTube for this amazing breakthrough – and its accompanying huge range of ethical questions that require rigorous debate – here.

3. Open-source Home Metal & Electronics Printers

Ozzy OsbourneLet’s start by creating a few definitions for newcomers to 3D printing, who are just as much part of the readership we serve as the experienced makers and industry insiders we know and love. More experienced readers may wish to skip past the first image to get to the juicey information on this exciting new home metal 3D printing phenomenom.

3D Printing is now a generic term for what was once mainly called Additive Manufacturing. Making by putting together rather than taking bits away is the most basic way of communicating what this means, if an oversimplification. There are a number of ways of making an object, a ‘thing.’ Most things made by humans in our history have been made by ‘chipping away’ bits from a big bit of stuff to craft the desired form. Now, thanks to high energy making processes, we can fuse bits of stuff together to make things.

There are a number of ways of doing this. One is for where capacity for ‘higher energy’ is used to ‘melt plastic’ for it then to become solid again as we see in FDM / FFF processes, which are the one’s you are most likely to have seen and used by the currently most heard of 3D printers such as RepRap, Ultimaker, Afinia, Stratasys owned MakerBot, 3D Systems and the hundreds more worthy of your attention.

These printers can print out objects that are often open source, which means that you are free to download the design. You will be paying for the materials themselves, but the even more remarkable aspect is that some materials can be recycled by other machines that can be purchased, essentially giving a way to make many things for a low cost. I’ve heard a BBC presenter call this socialism. Generally, mass media commentators can be taken with a pinch of salt on this as they have no specialist knowledge.

These 3D printers essentially see what you tell them to make and make them for you. A more eloquent way of articulating this is that just as Michelangelo said that his sculptures were already in the marble that he worked with as an articulation of the vision inherent in the creative mind, a 3D printer takes a digital version of an object and makes it real. The difference is that Michelangelo had to chip away bits of marble to produce his sublime sculptures – subtracting bits away, ‘subtractive manufacturing,’ whereas 3D printers add bits together – ‘additive manufacturing.’

But, even though you have read that these 3D printers only print in plastic, this is not the case. Again, reading about 3D printing on the Fox News website or watching BBC references is only going to get you so much information, and the journalists working for them are not paid to research 3D printing day in and day out. Home 3D printers already produce in a type of wood, a type of brick material, recently even home 3D printing circuits. Now there are also metal home 3D printers emerging and 3D printing at home with metals is now truly an emergent trend … exciting times!

2. 3D Printed Renewable Energy

Dual Axis Solar Tracker

3d printable file repositories by now hold many a gem of innovation and design. One such innovation is Rob Martin’s thing 53321: A Dual Axis Solar Tracker. This is cool 3D printable kit. There is an increasing range of 3D printable, open source and upcycled solar power solutions for home assembly, and more importantly, applications for the developing world.

Let’s remember that Africa alone is projected to have a population of some two billion by the middle of this century. This is simply unsustainable on current trajectories. Although estimates suggest a plateau around the 9,100,000,000 mark for the world population of Homo Sapiens Sapiens, the essence is very much still ‘Go forth and multiply’ — with no indication of when to stop…

Rob’s Dual Axis Solar Tracker is a neat example of just what can be achieved with a bit of know-how, a fair bit of innovation and a lot of dedication. No longer is the answer to the wide range of global problems only in the hands of large companies and the decision making of government officials. More and more we are seeing every day people take the initiative and show that it certainly doesn’t take billions of Dollars / Euros / Yuan to make a difference in the world. Quite the opposite.

As the trend for open source hardware takes a firmer hold, in an analogous way to the trend for open source software, large corporations as well as SMEs will feed on the innovations of the individual: otherwise known as crowd-sourcing. This is not necessarily a negative, it could be a highly productive synergy, so long as Intellectual Property orientated big business does not become parasitic upon the open source designer and maker – and, indeed, the other way around.

1. 3D Printing in Space

DSI Harvestor

Space. Astonishingly beautiful, inconceivably vast, mind-bendingly surreal in its reality. As a child I enjoyed camping out in the garden of my childhood home for meteor showers. Whilst the neighbourhood kids were playing football I was in a world of my own ogling books displaying images of the universe. Today, I am blessed to be followed by six NASA employees on Twitter. I speak on social media to a member of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab staff. Private Space enterprises read what I write. It is still quite new to me, and trust me, it’s out of this world.

The space shuttle had something to do with this. Watching launches on TV was the highlight of my life. Also the Voyager probes were revealing amazing (for the time) new images. It may have been over a decade since mankind had last set foot on the moon, but there was still a tangible novelty about mankind’s new-found ability to reach out into space.

We know more about its nature than that of the depths of the Earth’s oceans or the human mind, but still, this frontier is almost irrefutably the final one: the ultimate destination of our species. This however is not why I am so enthusiastic about 3D printing in space. What is the most pressing problem of Homo Sapiens Sapiens? Some may say climate change. Some may say that the majority of humans are still pagans / infidels / heathens, etc.

Myself, I would say the most pressing of pressing problems for Homo Sapiens Sapiens is Homo Sapiens Sapiens… Endlessly multiplying mammals with an insane, innate belief that the resources of the Earth were placed here to consume without thought of consequence. It’s our most base impulse, most basic imperative, so, indeed, why would we give it a thought until at last, we absolutely have to?

Resources however are limited: Peak oil is pending, the rich bio-diversity of the third planet from Sol is collapsing in the fastest mass extinction event in Earth’s history. Space for agriculture is growing short. All this and more without even going near the climate change ‘debate.’ Yet the prophetic peak population plateau of 9.1 billion is still merely distant projection: humans just keep on breeding and breeding. Is anthropocentric arrogance – the subconscious belief that mankind is the centre of the universe – the cause of this malady?

For one, we earnestly believe in a basic human right to reproduce regardless of any and all other variables. For another, even if we are to believe that other species on Earth are merely here for the disposal of humans, those species are finite in diversity and population – the Earth and its lifeforms are an intricately interrelated whole. From the air we breathe to the food we eat; all is dependent upon other species being there in the first place. Mankind is not an island. The more humans, the more destruction of the Earth’s biomass and ecology. The more destruction of the Earth’s biomass and ecology, the less humans there can be. Collapse is inevitable on this course.

However, whilst the Earth’s resources are finite, it’s not hard to see that beyond Earth lays an almost infinite amount of resources. We can go to them to bring them back, bring them to us via automated technology, or leave Earth for pastures new. A combination of some or all of these is most likely. In one article I am not going to be able to even skim the surface of all that has happened in 2013 regarding 3D printing and space, thus I shall leave this topic with a few links to articles I’ve written here at 3DPI on the topic that provide an overview.

By 2050, 3D and 4D printing (and 5D?) in space will be mankind’s most important technologies. Mankind’s current most important technology is money. Economic growth is limited by resources. If our current economic paradigm persists that long, opening up the limitation upon resources is clearly the most important economic paradigm shift ever to have occurred in human history… and I very much include changes such as the shift from hunter-gatherer to subsistence farming and invention of the wheel in that statement.

Serious stuff!

For an overview of the many exciting breakthrough occurring with 3D printing and space, check out our 3D Printing & Space series, Parts 1 and 2 are here and here, with many more to come!