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The technology industry is buzzing at how 3D printing is the next big thing. And it is! But it’s not something that we are just waiting around for something to happen – it’s happening right now.
3D objects can feel limited to plastics, ceramics, and metals. Or the application of 3D printing offers products that are nice and convenient, but not quite yet changing the world. In today’s article, we are sharing some incredible 3D-printed products that will surprise you.
In 2016, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) gave its first-ever approval to a 3D-printed drug. Spritam is an oral medication that helps treat epilepsy – and its website highlights how 3D printers made it.
The producers of Spritam credit printing process stereolithography (SLA) with helping to create ZipDose Technology. This patented technology is a new way for medicines to rapidly dissolve and disintegrate with only a small sip of liquid, something that hasn’t been done with traditional drug production methods. The 3D printing process means the drug isn’t made using compression, punches, or die casts. Instead, the technique allows the drug’s production to bind layers of powdered medication with a water-based substance. The pill is a solid medicine that has many tiny spaces or holes, allowing it to dissolve quickly.
3D printing allows for this drug to hold a lot more active ingredients, up to 100mg of medication, while still being easy and quickly dissolvable, and still tasting better than a lot of oral medications.
The potential for 3D printing in this field is huge: imagine the taste options printing a drug could offer – while still ensuring precise dosage and easy-to-administer medicine. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to see a time when a person could print their medicine at home.
People have been making glass for thousands of years, and it’s even considered an art. So why are we excited about glass that could be 3D printed?
For nearly a century, glass has been made in factories. The process starts with melting sand, and then floating the molten sand sheets into large tanks of molten tin. It’s a process that is very risky and can be unsafe, as it involves extremely high heat. Combustibility of the glass is major concern. Further, glass factories can be significant polluters and users of raw materials, so the environmental risks must be weighed.
3D printing could be changing this decades-old process. In April 2017, a German research team offered a new method for making glass: “liquid glass” that can be shaped into complex shapes using 3D printers, then heated into a solid.
Other organizations have already 3D printed glass, but the process of this German team makes it much easier to create a smooth and transparent object. More complex details are easier to design and execute, reducing the time and cost of creating such glass. That means 3D-printed glass could revolutionize the eyeglass and mirrors industries, reducing the time and materials required for creating these customized pieces, thereby reducing the cost.
It’s also a lot safer, and relies on a lot less valuable environmental resources. As an additive process, 3D printing allows for using a nearly exact amount of raw material, without much waste.
Healthcare was one of the first forecasted industries ripe for a 3D printing revolution. Industry experts and hobbyists alike immediately seized on the potential for 3D printing to offer custom-built medical devices, like pacemakers, prosthetic limbs, and medical models and tools. Traditionally, these pieces require a lot of time and money to build, and their useful lifespan may not be that long, with quality sometimes remaining elusive. 3D printing is already changing that – allowing medical professionals to print pieces as-needed, and customize them to the individual patient.
But recently, several universities and companies are starting something beyond just implants and objects: they are 3D printing skin tissue, blood vessels, and heart tissue.
In January 2017, a collaboration of a Spanish university, research group, hospital, and health firm presented a prototype for a 3D bioprinter that creates human skin. The printed skin can be used directly in transplants to patients, or as research substance for chemical, drug, and cosmetic testing.
Instead of using cartridges of material or colored inks, the bioprinter relies on ‘bioinks’. These bioinks allows the user to mix biological components, such as cells, in a way that the components continue to function. The prototype offers affordability and scalability: depending on the intended purpose, skin can be printed in large quantities or customized for an individual patient.
Bioinks are being used in other bodily tissue printing, though these are still in developmental stages. A Chinese research team confirmed in December 2016 that they had implanted 3D-printed blood vessels into monkeys. Other researchers and scientists worldwide are developing ways to use 3D printing to create heart tissue.
The future of 3D printing is here. With the time, money, and research investments made into this technology, we can fully anticipate revolutions in several important industries in the 21st century.