Friday, June 10, 2016

The Future of 3-D Printing

Jason Boryszewski
3-D printing, more formally known as additive manufacturing has existed since the 1980s.  Up until recently, 3-D printers were used exclusively by companies due to the sheer cost and size of industrial printers.  3-D printers used in the business world can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and fill rooms.  In the past few years though consumer grade desktop printers have become more and more common due to decreasing prices.  As 3-D printing technology continues to improve and the printers themselves become more commonplace I believe we will begin to see 3-D printers play an increasingly important role in our society, even more so than they have already.  They have a huge potential to revolutionize the way our society functions, as they theoretically cut out the need for factories and the transportation of manufactured goods.
One of the fields that 3-D printers are right on the verge of completely changing is the medical field.  More specifically, the ability of 3-D printers to construct organs and other human body parts.  Until the past few years organs and other body parts have been made by hand, with researchers meticulously placing cells onto biodegradable "skeletons."  This process is incredibly time consuming and plagued by human error.  3-D printing has the potential to construct organs and body parts faster and with less error than any human could ever do.  In an article on journalist Elizabeth Royte describes the process in which a human ear is printed.  "...three cartridges loaded into a print head that hovers over a petri dish atop a small platform.  One cartridge contains cartilage cells, another contains biodegradable scaffold material and a third contains a water soluble gel, which temporarily provides support until it is washed away.  Back and forth the print head shuttles with a pneumatic whoosh, switching between the cartridges, constructing the organ in stacked, successive layers, each 150 microns each."
The 3-D printing of body parts has many benefits.  It would decrease the time in which a patient waits for an organ, and organs created from a patient's own cells would not be rejected by the body.  Skin is likely to be the first organ produced by 3-D printers on a large scale, as it is the simplest organ.  Anthony Atala of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine estimates that within a few years hospitals will have access to 3-D printers that print skin directly onto a patient's body.
The medical industry is just one field in which 3-D printing has the potential to change greatly in the future.  Consider this question: how would our world change if every home had the ability to 3-D print common household items?  Big box stores would disappear, or at least their stock would decrease greatly.  When a piece of your sink breaks, you could just print another yourself for only the cost of the materials.  No matter the case, 3-D printers have the potential to revolutionize our world.
Works Cited
Milkert, Heidi. "3D Printing: The Next 5 Years." 3DPrintcom. 3DR Holdings LLC, 28 Mar. 2015. Web. 07 June 2016.
Royte, Elizabeth. "What Lies Ahead for 3-D Printing?" Smithsonian Magazine, May 2013. Web. 07 June 2016.

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