Two cents blog

The 3D Experiment: Week 5 – ‘Look Mum! Look what I just printed!’

by Steve Mair on 7 April 2014

OK, Part two from me. And, as the title suggests, this time round I’d like to show some of the most innovative applications of 3D printing.  Last week I spoke about the opportunity this type of technology is affording marketers and advertisers in 2014, but what really interests me, more broadly, is how this technology is being used by innovative minds across the board to create real world value and solve real problems.

I’m intrigued by the new breed of inventors, innovators, engineers, hackers and entrepreneurs (as well as the businesses that see their potential and long-term value). Combine these rather clever boys and girls with the underlying platform that technology affords, and the results are often mind boggling.

Here are just some examples – I’m literally just scratching the surface here, but hopefully (and I know this is going to sound all philosophical and utilitarian of me), they give an insight to where 3D printing has the potential to take humanity.

First of all, let’s start big, unbelievably big. Check out this example from the Sudan, an area of Africa that has suffered some of the bloodiest wars the world has seen. These conflicts and, in particular, the devastating nature of homemade explosive devices, have left their physical mark on the population.  The worst of these being huge numbers of amputees, many losing either both legs, or both arms. Mick Ebeling, CEO of Not Impossible Labs travelled to the Sudan to meet a boy called Daniel.  His intention was to not only 3D print prosthetic arms for Daniel, but to install, and teach to members of Daniel’s village, the equipment to do so, enabling them to help others. It’s an inspirational story, you can watch the video here:

On a similar level of freakin’ awesomeness are these examples:

In the UK, a 3D printer was used to print an identical model of a crash victim’s skull from a CT scan, allowing surgeons the opportunity to trial the re-constructive surgery prior to working on the real thing.

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On the other side of the pond, the University of Pennsylvania have decided that science fiction shouldn’t be just that and are progressing nicely in their attempt to 3D print a real person… OK, so perhaps not quite a whole person, but they have been developing a new technique that allows the 3D printing of working blood vessels, that’s right, WORKING BLOOD VESSELS! The technique involves printing a sugar based cast for the live cells to form around. #ScienceReality!

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Next up, something not so profoundly life changing, but still a possible game changer in its own right, is the ability to 3D print fabrics. Designer-researchers like Freedom of Creation in Amsterdam, and Philip Delamore from the London College of Fashion are cranking out seamless, flexible textile structures using software that converts three-dimensional body data into skin-conforming fabric structures. The potential for bespoke creations, specifically tailored to the wearer at a fraction of the cost of visiting Saville Road’s finest, are as abundant as the patterns that can be created. Ladies, throw into the mix custom 3D printed footwear and underwear, and you could print yourself an entire wardrobe and always have something to wear…

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The newest adopter of the technology is a US agency, who you might have thought would have been all over 3D printing like the proverbial cheap suit.  NASA have begun a program of prototyping spacecraft parts and instruments, with the intention that one day, these parts could actually be printed in zero gravity up in space, reducing the need for bulky payloads arriving from earth.

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Last but not least, and one of my favourites, is a 3D printer that has been developed with the intention of being able to print a clone of itself. Except for a couple of metal nuts and bolts, the RepRap printer can print a working copy of itself!  I mean, making a copy of yourself, that’s all good, but what I love the most is, it’s open-source. Open-source promotes innovation through universal access to a product. We’ve seen how other open-source technologies are driving forward technological advances, far beyond anything we could have imagined. Just a couple of examples include (sorry things are about to get nerdy!) the web browser Firefox and the programming language PHP, upon which huge numbers of web solutions are built, including the client side of Facebook and the ever popular WordPress platform. As a result, a community of very clever, innovative people is building around the product, and I can’t wait to see where they take 3D printing next.

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Steve Mair is Creative Director – Digital at BCM

- Paul Cornwell on April 8

Great post Steve. It is certainly looking like 3D printing is going to be technology which truly changes the world. It's great to be one of the first to be experimenting with it so early on. It will be fascinating to be part of its development within the marketing and comms area.

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