Manufacturing’s New Dimension: Some Surprising Things About 3D Printing

3D printing is one of the tech sector’s most promising fields. This new process has a ton of features to draw the attention of forward-thinking consumers: a catchy name, flashy results, and seemingly limitless potential. By now, pretty much everyone had at least heard of 3D printing. But many people are still a little uncertain about what exactly 3D printing is.

3D printing (sometimes called by its technical title, additive manufacturing) is a process by which a machine creates a 3-dimensional object that has been designed using computer-aided design software (CAD). With 3D printers, designers can make detailed objects with small parts which would otherwise be cumbersome and time-consuming to create. And companies like MakerBot have made the technology relatively cheap and accessible to the public. Designers and engineers still haven’t reached the technology’s limit. But their results so far are staggering. Here are a few of the things 3D printers can make.

Cars

The world has its first 3D printing car. This August, Popular Mechanics reported on the Strati. The Strati is result of a collaboration between Detroit’s Local Motors and Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and it’s a neat machine. Constructed mostly of plastics and aluminum, the car is lightweight, compact, and very driveable. Their lightweight may one day make collision less dangerous, which would be a godsend in a world with ever-increasing numbers of distracted and fatigued drivers. And it costs a fraction of what a normal car costs. 3D printing could be the future of the automotive industry.

Organs

Designers can 3d print organs. No, not the instruments (although, why not?). Real, functioning organs. Nature reports on this incredible application, noting that although printers are mostly sticking to simple structural part such as bones, medical professionals and engineers are in the middle of promising work on more complex bodily components like kidneys, ears, and livers. Imagine being able to deal with liver failure by simply downloading a CAD file from the comfort of your own home. If everything goes as planned, 3D printing will make health care as convenient as a microwaved meal.

Food

The future of food may be here, too. Rachel Laudan and many others have recently made the claim that society should forward, not backward, to the future of food. 3D printed food may be the answer to her plea, a radical foodie shift for folks once they tire of organics and all natural goods. So far, the problem with 3D food is that to make it, you already need to have the ingredients on hand; the printers simply reshape it. But with work, perhaps you’ll be able to download complex meal specially designed for your nutritional needs. Nutritionists could help develop software to build a sandwich engineered to contain the exact amounts of each needed nutrient. The military is also looking into applications. Getting healthy, fresh food to troops in the middle of warzones poses serious logistical problems. If soldiers could one day download food and print it up on their own, it would solve dozens of problems.