3-D Print Everything: 13 Projects You Should Know About
Headlines about new 3-D printing projects are everywhere, and rightly so: Since the 1980s, a variety of methods of 3-D printing, or additive manufacturing, have opened new options for researchers and innovators looking to create new products, quickly prototype products, and develop solutions to problems we deal with on a daily basis.
As 3-D printing becomes more common and accessible, more ideas and innovations are able to push the boundaries of the technology and create new and different applications. From the projects that make everyday objects more fun and more personalized to the cost-conscious innovations that can change someone’s life or health, here’s a look at how 3-D printing is starting to change our world.
1. Normal Earphones
Let’s start with something so simple that you probably use it everyday: earbuds. A startup called Normal provides custom 3-D printed earphones in as little as 48 hours. Users download Normal’s iOS or Android app, photograph their ears, and send the data to Normal, where engineers use “nerdalicious software” and 3-D printing to design custom earphones. They’re assembled according to the preferences that the user chose, and shipped from Normal’s facility in Manhattan.
Another custom accessory that you could use everyday is Soda Concept‘s 3-D printed sunglasses. The company prints sunglasses on a $2,000 Makerbot Replicator 2 printer, using biodegradable plastic. The company currently offers four frame styles in 22 colors, and because the arms are printed separately, they can be the same color or a different color from the rest of the glasses. Customers can also buy additional frames at a lower price, and move the lenses from pair to pair when they feel like switching colors.
While 3-D printed records aren’t being mass-produced (yet), the concept demonstrates the complexity of which 3-D printers are capable. Instructables developer Amanda Ghassaei successfully 3-D printed custom records, converting audio files into 33 RPM resin records. The prototypes play on ordinary turntables. Ghassaei used an Objet Connex 500 printer, which uses UV light to cure the model layer by layer and prints with much more precision than printers like the MakerBot.
4. Tactile Books
The Tactile Picture Books Project at the University of Colorado, Boulder 3-D prints books for children with visual impairments, converting traditional picture books into 3-D printed pages with computational algorithms. Parents and teachers have traditionally made “tactile books” by pasting textured items into picture books to enable children to follow along as books are read aloud. 3-D printing books takes tactile books to the next level, and the project’s ultimate goal is to enable parents and teachers to send a photo of a book to a 3-D printer and get a tactile book back.
On the topic of helping the visually impaired read, researchers at MIT recently unveiled the 3-D printed FingerReader, a wearable device fitted with a camera that enables users to scan a line of text with their finger. Software identifies the words, and a voice reads them aloud. The device gives haptic feedback cues to alert users to the beginning and end of a line, and to help them scan straight across lines. Though the software has been three years in the making, the current FingerReader model is a prototype, and researchers want to find a way to make it work with mobile phones, in addition to books, paper, and computer screens, before it’s released to the public.
6. Body Parts
Researchers at Australia’s Monash University are 3-D printing kits of anatomical body parts, intended to improve the training of medical professionals, especially in countries where cadavers are too expensive, are in short supply, or are prohibited for cultural or religious reasons. The kit, which is expected to go on sale later this year, were created by scanning real anatomical specimens with a CT or surface laser scanner. They’re then printed in color in powder or plastic, and recreate the body layer by layer to scale.
3-D printed food is taking off in a variety of forms, from NASA’s 3-D printed pizza to 3-D printed cake icing. But one of the more obviously useful — if not obviously appetizing — applications is 3-D printed Smoothfood intended for the ill and elderly in Germany. Smoothfood is made from fresh ingredients — vegetables, meats, and carbs — which are chopped, mixed, or pureed for patients who have difficulty chewing or swallowing. The fresh food is then printed into a variety of shapes and textures, and delivered to nursing homes or family caretakers to improve the nutrition of patients who would traditionally find it difficult to eat a balanced diet.
A company named Better Walk uses 3-D printing to develop more ergonomically friendly crutches. Better Walk’s crutch reduces stress to the wrist and forearm, and eliminates the need for users to put weight on their underarms, a typically painful necessity with the use of traditional crutches. 3-D printing enables the company to more quickly prototype and produce new iterations of the product, based on feedback from surgeons and therapists.
French startup Drawn combines design with technology to 3-D print furniture ranging from chairs to tables to lamps. The founders of the company built their own robotic arm 3-D printer, which enables Drawn to print large-scale pieces, like the chair pictured. The company will soon sell a line of 3-D printed furniture, and enable users to design and print their own unique pieces. Drawn will also partner with designers and artists to produce exclusive lines of products that they’ve designed.
The 3-D Print Canal House is an ongoing architectural research project by Dus Architects in Amsterdam. The group is “linking science, design, construction, and community” to 3-D print an entire thirteen-room house with a large printer called the KamerMaker. The construction process is efficient given that it produces no waste and requires little transportation of materials, and the goal of the project is to develop building techniques that make it easy and cost-effective to 3-D print a house anywhere.
11. Hand-Washing Station
Oxfam and MyMiniFactory partnered to use 3-D printing technology to improve humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The project aims to make it more time and cost-efficient to design and test products for specific needs in the field, and the first product the collaboration created was a printable hand-washing system. MyMiniFactory accepts design submissions from anyone who’s interested in helping, and then Oxfam tests them out, sending back suggestions on how to improve them. The partnership points to the possibility that humanitarian organizations could increasingly rely on 3-D printers to produce the supplies they need.
12. Prosthetic Hands and Arms
Not Impossible Labs launched “Project Daniel” to 3-D print prosthetic hands and arms for people injured in war in South Sudan, where there are an estimated 50,000 amputees, ranging from small children to adults. The organization set up a 3-D printing prosthetic lab and training facility, and provides prosthetic specifications as a free and open-source resource. Not Impossible’s objective is to “crowd-solve” healthcare issues with low-cost solutions, and the arm developed for Project Daniel costs only about $100 to produce.
13. Prosthetic Noses and Ears
Partnering with the University of Sheffield, Fripp Design and Research developed methods to 3-D print soft tissue prostheses, like noses and ears. The system captures 2-D information, like color, and 3-D information separately, and maps the 2-D information onto the 3-D spatial data, printing them with bio-compatible materials. The process is faster, less expensive, and less invasive than the traditional process of manufacturing a prosthesis, and will improve access for patients who previously might not have been able to get a prosthetic nose or ear.