Exploring our future with 3D printing


Layer by layer, project after project, 3D printing has revolutionized the engineering industry in the past three decades with its ingenuity and efficiency. 3D printing is the process of using CAD (computer-aided Design) to print a 3D object by laying down materials one layer at a time until the object is complete. The technology behind this has come a long way since its creation in 1970, starting as just an idea on paper and being commercialized for public use today. The idea behind 3D printing was originally a form of more efficient prototyping but has grown to produce objects that are high-quality enough for use in manufacturing. MVHS engineering teacher Ted Shinta thinks that 3D printing still has a ways to go to become the best method for mass production. 

“It’s hard to use 3D printing if you’re mass producing something, but in competition with injection molding [which is the process of injecting molten material into a mold and letting it harden into the desired object], that’s much faster,” Shinta said. “The way you 3D print [affects] the material properties; because of fusing materials layer after layer, it leaves issues in the structure.”

3D printing has advanced quite a bit in the past three decades, becoming more precise and efficient and employing multiple different methods. Two of the most popular methods are FDM (Fusion Deposition Modeling) and SLA (Stereolithography). FDM 3D printing consists of laying material down layer by layer from the extruder (the part of the printer that this stuff comes from) and having the material fuse with the previous layers to build up “walls” of the desired object. SLA printing, like FMD printing, builds objects layer by layer, but it also uses ultraviolet light to selectively cure layers of resin to eventually form the end products. Companies like Prusa, Creality, and Makerbot, which is where MVHS has their 3D printers, have been some of the leading pioneers in making 3D printing affordable and available to the public for the past decade now, bringing prices for quality printers down to less than $200.

MVHS students taking Principles of Engineering and Intro to Engineering utilize 3D printers as they learn to engineer, applying their newfound CAD skills to bring their designs to reality. 

Material:
Not only has the technology for 3D printing advanced over the years but so has the material selection for 3D printing. High-quality materials have been the basis for innovation throughout history. The ability to 3D print with more than just plastic composites brings a whole array of possibilities. Recently, one of the more popular materials that have been developed for 3D printing, is metal. Metal 3D printing consists of a 3D printer at a much higher temperature and utilizes metal as the filament to construct the 3D objects, faster and cheaper than most other methods available. This brings more possibilities that allow much stronger, larger, and even more complicated components or structures. 

Now metal isn’t the only other material that has come into the market for use in 3D printing. Other materials, such as even wood have been used in 3D printing. Having many different materials provides an array of possibilities with what you can apply and create in your designs.

As an engineer, Shinta works with 3D printers a lot and is very interested in the applications of different materials used in 3D printers. In the future, Shinta hopes that “they can also do more control of material properties.” Robotics member Naveen Karun, who designs and 3D prints the parts for the robots agrees, saying,  “I think it’s really important because these other materials are better for the environment and they can be used for different applications. Like, they can be more durable or just better suited to what you’re making.” 

Students in the robotics team utilize PLA filament, which is a common type of material used in 3D printing. The team uses it for efficient and effective prototyping for their designs, as well as utilizing a lot of parts for the final robot event. Karun says, “It’s helpful to be able to print in plastic within the same day by ourselves rather than having to spend a bunch of money waiting for the same thing or even a metal piece to arrive.”

Construction Purposes

With all these improvements, what does that mean for the possibilities of 3D printing? Well, one idea that is being developed is the use of 3D printing for construction. By using larger, industrialized 3D printers and filling them up with concrete, a single man can now build a house in only 1 week– it is significantly cheaper and faster to make houses with the use of 3D printing. During a CNN(CNN) interview with Martin Voelkel, partner at Bjarke Ingels Group, Voelkel described the 3D printed buildings as, “significant steps towards reducing waste in the construction process, as well as towards making our homes more resilient, sustainable and energy self-sufficient.” 

However great the technology of this is, one issue still seems to be rising: structural integrity. Is this process of building strong enough to function as a building or would it be more effective as an artwork? Shinta states that reinforcing the structures with rebar(reinforcing bar) as they would normally do to concrete would be very difficult as the device would have to work around the metal bar. One solution that firms have found to this issue is using cables rather than rebar, for the flexibility and adaptability that can be used when integrating cables as support in the concrete. 

Additionally, a study conducted by CNN(CNN) in Singapore showed that the use of 3D printing in construction emits 86% less carbon dioxide than traditional construction methods. So, the use of 3D printing will also contribute to helping the environment, while being more efficient and much, much cheaper. In the future, we can expect to see many more buildings and homes start to be constructed in a matter of days through 3D printing.

Bioprinting

A big part of the future of this technology is bioprinting, a method of layer-by-layer printing used in additive manufacturing, such as 3D printing, that employs a digital file as a blueprint. Contrary to 3D printing, however, bioprinters use cells and biomaterials to produce organ-like structures that allow living cells to proliferate. Since different cell types make up each tissue in the body, the necessary cells are removed from a patient and cultivated until there is enough to make the “bio-ink,” which is then fed into the printer. However, adult stem cells, which can differentiate into the cells needed in various tissues, can be used to create some tissues. Bio-printing gives us the ability to recreate entire organs, which can solve a lot of problems we have in the modern medical world. Companies like Organovo are working towards making commercial bio-printed organs at affordable prices. In the future, you may even be able to print yourself a new heart at home!

However, with this incredible breakthrough of course comes problems. While the ability to create organs themselves is achievable, the complexity of the structures and the functions they perform also need to be recreated. This issue has been solved by a good number of organs in previous tests and projects over the years, but this is just the beginning of the obstacles that we would need to tackle. Additionally, due to differences among each of us, we are forced to have a different design for each person. 

Jaime Vazquez, the Physiology teacher in MVHS who works in the Biology and Physiology departments thinks that once we start to design the replacements, we would need to be precise and make changes for everyone. 

“Once you get to the molecular and cellular levels, then you have to be more precise, right? Because what happens if you were to create something, implant it in somebody, and then now the immune system is attacking you because it recognizes it as a foreign object that is a lawsuit waiting to happen, right?” Vazquez says.

As Vazquez shares, the next issue is the ethics behind this breakthrough.

Ethics is a massive barrier that always needs to be overcome after technological innovations, but in terms of Biology, it is especially important as it directly correlates with human beings. 

“The problem with technology is not that there is a scientific limitation, but rather there is a legal and ethical limitation,” Vazquez said. “‘Should we do this?’ is the actual question. Not whether we can do it.” 

When the technology to recreate organs becomes commercialized, what would happen if there was a mistake with the device and someone lost their life? That is just one of the many possible scenarios that scientists have to consider when creating such technologies. However, despite all the problems it has, bioprinting will change the way we will all live. It would make transplants more efficient, faster, cheaper, and a controlled state of the organ to reduce chafe chances of organ failures of any kind and the possibility of an improvement from your last organ as well. 

Although 3D printing still has a way to improve, the future of its technology is looking pretty promising. The many uses and advances of 3D printing will change the way our world works by revolutionizing the medical industry, construction industry, and many more.

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