3D printers recently gained a bit of a bad reputation when some used the technology to print gun parts or make their own home made guns; but don’t write off 3D printing as the devil’s device since it can be used to end world hunger, help people get better, and speed up the creation of new technologies from testing labs to mass production, and help harness the creative genius in your kid.
NASA awarded a $125,000 grant to Anjan Contractor’s company, Systems & Materials Research Corporation, to create a prototype of his universal food synthesizer or a 3D food printer.
Contractor is a mechanical engineer with a background in 3D printing and believes that the world’s food supply with greatly diminish by the end of this century and the only way to provide everyone with a good nutritious meal is via 3D printed food that comes packed with it.
“I think, and many economists think, that current food systems can’t supply 12 billion people sufficiently,” says Contractor. “So we eventually have to change our perception of what we see as food.”
Right now, 3D printers use plastic to create almost anything a person wants. With food printers, a powder that contains our daily needs such as protein, fats, carbohydrates, Omega 3 and vitamins and minerals will be used to create what you might call food pellets.
Contractor is already working on a 3D printer that could create pizza as the food is easy to make since it’s composed of layers of food so printers can inject one component at a time. Also, 3D printed food, since it has no moisture in it, can be kept for years or decades, which is suitable for space food or for people who have a knack of keeping food for longer than they are intended to be kept. No more food spoilage!
Also, 3D printed food can cater to the specific needs of each person, gender or age.
“One of the major advantage of a 3D printer is that it provides personalized nutrition,” says Contractor. “If you’re male, female, someone is sick—they all have different dietary needs. If you can program your needs into a 3D printer, it can print exactly the nutrients that person requires.”
Advancements in medicine
If you break your bone, say in your face, there’s a huge chance that you’ll be fitted with metal plates to repair which could be a hassle in the long run for the person as it could trip metal detectors in airports. You need a medical certificate explaining your condition and all. But those days may long be gone as 3D printers can be used to create skull fragments and even jawbones to reconstruct a person’s skull.
Last year, an 83-old woman was fitted with a 3D-printed jaw made by LayerWise in Belgium, based on the research of Biomedical Research Institute at Hasselt University also from the same country.
The patient had developed a chronic bone infection but due to her age, traditional reconstructive surgery was not a viable option. The 3D-printed jaw facilitates nerve growth as it has grooves to direct nerves where to go and it also has grooves where false teeth can be screwed in. Though the jaw is a bit heavier than the actual bone, the benefit of using a 3D-printed is that it can personalized to a person’s bone structure so no worrying about looks getting deformed or weird or not look like yourself anymore. This procedure was the first time a 3D-printed implant was used on a patient.
And just this March, 75 percent of a patient’s skull was replaced with a 3D-printed plate dubbed as the OsteoFab Patient Specific Cranial Device created by a 3D printer from Oxford Performance Materials. It used PEKK biomedical polymer and Additive Manufacturing, Oxford’s OsteoFab technology, to create a plate that has a big advantage of being biomechanically similar to bone. This advancement could transform and disrupt the orthopedic industry.
But the most significant advancement in 3D printing is Nanoscribe’s creation of a tabletop printer capable of printing microstructures 100 times faster than it is possible today. With Nanoscribe, creating heart stents, microneedles for painless shots, gecko adhesives, parts for microfluidics chips, and scaffolds for growing cells and tissue will be faster. It could also be used in the electronics industry to create polymer templates used in making metallic structures for chips.
Kids at work
If you think 3D printer is just for grownups, then you’d be surprised with what an 11-year old can do with one. Andrew Man-Hudspith, 11 years old, uses his 3D printer to create toys, repair things that break, and even some plastic jewelries for his sister.
Man-Hudspith created a powerpoint presentation to convince his dad why they need to buy a 3D printer even giving his dad an option of splitting the printer’s prices between the members of the family. His father eventually caved in but not everything was smooth sailing for the kid as not everything he wanted to create was not possible because of his age according to his father.
Man-Hudspith is already considered as an inventor by his peers so him owning a 3D printed did not surprise them. At 11 years old, he has already created a lot of things with his 3D printers, imagine what he can do with it as he learns more about 3D printing?