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The Idealog guide to rad 3D-printing innovations

Top image: The car with 3D-printed titanium engine designed and built by University of Canterbury students

The world’s first 3D-printed titanium internal combustion engine, designed and built by a team of University of Canterbury students, was unveiled last week.

The engine and one-person car will compete in the 2018 Shell Eco-marathon Asia in Singapore (March 8-11) – a global event that attracts over 100 teams from tertiary institutes around the Asia-Pacific region.

That’s pretty incredible – and could potentially have major implications for the automotive industry in the future – but begs a question: what are some other interesting things that can be 3D-printed?

Here are a few other things. Eat your (3D-printed) heart out.

3D-printed organs

Shortages mean waiting for an organ transplant can take years – and those waits are literally killing people. In the United States alone, about 900,000 deaths a year could be prevented or delayed by organ or engineered tissue transplants. In other words, 3D-printed organs, as much as the thought might make some people’s stomachs turn, could save many, many lives.

Naturally, a lot of work is being done to make this a reality as soon as possible. Artificial organs (like artificial hearts) can already be 3D-printed, and it’s already possible to 3D-print cartilage, bones, muscles and even appendages like ears. 3D-printing truly natural human organs, however, is a lot harder, as they have many different parts and functions – functions that we depend on to stay alive.

Sure, it may be incredibly sci-fi (but hopefully not bad sci-fi. Ever seen Repo! The Genetic Opera? A word of advice: don’t), but it’s sci-fi that hopefully will be a regular reality soon. Because who doesn’t want to live longer?

3D-printed airplanes

Individual parts for planes can already be 3D-printed. But a full-size Airbus A380 or Boeing 747? You’d need an awfully big printer for that. Same with any vehicles designed for human transport or moving large quantities of cargo, really.

3D-printed clothes and jewellery

As Idealog has reported before, this has been possible for a while. While not popular on a mass scale yet, it has the potential to improve conditions for people around the world who work in the garment industry, conditions which can sometimes be close to modern slavery.



3D-printed action figures and starships

Back in the Dark Ages of 2015, one of our staffers went to “Sherson Willis, a boutique PR agency above an oyster bar that looks exactly like a boutique PR agency would look like on a TV show about a boutique PR agency.” He was scanned, and a Melbourne company called 3D Neoveo printed a mini, action-figure version of him. Yeah. So that’s a thing.

There’s more, too. Players of the free online game Star Trek Online can now get their customised starships 3D-printed, taking their designs from the final frontier to the Terran system thanks to a company called Perfect World Entertainment. Engage.

3D-printed wood

We all know the score: our trees are being chopped down at a record pace, meaning wood is disappearing even as we’re using more of it than ever before to build things. Something, somehow, needs to be done.

And something is. As Idealog reported back in 2016, University of Canterbury Associate Professor David Leung won Government funding to explore the potential for 3D printing live plant cells (a process known as bio-printing) to create synthetic wood. He has been researching working on creating a new, sustainable industry for synthetic wood manufacturing through the 3D bio-printing of live plant cells, a venture which, if successful, could vastly reduce the need to chop down trees.

Leung says the end goal of his project is to be able to 3D print wood without the need for the destructive harvesting of live trees. “Live eucalyptus tree cells will be prepared specifically for bio-printing,” he explains. “They will be physiologically primed in a 3D structure in the biotech lab at the University of Canterbury, without any genetic modification, to be capable of responding to the appropriate triggers for transformation into a principal wood cell called a tracheid. The changes in the cells will be studied in relation to the characteristic morphological features and chemical properties of tracheids using various microscopic, histochemical staining and fluorescence techniques.”

3D-printed contact lenses

University students inventing things isn’t exactly a new concept, no matter where in the world the university is located. But not too many university students have the same bragging rights University of Canterbury student Logan Williams has – after all, they haven’t invented 3D-printed, polarised contact lenses that can help prevent certain kinds epileptic seizures.

As Idealog reported late last year, Williams’ 3D-printed polarised contact lenses providing sufferers of photosensitive epilepsy – where flashing light can cause epileptic seizure – with a tool to overcome the threat of the condition. Williams says he was inspired by the lack of non-medical prevention available to address the condition, and calls the lenses he has created Polar Optics. “I was inspired to develop Polar Optics by one of my close friends who suffers from photosensitive epilepsy,” he says. “The only treatment that gives sufferers some form of protection against the threat of a fit is medication, which can restrict diet, lifestyle and have other adverse potential side effects.”

And that’s not all. “Polar Optics mitigates environmental threats, enabling sufferers to go about their daily lives without fear of a seizure,” he says. “It has the potential to really make a difference to people all over the world with photosensitive epilepsy, and will also help anyone who suffers from headaches and migraines from bright light.”

Logan Williams.

3D-printed houses

Last year, San Francisco-based startup Apis Cor built a whole house within 24 hours. The cost for the 400-square-foot (roughly 37 square metres) dwelling? About US$10,000. Needless to say, there’s a lot of potential for this to help solve urban development – and even human poverty – in the future.

3D-printed guns

Yes, you can technically do it. But please don’t. Not only for moral reasons, but also because in most countries you’ll end up in jail pretty quickly.

3D-printed sex toys

Different strokes for different folks. Or something.

(and no, we will NOT be including a video here. We’re a family publication, after all)

3D-printed 3D-printer

In perhaps the only time this author will use a quote from C-3PO in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones in their career: “Shut me down. Machines making machines. How perverse.”

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