What are some of the world’s biggest problems? Education, healthcare, natural disasters…the list goes on. One thing they all have in common is that many researchers, companies, non-profits, and everyday people are helping to solve them with 3D printing. Let’s walk through some of the ways this innovative process is saving the world.
More and more people seem to be asking about what’s happening to jobs and industry in the United States. As of January 2015, the U.S. as a nation ranked 27th in math and 20th in science, according to a Pew Research Center study on education. How are we going to stay on the cutting edge while our education is not keeping up with the rest of the world? In order to fix a problem, we must first admit we have one. Second, we must ask, what are we going to do about it?
Some companies have been developing plans, syllabi, and educational kits to parallel public school lessons. 3D printing could become an instrumental learning tool, helping to illustrate learning fundamentals, inspiring creativity in learning, and educating students to think outside the box while learning about computer numeric controlled (CNC) machines and CAD programs that may benefit them as they move from the school to professional environment. Understanding CNC devices like a 3D printer is a sought-after skill in industry. In addition, the scientific and creative mind that understands how to design for 3D printing will continue to be valuable in the manufacturing sector.
Robotics and 3D printers are the fastest-growing technologies used in education and research. M.I.R.A. is the ideal platform for teaching for teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles at all levels.
Companies such as Afinia, XYZ Printing, and MakerBot have been working 3D printing into lesson plans. Printing out learning tools, STEM kits, and other materials not only helps students learn, but brings resources into the classroom that schools couldn’t otherwise afford. Even educational kits priced from $10 to $30 are too much when considering a class filled with 30 students. It isn’t possible to provide these kits en masse. But if the components can be printed, and a syllabus downloaded that aligns with what the school is teaching, the cost can be dramatically reduced.
3D printing fills a hands-on education hole left by some schools’ lack of a shop class that may have been cut due to budget, safety, or litigious concerns. 3D printers are in more than 5,000 schools across the U.S. While 3D printers for schools received some good initial headlines, the burden that came with them wound up being passed back and forth between the schools to the 3D printer companies. Schools were often ill-equipped to handle maintenance, budget in more filament, or do anything more educational than printing a chess piece.
Today, it looks like 3D printing companies and school have started to find some common ground and solutions that will surely progress 3D printing to new levels. Not only will this technology educate students better, it will have an exponential benefit as students raised on this technology move into STEM or management positions.
3D printing offers a whole new way of finding solutions that aren’t possible with traditional processes. Education can help strengthen the prime mover of tools—the brain. This can lead to better problem-solving skills, scientific literacy, and overall education.
Hands-on education can be difficult when the model is a cadaver. In the medical industry there are ethics and limited resources that may inhibit a young doctor’s training. Fortunately, 3D printing is working on medical training, too. This amazing process is also improving drug dosing, and could reduce the 25 people who die every day waiting for an organ transplant.
Having the ability to alter material properties within a print has led to realistic models of the human body. Realistic models of the body let student practice surgeries over and over before going into the operating room. In addition, doctors can use a CAT scan or MRI that can be used to generate an exact model of a patient in preparation or a procedure—and it doesn’t stop at models.
BioMimics vascular models allow for fine vascular structures down to an internal diameter of 2 mm and blood vessels of varying thicknesses to mimic different compliance. They can also operate in a wet lab set-up.
Inkjet and laser printers have provided a proof of concept to create a knee meniscus, heart valve, spinal disk, other types of cartilage and bone, and an artificial ear. There has even been an ear created that would extend to frequencies beyond the ability of our natural ears. While fully printed organs seem impossible, researchers have successfully printed miniature versions of them. There is a lot of hype around fully printed organs, but with current momentum, it’s possible that the next generation or two might see this technology realized.
Personalized drug dosing is another benefit 3D printing can help with, but like printing organs, it will greatly be delayed—and for good reason, due to research and regulations. A patient’s specific drug or drugs could be printed into a pill for exactly what is needed. For example, if 300 mg of a drug is needed, but there is only an FDA-approved pill available in 200 and 500 mg, what would be the right dosage? If it were possible to approve specific doses, it could be printed into the perfect amount needed and no more.
Not only could this improve health without under- or overdosing a patient, it could greatly reduce drug inventory. Personalized medicine could be advanced to where a pharmacy simple carries the basic elements. Then the pharmaceutical manufacturers are replaced with an e-mail from the doctors, a database of medication formulas, and a 3D printer.
Glasgow chemist Lee Cronin found a way to turn a 3D printer into a universal mixing chemistry set. Since most drugs are just mixes of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and perhaps a mix of paraffin and vegetable oil, a 3D printer could use these materials to print whatever you like. While the technology seems to be a bit off in the future, this is enough to worry law enforcement.
Humanitarian Crisis Response
Have 3D printer, will travel: The novel printer by Kijenzi is robust and easily fits into a duffel bag to get to areas that are in need.
It isn’t just law enforcement that has its eye on 3D printing. First responders and humanitarian relief efforts are finding way to get printers in tough areas. Some of the most pressing issues for humanitarian relief are logistical ones. A recent study was done on bringing 3D printing into hard-to-reach areas. The Kijenzi 3D printer was designed to be transported a duffel bag and assembled anywhere. Furthermore, the printer can be run off of solar panels for areas without power.
A swarm of five Kijenzi 3D printers were evaluated for rapid part manufacturing over a two-month period at health facilities and other community locations in both rural and urban areas throughout Kisumu County, Kenya. They were successful based on their ability to function independently of infrastructure, transportability, ease of use, ability to withstand harsh environments, and costs.
“Supply chain logistics for humanitarian responses are some of the most complex that exist,” noted the study. “It is challenging to forecast both the demand (due to difficulties in knowing both the timing of a disaster and details of the population affected) and the supply, which is often fueled by donations. A massive mismatch between the supplies delivered and the supplies that are needed is often inevitable both in quantity and kind. As 60–80% of all aid money is spent on procurement, this mismatch represents not only costly errors but errors that can have negative long-term effects on local markets and economies.”
3D printing has been around since the 1980s, but researchers are still finding ways to use this process. Today 3D printing is helping to tackle some of our biggest problems. In part two, we’ll discuss how it continues to change the world by helping the environment and changing the way we think about explosives. From making students smarter, people healthier, or making humans more humanitarian, 3D printing might be just what we need to save the world.
Editor's Note: The full source for the 3D printer is here, including BOM, operations manual, software, and 3D design files. To build: First follow the basic instructions in the manuscript. This design is adapted from the basic MOST Delta 3D printer build, which may help with details.