In recent years, 3D printing has moved from the stuff of science fiction to becoming a reality. 3D printing is now being used in a variety of ways, anything from medical purposes and commercial products to producing practical everyday objects. One day in the not too distant future, experts predict 3D printers will even be a commonplace household item we can’t do without. Here are some of the more interesting advances in 3D printing.
3D Printed Spy Drones
Just recently, a 3D printed unmanned aircraft was launched from a Royal Navy warship in the UK and successfully landed on a Dorset beach. The futuristic drone, called SULSA, flew 500 metres in a few minutes, and consisted of four 3D printed parts that fit together like a child’s toy.
The testing mission was run by engineers at the University of Southampton. It demonstrated that SULSA, whose wingspan measures 4 feet long and can fly silently up to 97 km an hour, could be one day used for military surveillance. The beauty of 3D printing at sea is that it reduces the need to ship replacement parts from the mainland which is both timely and costly, as well as dangerous should they be intercepted by the enemy.
3D Printed Face Transplants
3D printers are also being used in ground-breaking surgery to assist surgeons with face transplants. The long and arduous operation, which can take up to 25 hours, runs is quicker and smoother with a face replica made from a 3D printer to guide the surgery. The technique, which has dramatically improved the lives of several patients to date, is a huge help because of the way the replica can reflect the bone structure, grafts, screws or plates that may already exist in the patient’s face.
The new face has to fit seamlessly to the existing structure and tissue, so an accurate replica is essential for surgeons to be able to see what they’re dealing with. Overall surgical planning and operation times are now much shorter because of 3D printing.
Although 3D printed kidneys and livers have been around for a while to guide surgeries, the latest organ to come out of the 3D printer has been babies’ hearts. Just a few of these 3D printed hearts have been used so far to help newborn babies with congenital heart defects, and the results have been all positive.
Usually, complicated repair surgery is left until children are at least 6 to 9 months old as babies hearts are so tiny to operate on. MRI scans of the hearts are the only tool that surgeons have to go by and these are often difficult to interpret. The new 3D printed hearts show every little defect and give surgeons a better understanding of what needs to be done to repair the heart and how they can extend a baby’s projected life span.
These are just a few of the myriad of situations where 3D printers are making our lives better, easier and more efficient -, the possibilities for the future of this technology are endless.