Photo: Colourbox

Seven things you can 3D print




Companies have started to print bespoke frames for glasses. The process involves customers uploading selfies to a webshop, and then dragging a frame onto the picture and adjusting it to suit the shape of their heads. The frame is only produced once the order has been placed.


The technique for 3D printing a building already exists. In fact, a team in China is using a 3D printer to construct a seven-storey cultural centre. The question is whether it is cheaper to construct a building with a computer-controlled concrete canon, or to prefabricate elements at a factory and then drive them to the construction site. Whatever the outcome, it is sure to rewrite the rule book for the building industry.


3D printing is reducing the number of work processes needed to make new hearing aids. Whereas previously this involved a long, time-consuming manual process, it is now possible to use a ball camera to digitalize the shape of the ear canal, and then create a customer-specific hearing aid on a 3D printer.


The first 3D-printed kidneys have already been surgically implanted in a rabbit. The technology is known as ‘tissue engineering’, and centres on making ‘spare parts’ for a body using living tissue drawn from the patient or animal. Researchers are also using the technique for skin grafts. Instead of transplanting skin from one part of the body to another, it is now possible to take a layer of living cells, place it in a jelly medium and then build it up gradually into a 3D-structure.


Aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus are now using 3D-printed metal components to make stronger gas turbines and jet engines. These 3D prints are the work of GE Aviation, a subsidiary of the American technology and service giant General Electric.


More and more sports disciplines are beginning to employ relatively expensive manufacturing processes, adapting them to suit the anatomy of the individual athlete. It all started with shaping parts for Formula 1 cars to make them lighter and more aerodynamic. Now, however, printers are being used to make conceptual sports equipment such as football boots in 3D, the aim being to enhance the football player’s performance.


Is it really possible to print a pizza? Yes, it is! Food printers work just like any other 3D printer on the market, ‘building’ up prints one layer at a time. Here, however, the materials are dough, sauce, and cheese, which are ‘printed’ in layers on a baking sheet.