3D Printing: For The Army, The Doctor And The Consumer

July 28, 2014

The United States Army is diving further into 3D printing research, potentially revolutionizing today’s manufacturing and distribution processes used for military combat. The interesting thing is that this time it has nothing to do with weapons.

3D-printed food, packed with the proper nutrients and in precise portions, may be making its way to soldiers in combat. The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) is now exploring the potential benefits of 3D-printed food. For one, printed food could easily adhere to the military’s strict nutrition requirements. It could also mean easier rationing, less food waste, lighter loads to carry and meals that can be tailored to individual soldiers’ needs..

Food-printing capabilities are already a reality on a smaller scale. Professional bakers can print out shaped multi-color sugar candies using 3D Systems’ ChefJet 3D. A fan of Italian? Natural Machine’s Foodini can print fully formed, ready-to-cook ravioli.

This exciting exploration into 3D printing is constantly growing and new uses and concepts are emerging every day. Here are some of my favorite uses of the technology. Some are convenient, some life-changing, and others are just plain cool.

1. Houses

A Chinese company used 3D printing to build 10 one-story houses in just a day. The printers produced a mix of cement and construction waste, creating walls layer by layer for the 2,100 square-foot homes.

2. Skin and bones

New skin cells may soon be printed onto burn wounds. A laser scans the patient’s burn and then the printer lays down cells onto the area, one layer at a time.

Scientists are also developing printing for replacement bones. A printed scaffold of polylactic avcid and alginate is covered with adult human stem cells. The scaffold is then implanted in the body, after which it dissolves and is replaced by new bone growth.

3. Makeup

Say goodbye to overpriced eye shadows and a limited color selection. The Mink can print any type of makeup in any color you want. After checking out the below demonstration of the product from Disrupt NY, I think I could be convinced to buy one.

4. Pizza

Engineers have built a prototype 3D printer that they hope can be used by NASA on space missions. The prototype can make a pizza that cooks in just 70 seconds. Sounds a lot better for astronauts than the freeze-dried alternative.

5. 3D Photo Booths

The Omote 3D photo booth takes your picture and creates your own personal tiny figurine. Creepy? Probably, but amazing nonetheless. Just stand still for 15 minutes and you can soon be an action figure.