Every once in a while, a new technology comes along that promises to shake up dozens of industries and change our understanding of what is possible. Blockchain and crypto did this to the financial and investment sectors, among dozens of others, while drone technology is being applied everywhere from farming, to search-and-rescue, to telecommunications.
Now, 3D Printing is another one of these game changing technologies, because it promises a way to affordably ‘print’ almost anything, from furniture, to houses, to human tissue.
This development is opening up a new world of possibilities across a variety of applications. Here are just three that already promise to impact society in a big way over the next few years.
Housing & Shelter: Humans are migrating at an unprecedented rate all around the world. As formerly rural populations head toward urban areas, cities are already overwhelmed by the demand for affordable, quality housing. Add to this poverty, homelessness, and a global immigration crisis, there has never been a more urgent need for quick and affordable housing options. Though they can barely be called ‘printers,’ the same principles apply to the massive, concrete laying machines that have already been used to test 3D printed houses. Using durable concrete, a small family-ready house can be ‘printed’ in a matter of hours for only a few thousand dollars. With the speed at which 3D printing technology is advancing, and the financing options available from both NGOs and governments, there is little doubt that the cost and print time could drop even more, making 3D printing a realistic option for the near future of affordable housing.
MedTech: Scientists are now using 3D printers to ‘bio-print’ replacement tissue, and even organs. These amazing machines use ‘bio-inks’ made from a variety of biopolymers, including alginate, a substance derived from brown algae. These biopolymers serve as a foundation for the human cells that will grow to replace the affected tissue or organ. While the technology is still a few years away from mainstream use, bio-printed tissue and even organs are already in use in laboratories around the world for drug and cosmetic testing applications, saving human and animal test subjects. The bio applications here are nearly endless; skin and tissue for burn victims, bones and prosthetics for amputees, transplant hearts, lungs and other organs…. Once this technology leaves the lab and becomes mainstream it will save thousands of lives.
Clothing: Fast fashion has already been exposed as wasteful and unsustainable, with the terrible human cost highlighted in events such as the 2012 factory fire and collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 3D Printed clothes could help make the environmentally harmful practices of fast fashion, and the inhumane working conditions it promotes, a thing of the past. 3D printed clothes have come a long way in the past few years, from an uncomfortable couture experiment, to a selling point of Nike, New Balance, and other mainstream offerings. 3D printed clothes promise to be less wasteful, since they are printed specifically for the wearer and therefore fit better. They also use synthetic materials that are easily recycled back into their component parts, ready to be used in printing again. Just like 3D printed housing, the clothing applications are perfect for addressing the need for clothing among migrant and homeless communities.
Though a few years away from widespread use, the fact that mainstream companies are already selling 3D printed shoes and clothing goes to show that a more sustainable, ethical, and fashionable future is right around the corner.