Photo courtesy of Keith Kissel via Flickr.

The Amazing Possibilities of 3D-Printing

From guns to toys to skin grafts, 3D printing is revolutionizing manufacturing in a wide range of industries.

Update 11/8/2013: Metal guns, human faces, and the International Space Station.

  • There’s now a 3D-printed metal gun, made by sintering a metal powder with a laser.
  • NASA is planning to a send a 3D printer to the International Space Station that can print components and supplies. The agency is also planning to print food.
  • Cheap and accurate prosthetic can now be printed, including noses, ears, or whole faces, based on a 3D scan of the user’s head.

For more 3D printing news, check out the London-based 3D Print Show.


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In May 2013, the world’s first 3D-printed gun was fired at a shooting range in Texas, as reported by Forbes.

While many worry about the public safety implications of these guns, the story of Defense Distributed does highlight how 3D printers could revolutionize manufacturing processes.

How 3D Printing Works

Patented in 1986 by inventor Chuck Hull, the hardware involved has become much cheaper over the last few decades, allowing the printers to be sold commercially and even to consumers.

Also called additive layer manufacturing machines, 3D printers work by using a digital 3D model to build objects in a series of layers, according to the U.K. engineering magazine The Engineer.

The material objects are constructed from, which can be plastic or metals such as aluminum or stainless steel, come in powdered form, and are stored in a chamber heated to 10 Celsius below the material’s melting point.

A moving arm spreads the powder of the working surface, and then a laser scans back and forth, melting the material in the shape of the current layer, which can range from 0.1mm thick for plastic to 0.03mm for metals.

The working surface then drops by the thickness of the layer, powder is spread out again and the next layer is formed, until the printed object is finished.

What They Can Make

Because the machine creates objects literally from the bottom up, in very tiny increments, there are almost no limits to the complexity of the object’s features, including moving parts and intricate patterns.

Early adopters have already used 3D printers to make a wide variety of inventive objects, including wearable textiles that can be fitted specifically to your body, an acoustic guitar, and a wind-powered, self-propelled “beach animal.”

More significantly, however, 3D printing also have many potential medical uses: using “bio-ink” to create new organs and new skin grafts for burn victims. It could also be used to make prostheses, crowns, bridges, and dentures. The technology was recently used to replace 75 percent of man’s skull.

Another company, Modern Meadow, has used the principle of additive manufacturing to 3D print artificial leather and meat, which could drastically reduce our environmental footprint and alleviate animal suffering.

The potential of this technology seems limited only by its users’ imaginations. Curious about how you can get in on the fun? The company Cubify sells coffee-machine-sized 3D printers for as low as $1299, with cartridges of plastic costing $49 each.

Stay tuned for our hit on 4D printing!
Ever used a 3D printer, or seen one in action? Tweet us your story to @curiousmatic!

Ole Skaar