Here at 3D Print Works, we thought we’d make a list of the 5 best 3D printed items you didn’t know you can 3D print. Why? 3D printing is becoming increasingly familiar in various workplaces. In manufacturing, the arts, and medicine, 3D printing is already revolutionizing how much we can produce, and how quickly we can get it. As 3D printing has become more and more advanced, however, it’s becoming possible to 3D print things that wouldn’t have been thought possible before – and aren’t even widely thought of as being possible now! So here are five of the best 3D printed items that you didn’t know you could 3D print.
3D printed steak had something of a moment this week. While there’s been endless speculation regarding 3D printed food, it’s not something that’s been taken to mass production before. And while there is always cultured meat – lab-grown products or substitutes – these have been unable to replicate the authentic feel of a steak. That’s where 3D printing comes in. Two Israeli startups, Aleph Farms and Redefine Meat, have both had a big week. Aleph Farms recently unveiled the first ribeye steak created with bio-printing. In this process, layers of fat, muscle, sinew and so on are “printed”, and the meat is then put into an incubator to finish. This isn’t just basic meat either – Aleph Farms say they’ve even managed to replicate the vascular system of a real ribeye. Meanwhile, Redefine Meat have managed to raise $29 million to build a factory for mass production of 3D printed steaks – although these ones are vegan-friendly, without using any animal cells. Given how responsible meat production is for carbon emissions, and how close we are to climate disaster, it’s not an exaggeration to say that this could be one of the best innovations ever, let alone one of the best 3D printed items.
2. Hearing Aids
Whisper it, but 3D printing has revolutionized hearing. Not many people will know that 99% of the world’s hearing aids are now custom-made by 3D printing, according to Materialise. With 3D printing, manufacturers can make hearing aids that are custom-fitted to the individual, which was previously impossible, at a much faster rate than previously. The manufacturing process used is mostly DLP (Digital Light Processing), where a light is shone onto a resin, which photopolymerizes into the desired shape. As any user of hearing aids will know, if you don’t clean them regularly or if you’re simply just unlucky, you may develop an ear infection. Recently, however, researchers at UCL have managed to 3D print antibacterial hearing aids, which prevent this pesky problem from happening at all. The hearing aids are loaded with antibiotic drugs, which were found to completely stop any bacteria gathering on the hearing aids whatsoever.
Having a 3D-printed hearing aid, amazing as it is, is one thing. But you probably didn’t know that it’s possible to 3D print entire prosthetic limbs. This is definitely one of the best 3D printed items in terms of how transformative it can be. First developed in 2011, essentially by accident by American artist Ivan Owen, 3D printed prosthetics are a relatively cheap and much lighter than standard prosthetics. This has made them extremely useful for child prosthetics, given the low cost (a mere £40) of replacing them as their user grows, as well as their much cheerier appearance. All this has been made possible by Owen’s decision to publish his original files as an open source, meaning that they can be accessed without restrictive patents or copyrights which would drive up costs. While these 3D printed prosthetics are useful in the First World – in the USA alone there are nearly two million people living with limb loss – they can be even more useful in the Third World, in warzones or areas where there may still be active land mines. 3D printed prosthetic limbs can give victims of war or violence a new life, for a fraction of the cost of standard prosthetics and in a fraction of the time. This is a project we at 3D Print Works have been involved in ourselves - we have supplied filament to the Glasgow branch of Handprints, a charity which provides 3D printed prosthetics to those in need. As well as this, our former intern Alex created a 3D printed prosthetic hand as part of his dissertation for his Mechanical Engineering degree. In terms of how life-changing 3D-printed prosthetics can be, it’s definitely one of the best 3D printed items.
While it’s sadly not possible yet to print entire full-scale completed cars from a 3D printer, you can definitely build the parts with a 3D printer and assemble them, which is what Polymaker and XEV have been doing. The world’s first 3D printed car was unveiled in 2018 in Shanghai, and since then it’s been slowly making waves. Thanks to 3D printing, the number of plastic parts needed for the car has been more than halved, with these 3D printed cars only needing 57 parts compared to the conventional 2000. With a top speed of roughly 40MPH and a dinky, lightweight design, the 3D printed LSEV (Low Speed Electric Vehicle) could revolutionise cities as we know them. They’re already making good headway in China, where the government is trying to reduce carbon emissions in busy cities where space is at a premium. XEV are launching their own 3D-printed car this year, the YOYO, which is fully compliant with European safety standards, can be driven in Low Emission Zones, and because it’s a category L7 vehicle, almost anyone can drive it. Again, we think this is one of the best 3D printed items out there because of its potential to both completely change how we live in cities and to reduce carbon emissions, both in manufacturing and in usage of cars.
While it sounds like something Hannibal Lecter would do if he got his hands on a 3D printer, non-cannibal scientists actually have managed to 3D print skin. At Toronto University, researchers managed to create skin for a pig by harvesting cells, which were then grown and used as printing substance. The printed skin was rolled over the pig’s wound, and successfully attached to the old skin. Not to be outdone, scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York managed to print skin for a human being. One of the biggest problem for skin grafts today is the vascular system – how your blood gets around your body. Obviously, it’s extremely difficult to make blood vessels from the old skin and the graft skin link together and work normally. However, this Rensselaer scientists have actually managed to surpass this, and create not just a 3D printed skin, but a 3D printed skin with a fully integrated vascular system. Like with 3D printed steak, bioprinting has made considerable advances over the last few years. 3D printed skin could improve the quality of life for millions of people, such as sufferers of chronic eczema or victims of burns, so it definitely deserves a spot in our 5 best 3D printed items you might not have thought of before.