The past year saw impressive gains for additive manufacturing in several industries. It is now common to have airplanes with 3D printed parts, while militaries are focused on using additive manufacturing to replace parts on their tanks, helicopters and other machinery.
Healthcare is another area where 3D printing shone in 2018. From 3D printed prosthetics to the possibility of printing organs, additive manufacturing is revolutionizing healthcare for the better.
Here are the top five 3D printing innovations of 2018:
1. NASA Refabricator
It has been a few years since NASA first took on the challenge of 3D printing tools in space on the International Space Station. The agency has gone a step further in 2018, by launching a machine that can recycle plastic parts for reuse.
The Refabricator machine is a major innovation in 3D printing, as it allows NASA to take plastic parts that it may have 3D printed in the past, recycle them and then use them again to print new materials that are needed on space.
NASA’s machine is able to accept plastic parts that are various shapes and sizes. These items are then broken down into feedstock that would be used to print items using 3D printers.
2. 3D Printed Bridge
Thanks to the Dutch robotics company MX3D, there is now a 3D printed bridge that will soon have a place in Amsterdam. The bridge has not yet been set up in the Dutch city, but it is set to take its place along a canal next year.
It is a pedestrian bridge that is roughly 12-meters long, with the work done by MX3D and Dutch designer Joris Laarman. The project took roughly three years to complete, as it was first thought up in 2015.
Made of molten steel, the bridge was 3D printed in layers thanks to the work of robots. There were several design changes made to the bridge over time, as MX3D wanted to ensure that it was sturdy enough to handle foot traffic for decades.
3. 3D Printed Homes
The concept of 3D printed homes is not new, as it has been an ambition related to additive manufacturing for many years. But a family in Nantes, France had the chance to become the first family to live in a 3D printed residence this year.
It is the Yhnova project that allowed the family in Nantes to call a structure that was printed in 54 hours their first home! But it did not come cheap, as the entire operation took roughly $250,00 to build. The sum is still roughly 20 percent cheaper than a comparably sized home built in the traditional way.
4. Self-Tracking Plastic Objects
Researchers at the University of Washington have 3D printed plastic objects that are able to track how they are used, without any need for attaching electronics onto them.
Early use of the technology is on items such as pill bottles and prosthetics. For instance, a pill bottle would be able to give back a signal each time it is opened or closed, or when a pill is taken out.
The medical industry would see huge gains from such technology, as it would be possible to provide patients with smart bottles that can tell them when to take a pill. Or a case that contains an insulin pen, which can indicate when it is time for a daily shot.
5. 3D Printed Organs
A company in Oregon has created a process that can take cells from donor organs and then convert them into bio-ink, which can be 3D printed. The idea is to use the bioprinted tissue to test drugs and other treatments, instead of performing the tests on animals. While there is some way to go, the project gives hope that 3D printed human organs are not too far away!