5 Exciting New Applications For Additive Manufacturing & 3D Printing

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with ten years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

3d printed pelvis bone

Additive manufacturing is on the up-and-up, with plenty of exciting new developments emerging every week. Now firmly established as a go-to process for many different industries including medical, aerospace and construction, 3D printing has brought about much-needed innovation within the manufacturing sector overall and is quite literally changing the world.

Here are five exciting new applications for 3D printing that you may not know about:

Human Bones

3D printing bones directly into the human body could slash recovery times.

Additive manufacturing has been used within a wide range of applications for the medical industry, but now researchers are exploring the possibility of 3D printing bones directly into the human body.

Surgeries which call for the removal of bones from the body - such as those to treat bone cancer - could be drastically revolutionised by this development, which comes courtesy of a team of Australian researchers. As well as providing enhanced comfort to the patient, 3D printing bones directly into the human body could slash recovery times. In addition, owing to the fact that scans of the original bone are used to print the replacement, a higher degree of precision will be afforded, resulting in a better quality of life post-surgery.

The replacement bone is 3D printed using a ceramic material similar to that of human bone. This is infused with living cells from the patient to create an 'ink', which is used instead of filament within the printing process. Meanwhile, the 3D printing process itself is carried out using a lightweight printer that can be transported into the operating theatre, allowing surgeons to carry out production of the replacement bone with ease.

READ: 3D Printing Helps To Separate Conjoined Twins

Animal Prosthetics

Additive manufacturing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities within the treatment of animals.

Prosthetics are a common application for additive manufacturing, but now 3D printing is also being used to create prosthetic limbs for animals.

Injured animals have previously fallen victims to expensive prosthetics, meaning that many have had to be put to sleep instead of being treated. However, additive manufacturing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities within the treatment of animals, making prosthetics more affordable and accessible, meaning that many more animal lives can be saved as a result.

Examples of prosthetics currently being 3D printed for animals include legs, feet, beaks and flippers, allowing many animals the opportunity to live a normal life after injury. Although not yet a widespread application, it is hoped that 3D printing will become more commonplace within the realms of animal prosthetics, as we are seeing with the production of prosthetics for humans.

READ: Will 3D-Printed Pills & Supplements Revolutionise Healthcare?

Entire Houses

3D printing undercuts traditional house-building methods by approximately 50%.

3D printed houses are already on the market, spelling drastic change for the construction industry - and possibly homebuyers too. In fact, owing to the fact that 3D printing undercuts traditional house-building methods by approximately 50%, additive manufacturing could eventually make houses substantially cheaper to buy, helping more people to get on the property ladder.

In addition to cost savings, 3D printing also enables houses to be built substantially faster, making it a viable option for the construction of buildings of the future. In fact, the US already has plans to construct whole neighbourhoods of 3D printed houses to combat California's housing shortage.

Speed of production and significant cost savings mean that additive manufacturing is only set to grow in popularity within the construction industry. Over the coming years, we are sure to see many more 3D printed buildings worldwide.

READ: The Shape of Food To Come - How 3D Printing Is Changing the Food Industry

COVID-19 Tests

3D printing will hopefully allow testing to become more prominent in all countries.

Widespread testing is absolutely essential in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and additive manufacturing is playing an instrumental role in testing efforts. 3D printing has been harnessed by the medical & scientific sectors to create nasopharyngeal swabs that form a critical part of the testing toolkit, allowing COVID-19 cases to be diagnosed on a larger scale.

Recently, a team of Dutch researchers has also developed a rapid COVID-19 test using a combination of 3D printed parts and recycled coffee pods. These tests are cheaper to produce than traditional test kits and give results within thirty minutes, rivalling the current response times. These tests will acidify when COVID-19 is present within saliva, meaning that results are given in the form of a colour code - yellow for positive, pink for negative.

These latest developments will hopefully allow testing to become more prominent in all countries, but especially in places with economic restraints. Ease of manufacture, combined with reduced costs, will make testing more accessible, giving us the best possible chance of managing the pandemic on a global scale.

READ: The Relationship Between Manufacturing & Healthcare

Bioreactors For the Growth of Human Brains:

Scientists have been growing human brain samples using 3D printed bioreactors.

It may sound like something straight out of a science fiction film, but scientists have been growing human brain samples using 3D printed bioreactors. Brain organoids - that is, self-organising brain tissue - are placed into the bioreactor, which is then filled with a nutrient-rich fluid. This fluid mimics those that naturally flow through the human brain, resulting in growth of the organoids over time.

The 3D printed bioreactor offers a host of benefits in comparison with the conventional method of growing samples in petri-dishes. Not only are the associated costs much lower, but scientists are afforded greater chances to keep the samples alive. This is because petri-dishes do not allow the flow of fluids - and it is this development that has been credited with the longevity of the samples overall.

In addition, the new bioreactors are reusable, resulting in further cost savings. It is hoped that this new method will contribute significantly towards the development and production of new medicines, resulting in better healthcare worldwide.

READ: Additive Manufacturing & the Medical Industry