Printing the future out of plastic

Using spools of bioplastic — now available in pretty much any color you need — 3D printers are manufacturing objects in labs, classrooms and even homes across America. There was an estimated 80 percent growth in the industry between 2016 and 2017. Today, you can purchase a small 3D printer at your local big-box hardware store for well under a thousand bucks and make smartphone cases, acoustic guitars, camera lenses and power tools. The technology is finally making good on promises that were made when 3D printing was first introduced some 40 years ago. The future is now. The next generation of 3D plastic printing will forever change the way we live. Let’s check out three jaw-dropping uses of 3D printing.

The Human Face The human impact of 3D printing is most fully evident in the tech firms that craft human body parts from 3D printers. In China, 3D printers are being used to help kids affected by a disease called microtia by growing new ears that can be grafted onto the skin using the child’s own cells. In New York, doctors worked with a 3D printing engineer to create a fully functioning nose for a boy who had been severely burned. And a Swedish company says it’s just 10 to 20 years away from being able to use 3D printers to craft human organs.

Rhino Horns A San Francisco-based start-up is helping save rhinos from poachers by creating hyperrealistic 3D printed plastic replicas of rhino horns in hope of saturating the market and creating ambiguity in order to decrease demand in China and Vietnam.

NASA Fabric Fashion, astrophysics and the latest capabilities in 3D printing have collided like meteorites in a NASA lab located in California. That’s where metallic “space fabric” has been invented. It looks stitched together, but it’s completely printed material. NASA says the futuristic-looking fabrics could eventually be used to protect astronauts as well as spacecraft.

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