3D-printed Prosthetic
(Source: Wallpaper Flare)

3D printing is one of the most fascinating new technologies to have come about in recent years. While there were some earlier examples of the concept, we’ve only recently gotten used to the idea of relatively compact machines engineering finished products out of raw material (without a shred of waste). As much attention as 3D printing generated early on simply for being cool, however, we’ve fast learned that it’s also pretty important.

To that point, we wanted to look at five ways this technology is already changing the world.

1. New-Age Prosthetic Production

Even before 3D printing came about, the healthcare industry was making massive strides with new-age prosthetics. With 3D printing though, there are greater and more varied possibilities than ever before.

Engineering delved into the progress we’ve seen with 3D-printed prosthetics in the last five years, and made clear that there are advances in both form and function. On the one hand, innovative 3D-printed prosthetics can easily be tailored to cater to various mechanical and bionic functions; some have even been fitted with Bluetooth speakers. On the other hand, 3D printing can also produce more straightforward prosthetics quickly and affordably, making it easier for designers to provide these prosthetics to people in developing countries (where much of the need for them tends to be).

2. Efficient Construction

There has been a fair amount of talk in recent years about technology’s expanding role in construction. And much of that role has to do with more sophisticated modeling options.

The post ‘3 Ways Technology is Streamlining the Preconstruction Process’ that we put up previously touched on this idea by highlighting “building information modeling,” or BIM. This is basically software that enables 3D designs of projects, and through which different designers and architects can collaborate. BIM has become very popular and is now being widely used, but more recently 3D printing has helped to make it even more impactful. Thanks to this technology, certain aspects of a BIM design — or in some cases components for an entire project — can be printed out and assembled on site. This is helping to speed up construction and reduce waste at the same time.

3. Prototypes for Product Lines

Right now there’s almost no way to know how many businesses have been impacted by 3D printing when it comes to designing new products. However, we know that there are a lot of them. While projects like new prosthetics or construction developments involve specific purposes and large designs, some of the most widespread applications of 3D printing is in manufacturing parts and prototypes. Fictiv describes this as agile manufacturing made possible, explaining that 3D printing service can supply high-quality parts at incredibly fast speeds. This in turn has allowed countless businesses (as well as individuals) to submit designs for prototypes and see quick results, ultimately expediting the process of finalizing a product and taking it to market. The impact of this is difficult to define exactly, but we know that design and manufacturing have been massively simplified for a great many companies.

4. Environmental Preservation

Opinions actually vary as to how much 3D printing stands to benefit our environment. However, there are some applications (or potential applications) that are difficult to argue with. For example, we could see some of the points above about construction put into use with consideration for the environment, in anything from streamlined production of windmills to the design of homes to be more efficient with temperature control. We may see the technology used in the development of all-new products designed to address more specific aspects of environmental preservation — such as meshes that capture water from the air to recycle for farming purposes. And perhaps most interesting of all, we’ve already seen reports about 3D-printed coral! ZME Science described this coral as a “possible cure” for the world’s ailing reefs and the animals that call them home. We should stress that 3D-printed coral isn’t viewed as a full substitute for the real thing. But at the very least it can safely provide shelter for sea creatures that are otherwise seeing their habitats destroyed by climate change.

5. Artistic Expression

Last but not least, 3D printing is also beginning to have a significant impact on the artistic world. From recreated masterworks to brand new sculptures, the technology is making all sorts of fascinating things possible. It’s providing a new medium for existing artists, and is undoubtedly turning many other people into first-time artists — and we’ve undoubtedly only scratched the surface of what might be produced. The really exciting thing might ultimately be the combination of 3D printing and virtual and augmented reality technology. Through this combination, artists may well be able to paint and sculpt in virtual space, and then see their creations printed into being.

These examples don’t tell the whole story of how 3D printing is changing the world, but they certainly cover some of the highlights. So, which of these seem most exciting to you? And did we miss anything particularly important? Let us know with a reply below.

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