Chuck Hull, founder and CTO of 3D Systems, recently received the distinguished George R. Stibitz Computer Award. Speaking about the award, Hull said, "From the get go, I imagined that 3D printing would significantly change design and manufacturing as we know it, but I could not have anticipated the profound impact the technology would have on everything in our lives."
Hull's selection proves that 3D printing continues to be the technology on the forefront of the new industrial revolution. These three industries are harnessing the power of 3D printing to revolutionise their products today.
NASA has invested in 3D printing technology research and is using additive manufacturing techniques on its RL-10 rocket engine injector. Researchers are also looking at lunar, Martian and asteroid regolith as a potential source of raw material for 3D printing on deep space missions.
Scientists at Made in Space are preparing for the first launch of a 3D printer to the International Space Station in early 2014. Uses for 3D technology in space include manufacturing tools and repair parts, as well as construction of actual facilities using native raw materials. Tech company SMRC recently unveiled a 3D "pizza printer," technology that will vastly improve the current system of supplying food to astronauts on space missions.
Researchers from the Glenn Research Center successfully tested a 3D Printed Rocket Engine. Image Credits: NASA
Bioprinting is the newest technology in healthcare research and its implications are profound. Organovo, a pioneer of this process, will release its first biological product in 2014, a liver assay that reproduces compositional and architectural features of native liver tissue and possess critical attributes central to liver function, including production of albumin and transferrin and biosynthesis of cholesterol.
The product is aimed at improving the drug testing and approval process. Since all drugs and chemicals developed for human treatment must first pass liver toxicity tests, the bioprinted liver assay will provide real-time data on human liver interaction, accelerating the drug discovery process and eliminating the need for extensive animal testing.
Additive manufacturing technology could have a profound impact on one of the military's most pressing challenges: Shortening the logistic and supply chain tail. The US Navy is currently using 3D printing technology at its three level III depots to print everything from tools to spare parts: Over 80 parts on the F/A-18, and over 300 for the JSF, are made using 3D printers.
Other research centers are printing parts for ships and submarines. The US military hopes to use the technology to transform its inventory from a physical model to a digital one. Researchers at the University of Southern California have developed a system that can build a 2,500 square foot structure in about 20 hours with outer walls over three times stronger than traditional construction methods.
F/A-18's have used 3D Printing within the manufacturing of over 80 parts. Image Credits: Glenn Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Photos.com
By some estimates, investment in 3D printing has quadrupled since 2007, and the list of industries benefitting from additive manufacturing grows each day. One thing is clear, however: 3D printing, while still in relative infancy, will continue to impact industry in currently unimaginable ways.