Art, meet Science: 3D printed fixtures made on the Mark One support precision assembly of this French horn. Lots of cool applications on the MarkForged website.
So… our Mark One 3D printer may be ten to twelve weeks coming, because the company’s so backed-up. But if you’re willing to help them with a case study, they’ll bump you up in the line. Problem is, one of our initial prints is sensitive DOD stuff; others are promised to third parties, and we can’t release info w/o their approval. But overall, the big problem is that we don’t know what we’re doing with the machine yet. We’re buying it for the sheer hell of exploring what we can do with it. Kind of figuring the machine itself will define the application. Yes, it’s a leap of faith — faith in technology, human ingenuity (not least, our own), and the future. Leap with us!
Parts with Intel Inside?
One of the cool things about the MarkOne is that you can interrupt printing to put an internal part inside, and then resume the print. We can think of all kinds of things we’d like to embed in a polymer part: bearings, threaded inserts, strain gages. Now a startup named Voxel8 has come up with printable conductive traces that can be embedded in the very material of a part (and their printer, too, is interruptable so that you can embed a mechanical part. Ordinary 3D printers can’t allow this). For some details of how it works, see MIT Technology Review, again. The Voxel8 printer is available for pre-order now ($9k upfront for the developer kit; $500 now and $8500 pre-shipping just for a place in line). One of the researchers whose science this is based on, Jennifer Lewis, has moved on to multi-material nanoscale printing, to give you an idea where this is going. Her team has printed batteries, which boggles this decidedly sub-Harvard mind; and one of those links shows her with an elastomeric glove with wires embedded in it (a wider range of polymers is something everybody is working on — low-hanging fruit for parts with better properties). Other teams pursuing similar technologies have printed, we are not making this up, retinal tissue, and one of the near-term applications may be ethical human tissues for medical testing, which might have advantages over common animal models.
PLA printed part with IC and printed silver leads.
Scaling back to the initial Voxel8, what could you do with this? Just sticking to the defense world, how ’bout low-cost, zero-ionizing-radiation, dependable night sights? How about something DOD is desperately jonesing for, a round counter? How about a thermocouple that warns an operator to slow down his rate of fire if at all possible, to preserve his firearm? What about strain gages literally embedded in parts? The Voxel8 will come with access to Autodesk Project Wire software for designing devices that give a whole new meaning to a two-word phrase that has a different meaning right now: integrated circuit. If we were Voxel8’s marketing wallah, we’d call it organic circuit, and trademark the term.
We want one of these badly, but we already have $9k tied up waiting for another 3D Printer. Hey, Voxel8, what’s “organic circuit®” worth to ya?
Nothing to do with Our Industry, but…
How cool is this? Doctors dealing with kids with a congenital and, if severe, fatal deformity of the trachea and bronchi, tracheobronchomalacia, TBM, (Rangers, think of them like the intake manifold for your lungs) first used 3D printing to model the infants’ airways, no bigger than the lead in your #2 pencil, for surgery. But University of Michigan Med School associate prof Gerald Green came up with a better use for 3D printing — making a splint, or stent, that held the baby’s airway open so the TBM can’t suffocate him. If the kids can live through infancy, they can outgrow the condition.
The stents are customized to wrap around each kids’s individual bronchus or trachea and are inserted surgically, as we understand it. They hold the airway open so the little guy can breathe, and they actually expand as the baby grows to toddlerhood, and by being printed with bioresorbable material are gradually dissolved into the healthy child’s tissues so that they do not inhibit further growth.
Prediction: if Michigan doesn’t tenure Dr Green stat, he and maybe his whole team are going to be in a shiny new lab at a big, prestigious med school somewhere else. This saves very few lives — TBM is rare, especially at life-threatening levels — but it does save lives.
Plain-English overview at MIT Tech Review again. Here’s the conclusion and the abstract of his paper (you can’t read the paper for a year with a free subscription to Science, which we truly recommend, but if you or your library has a paid subscription with the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, you can read it now).
We implanted patient-specific 3D-printed external airway splints in three infants with severe TBM. At the time of publication, these infants no longer exhibited life-threatening airway disease and had demonstrated resolution of both pulmonary and extrapulmonary complications of their TBM. Long-term data show continued growth of the primary airways. This process has broad application for medical manufacturing of patient-specific 3D-printed devices that adjust to tissue growth through designed mechanical and degradation behaviors over time.
To print is to cure. How cool is that?
Meanwhile, while we’re digressing about medical 3DP, this one has meaning for the retired SF and SOF world, who all share one thing: aching knees. A team of Columbia scientists, Cornell vets, and Hospital for Special Surgery orthopods have printed a 3D scaffold of human meniscus cartilage, grew animal cartilage with endogenous stem cells, and implanted a complete, built-to-fit and biologically autologous (rejection-proof) meniscus in an animal model. We humans could be next, if the research continues to go well — and the FDA (Frustration of Doctors Administration) gets their finger out.
Science fiction fans, what can implantable, either permanent or bioresorbable as needed, structural things do for (or to, if you incline to dystopia) humanity?
Hell yes, we live in the future.
Better Parts, Faster?
We might have mentioned this one before. A firm called Carbon3D, using technology developed by research profs at North Carolina State University (NCSU) and the University of North Carolina (UNC), that amounts to continuous (not one-layer-at-a-time) stereolithography. They use oxygen as an inhibiting layer. Clever!
There are a few more details in this March story from MIT Technology Review, and of course at Carbon3D’s website. (There’s also a peer-reviewed paper in Science, which is accessible — thanks to a request of the authors — with the free registration).
They say their system, which they call CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production), not only is orders of magnitude faster than extant technologies, but produces parts with superior finish and mechanical properties — parts the equal of injection-molded parts, but capable of being made in all polymers, including elastomers.
Parts printed with CLIP show superior detail and surface finish. Click to embiggen.
So that’s the benefit of this technology — it’s faster, and more versatile. As the image (Fig. 4 from their paper in Science) shows, it can produce excellent detail and surface finish, without the layering so commonly seen in FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) and other common 3DP technologies.
The original caption, which doesn’t fit in WordPress’s caption ghetto, was:
(A) Micropaddles with stems 50 μm in diameter. (B) Eiffel Tower model, 10 cm tall. (C) A shoe cleat >20 cm in length. Even in large parts, fine detail is achieved, as shown in the inset of (B) where features <1 mm in size are obtained. The micropaddles were printed at 25 mm/hour; the Eiffel Tower model and shoe cleat were printed at 100 mm/hour.
We haven’t seen what sort of price point this will be coming in at, yet. But imagine its benefits for firearm personalization alone. Consider an autopistol backstrap or revolver grip that fits the anatomy of your hand perfectly, is made to the firmness you prefer, like a Sleep Number bed, and is printed for you in a machine in your LGS where you grip a sensor that “feels” your grip and then the machine runs off your perfect grip, in your choice of texture and color, while you wait. That’s just one example of the mass personalization that this makes possible. For instance, have you ever wished the windshield-washer stalk was an inch or two longer in a car? A dealer with technology like this could fit your Toyota or Ford to you while you were doing the paperwork. Anyone else could drive it, but all the controls would be subtly personalized to increase comfort, control and safety when you’re at the wheel.
What will they think of next? We don’t know, but we’re eager to see!