Scientists 3D print bionic skin with touch sensing abilities
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a one-of-a-kind 3D printer which can be used to print electronic touch-sensory devices directly on human skin. This bionic skin printing technology is not only human skin compatible, but could enable robots to feel environments. With such technological innovation increasing by the day, we take a brief look at the progress of 3D printing.
Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing as we know it had its origins in Hideo Kodama's work in the early 1980s. Dr. Kodama invented two methods for fabricating 3D plastic models. In 1986, Chuck Hull of 3D Systems Corporation patented, for the first time, his stereolithography apparatus "for generating three-dimensional objects by creating a cross-sectional pattern of the object to be formed".
In 1992, Scott Crump of Stratasys patented a process called Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM), a technology used by most 3D printers to date. Meanwhile, in Germany, EOS GmbH invented their Laser Sintering (LS) process which is known for its quality in developing industrial prototypes. Other processes, namely Ballistic Particle Manufacturing, Laminated Object Manufacturing, and Solid Ground Curing also emerged during the 80s and 90s.
While many other 3D printing processes and technologies were developed since the 90s, they mostly remained invisible due to their specialized industrial applications. Fast forward to 2012, entry level 3D printing processes and tech like the B9Creator and Form1 were launched, and both enjoyed massive success. This was also the year that major media channels picked up on the potential of the technology.
Applications of 3D printing can be broadly categorized into four categories. First, manufacturing applications include rapid prototyping, mass customization of products, rapid manufacturing etc. Industrial applications include manufacture of industrial parts from aerospace to automotives to construction to firearms. Tissue fabrication, prosthetic limb manufacture, and pill manufacture mostly make up medical applications. Socio-cultural applications include artwork, fashion, preservation of cultural heritage etc.
3D printing is transforming technology in several ways. First, 3D printing technology is increasingly allowing localized production of industrial and commercial goods. Second, it allows for intricately customized prints from specialized organs to custom houses. Third, it allows for rapid prototyping of nanotechnology thus opening opportunities for significant technological advances. Lastly, it allows for computer-based goal-directed design allowing for unlimited geometric and material complexity.
3D printing will affect the developed and the developing world in different ways. While it is a boon for the developed world due its aging society and shortage of cheap labour for manufacturing, it is a double-edged sword for the developing world. In developing economies, 3D printing, on one hand, will lower manufacturing costs while increasing manufacturing-related unemployment on the other.
In 2014, Arizona-based Local Motors printed the Strati, the world's first 3D printed car. NASA, along with Mountain View-based Made In Space, printed a faceplate in space using the first ZeroG 3D Printer in 2014. In 2015, designs for a 3D printed gun called the Liberator went online causing a stir. In March 2017, a house was 3D printed in 24 hours.