Internet, smartphones, fidget spinner or 3D printing, each trend rose to popularity at certain time. The invention of 3D printer is dated way back, but it rose to popularity just recently. A 3D printer, builds up objects from scratch, using a CAD or 3D scanner file, out of a variety of materials. Depending on the technique, materials that 3D printer uses can vary from metal to plastic to human body cells and even foodstuff like chocolate.
First 3D printing patent
It was Charles Hull, who is called the father of 3D printing. He is the inventor of 3D printing, who got the first 3D printing patent. Hull’s first 3D printer proved successful over 30 years ago, on March 9, 1983. “Rapid Prototyping” was the description given to Hull’s unique new machine, the “SLA-1,” as it was created in order to speed up the lengthy time-frame it took to have prototypes of products created. It would take approximately 6-8 weeks using one-off tooling processes back in the early ’80s, so a machine that could print a part in just hours was a major breakthrough within the manufacturing industry. Three years later, in 1986, Hull formed a company called 3D Systems to better market and sell his “Rapid Prototyping” machines which have since earned the name “3D printer” or “Additive Manufacturing” machine. Hull was noted for inventing Stereolithography (SLA) 3D printing as well as co-creating the STL file format, the most common 3D printing file format that has been used to date. [Source] Though Hull’s name is not as famous as Thomas Addison or Albert Einstein, nonetheless, he is the person with the first 3D printing patent.
How did it gain popularity?
The question is, even though 3D printing is like a decade old technology, how didn’t we hear about it? And how has it suddenly gained so much popularity? Well, the industry which escalated the popularity of 3D Printing technology was medical industry. Just one example of 3D printing medical breakthrough is when artificial blood vessels were 3D printed. 3D printing technology has been increasingly used in numerous industries, ranging from creating clothes, architectural models and even chocolate treats.But this time, Dr Tovar’s team had a much more challenging printing mission. To set another 3D printing medical breakthrough. In other words, to print something as small and as complex as a blood vessel, the scientists combined the 3D printing technology with two-photon polymerization – shining intense laser beams onto the material to stimulate the molecules in a very small focus point.The material then becomes an elastic solid, allowing the researchers to create highly precise and elastic structures that would be able to interact with a human body’s natural tissue.So that the synthetic tubes do not get rejected by the living organism, their walls are coated with modified biomolecules. Such biomolecules are also present in the composition of the “inks” used for the blood vessel printer, combined with synthetic polymers.”We are establishing a basis for applying rapid prototyping to elastic and organic biomaterials,” said Dr Tovar.”The vascular systems illustrate very dramatically what opportunities this technology has to offer, but that’s definitely not the only thing possible.”[Source]
Not just that, Physicians can use 3D printing to make prosthetics, hearing aids, artificial teeth, and bone grafts, as well as replicate models of organs, tumors, and other internal bodily structures from CT scans in preparation for surgery. Also, 3D printers are being developed that can lay down layers of cells to create artificial organs (such as kidney and blood vessels are already in the R&D phase. 3D printing can be used in forensics, for example to replicate a bullet lodged inside a victim (human or otherwise) [Source]
If we start looking at history of 3D printing in medicine, it all started in 1990’s when the first human organ that was 3D printed was transplanted inside a human body. It was a young patient who went through a urinary bladder augmentation, using a 3-D synthetic scaffold coated with his own cells. And since then till today, going through the entire history of 3D printing in medicine, we can see, a lot of growth has taken place.
As we discuss the history of 3D printing in medicine, let’s talk about medical 3D printing companies also. 3D printing has always been a niche market, with a small handful of companies dominating the industry. That said, the industry is rapidly growing as more companies make the leap to enter the market, which is expected to be worth over $30 billion by 2022. Like Markets highlight, contributing factors to the market’s growth include 3D printing evolving from developing prototypes to end-user products, mass customization, production of complex parts, government investment into 3D printing, and improvements with respect to manufacturing efficiency. [Source] Some of the many medical 3D printing companies are 3D printing Inc, Rokit, Aspect Biosystems, etc.
Pro’s and Con’s of a 3D Printer
Even though 3D printing enabled a new kind of future with huge ginormous steps in medical advancement, there is a flip side of this coin as well. The disadvantages of 3D printing in medicine are also equally popular and resulting in people being cautious about this technology in the medical field. There is unrealistic expectations and hype surrounding the medical 3D printing companies . Due to exaggerating comments by media, government and even researchers the expectation of the common people increases exponentially. This has promoted unrealistic projections especially regarding how soon some of the more exciting possibilities like organ printing will become a reality. Although the researchers and government supported studies have started, but by giving false pretenses, common people who are suffering and holding on to hopes are building nothing but unrealistic expectations. Another disadvantage of 3D printing in medicine is the safety and security issues that merit serious concerns. 3D printers have already been employed for criminal purposes, such as printing illegal items like guns and gun magazines, master keys, and ATM skimmers. These occurrences have highlighted the lack of regulation of 3D printing technology. In theory, 3D printing could also be used to counterfeit substandard medical devices or medications. Although 3D printing should not be banned, its safety over the long term will clearly need to be monitored. In 2012, in response to the news that a functioning plastic handgun had been 3D printed, several local and state legislators introduced bills banning access to this technology. However, such fear-based policy responses could stifle the culture of openness necessary for 3D printing to thrive. Such a ban could push 3D printing underground at the expense of important scientific, medical, and other advances. There have already been reports of “garage biology” being conducted that could potentially lead to innovations in the life sciences. However, it is being conducted in secrecy to avoid interference from law enforcement—even though the research is legal.
In case you are curious about how a 3d printer actually works, our last article ” Life of 3D printer – How 3D Printers Work “, can give you a clear view on it. Our regular readers found it quite helpful, you must take a look at it.
References: 3d printing medical advances made till date , chuck hull father 3d printing shaped technology, the night I invented 3d printing chuck hall, Technology News, 3D_Printing_Infographic_FINAL , 3d bioprinting companies, top-10-3d-bioprinting-companies