Two Cents: 3-D Printing

As 3-D printing becomes easier and cheaper, what fields or areas could it affect?

“It can impact any field for which fabrication with a scarce material is required. Instead of machining away material and creating scrap, this technique ‘adds’ material in a controlled manner to produce the 3-D object without waste. Both hard and soft materials can be fabricated by 3-D printing, including metals, plastics, even biological derivatives and food components.  This technology already is impacting manufacturing as a rapid-prototyping system, but will likely impact biomedical engineering. Its unclear where the impact will be biggest, because so many things can be 3-D printed at so many different scales.”

–– Prof. Jonathon Butcher, biomedical engineering

“3-D printing will certainly affect many more areas than I can predict; however, I see it having the biggest impact for product designers. The ability to make and test prototypes fast and establish a brand before a competitor is a huge advantage. For this reason, I believe 3-D printing will become industry standard where mechanical design is involved. It should be a key component in ‘mass customization’ a new trend in manufacturing – where personal touches are added to mass consumables at the end stages of production.”

–– Prof. Robert Shepherd, mechanical and aerospace engineering

“3-D printing is a universal technology that will have an effect on every field and every discipline – just like computers. It is already affecting traditional manufacturing, but it will also create entirely new business models, new design possibilities, and new designers.”

–– Prof. Hod Lipson, mechanical and aerospace engineering

How is 3-D printing different from traditional manufacturing?

“Additive manufacturing techniques allow manufacturers to produce parts without the capital investment of tooling/mold design; however, each part takes more time to produce (it is a low volume technique). Additionally, the available materials are limited (though metals, plastics, and ceramics are available – there are few examples from each class), and the print resolution of the parts in commercially available 3-D printers is less than the finish from most mass manufacturing techniques (e.g., injection molding).

For high volume production, 3-D printing is not cost effective; but, for the design process, it makes a lot of sense.

For low volume production of high-value-added items like prosthetic limbs and medical implants, or custom disposables like toothbrushes, or cell phone cases, it may also make sense.”

––– Prof. Robert Shepherd, mechanical and aerospace engineering

What are the limits?

“The material formulations are the first limitation as they are required to be a liquid during extrusion but a solid soon after.  Second, the width of the print path is limited to the available diameters of the extrusion nozzle.  Third, non-self supporting structures require co-printing a sacrificial mold structure.”

–– Prof. Jonathon Butcher, biomedical engineering

“Bioprinting can currently only create ‘tissue’ that does not have an inherent vascularity or blood supply. Thus the reason we can use it for cartilage tissue engineering (cartilage does not have an intrinsic blood supply) and currently no other tissue types. Once this major obstacle is overcome, then we could theoretically be able to print any tissue type, although that step is certainly far off.”

–– Prof. Jason Spector, biomedical engineering

What is open-source 3-D printing?

“A simple explanation is making instructions for building 3D printers open to the public.”

–– Prof. Robert Shepherd, mechanical and aerospace engineering

“3-D printers that can be built and modified from freely-accessible blueprints and open software.”

–– Prof. Hod Lipson, mechanical and aerospace engineering

What issues are associated with current intellectual property law and open source printing?

“As people can rip, mix and burn physical objects, there will be similar issues as were with the music industry, but on a larger scale.”

––– Prof. Hod Lipson, mechanical and aerospace engineering

What ethical questions do biomedical advances in 3-D printing pose?

“Since it is really just a better controlled means for depositing material, it is not clear to me that there are any additional ethical questions over those normally posed by tissue engineering because 3-D printing has the potential to dramatically improve anatomical, biomechanical, and biological accuracy over current standard techniques.  While it might be possible to create ‘designer/enhanced’ tissues and organs, the biology still lags far behind to make this a reality in the near/intermediate term.  Just restoring lost function is likely to be the major effort.  Issues to watch will be the regulatory landscape (is it a drug, device, or both) and economic model for such a technology (e.g. do you sell the device or the tissues that are printed from it? Who is the buyer?)

I think it will be up to the entrepreneurs to develop the best business model to work within the regulatory landscape.  In that regard, developing an acellular tissue to implant is the easiest route and would maintain control of production and quality assurance within a company, but may not work well for some tissues. Selling a product requiring cells is most difficult, but could be done if the actual material the cells would be extruded within were the technology to be sold.  Then surgeons would just acquire the cells at some point prior to surgery.  Providing the printer for others to use is also very safe, but lower overall revenue since you are selling fishing rods instead of fish..

–– Prof. Jonathon Butcher, biomedical engineering

Original Author: Jacqueline Carozza