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5 Ways 3D Printing is Changing the World for the Better

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3. 3D Printers Fixing Heartbreak

Heart abnormalities are infamous for being difficult to operate on as surgeons have limited means of assessing the problems with the heart before they begin the procedure.

Factor in the added intricacies of working on children’s hearts, which are obviously much smaller than an adult heart, and the need to be as prepared as possible becomes clear.

With this in mind, the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC recently spent $250,000 on a 3D printer.

After gathering data about the patient’s heart using computerized tomography and ultrasounds, the data was then fed into a 3D printer. They used that printer to build a replica of patients’ hearts layer by layer.

This created a fairly accurate approximation of the heart that surgeons were able to examine in a way previously unavailable to them.

This kind of practice could one day become the norm for complex surgeries of all kinds where having to scale models with a high level of detail could be beneficial to patient outcomes.

4. 3D Printers Used to Create New Body Parts

More than just creating models of our internal organs, 3D printers are already capable of creating replacement body parts, albeit in prototype form.

From creating a tiny human liver to generating a replacement ear, 3D printers have the potential to radically change this aspect of medical science.

While it’s certainly true that this research is in its infancy and many more trials and tests need to be done, 3D printers have already played a part in generating prosthetics, including prosthetic limbs:


5. 3D Printers Used to Illuminate the Past

In late 2010, scientists discovered an ancient whale graveyard in Chile’s Atacama desert. What had driven the whales half a mile inland from the Pacific Coast was a mystery and this is where scientists faced a problem.

In order to properly study the fossils, they would have to remove the fossils from the site and potentially damage or destroy some of their much-needed evidence. In so doing, they could lose vital clues about the fossils.

Then, Smithsonian paleobiologist Nick Pyenson came up with a great idea to solve this problem.

Along with the Smithsonian’s digitization team, he mapped the whale skeletons and surrounding area with a number of laser scanners.

By doing this, they were able to document every facet of the skeletons, including their peculiarities, and then generate scale models of the 20-foot whales for examination.

This meant that they could begin to unlock the fossils’ secrets and, even after having to remove the fossils from the ground, continue to examine them as if they were still at the site.

What’s more, in the future we may see fossils rendered to scale as 3D printing becomes more sophisticated and more readily available, meaning the general public will have more opportunities to see accurate representations of past organisms, objects and even people.

So what’s the take away from this?

It’s certain that 3D printing, if it lives up to all it could be, will pose significant challenges for nations across the globe in terms of the manufacturing of illicit items, drugs and weapons.

At the same time, it stands to offer us an opportunity at revolutionizing industry and, some analysts predict, ending world hunger, poverty and possibly even climate change issues.

Finally, here’s a video explaining how the 3D printing process might work for personalizing products and how, in the future, more and more manufacturing may be in our hands:

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5:27PM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

Love it!

10:17PM PDT on Jun 6, 2013

It is awesome that 3-D printing is being used for good, but lets keep in mind that 3-D printing is a tool that can be used for good and bad. Unfortunately a tool in one hand can be as a helpful item, but in another hand it can be used a a hurtful item.

2:17PM PDT on Jun 4, 2013

Interesting, & potentially helpful. The only things I'd heard about 3D printers to this point were: a guy getting in trouble for making a 3D gun, saving the baby's life (how touching!), and Howard on Big Bang Theory using one to make miniature Howard & Bernadette dolls.

1:29AM PDT on Jun 3, 2013

Thank you for the excellent news. This will save so many lives. Now we must also have a cure for cancer, global warming, greed, and apathy.

11:53AM PDT on May 31, 2013


1:22AM PDT on May 31, 2013


10:40PM PDT on May 30, 2013


10:23PM PDT on May 30, 2013

I tried to print out a 3-D girlfriend, but the missus wasn't amused.

9:59PM PDT on May 30, 2013

I'm not sure it can replace Walmart etc until everyone has their own large 3D printer and steady supply of any raw materials (plastic, etc) that they could possibly need (something that doesn't sound all that efficient to me). But I can see a few shops being set up where you can order things made to specifications. They'd only need to display one of each item vs storing it all in warehouses. Of course there'd be all sorts of issues with pirating of solid goods. People could try to download blueprints for particular product designs, etc, and either use their own or a blackmarket 3D printer to create a perfect reproduction. The patent and copyright issues to come will be staggering, as will the social and economic impact.

6:33PM PDT on May 30, 2013


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