Four Fascinating 3D Printing Projects

Four Fascinating 3D Printing Projects

Swim Like an Octopus

Underwater divers may soon be able to swim like an octopus. German researchers have used 3D printers to build a propulsion system that mimics the unusual way that an octopus quickly flees away from attackers.

While an octopus normally makes its way along the ocean floor with its eight tentacles, it uses a different technique when it needs to move quickly. The octopus sucks water into its body and shoots it out behind itself, propelling its body forward. It controls its path by altering the direction it shoots the water.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing, Engineering and Automation built a system that similarly sucks water into balls and propels it back out. The team developed an efficient process using 3D printers to build the system. The design spits out semi-finished and complete components in the printing process for a dramatically reduced assembly process compared to typical motors.

In addition, the system also offers some environmental advantages over traditional motors – it is very quiet and fish cannot get caught in it. As well, there may be a financial advantage using this system as it requires fewer components and has a simplified assembly.       


Repairing Bones

Kevin Shakesheff, professor at the University of Notthingham’s center for bimolecular sciences, has developed a way for 3D printers to boost the body’s natural ability to repair bones.

Bone marrow contains a type of stem cells that forms new bone tissue when the bone is injured; but the problem is that the process doesn’t work when you lose too much bone, which happens when there is an accident or when the bone is lost to remove a tumor.

A 3D X-ray creates a digital file that shows the exact shape of the defect. The shape can then be 3D printed. The printed object contains both the patient’s stem cells as well as a polymer material that adds strength to the object. “The stem cells alone wouldn’t have that strength and they need to work for many months to develop the tissue,” said Shakesheff. The polymer material is biodegradable and is naturally broken own by the body slower, over about a three month period which is long enough for the stem cells to lay down their own bone matrix.

The product, however, brought a lot of difficulties along the way. For instance, regular 3D printers use very high temperatures when printing materials as hard as bone but utilizing those high temperatures would damage the stem cells. Shakesheff and his team needed to design a process where they could create very hard materials at below 98 degrees Fahrenheit.


Eliminate Organ Transplant Waiting List

Jordan Miller, bioengineer, is looking into the development of a system that one day might be used to 3D print organs for people.

Miller’s researched begins to solve one of a handful of problems facing scientists trying to build organs out of living cells. While scientists have been able to grow thin tissues like skin and a cornea out of a patient’s own cells, creating parts like organs has been challenging.

While trying to stack layers of cells to create something the size of an organ, the scientists encountered a problem where the cells in the center end up dying because they aren’t being fed by a blood vessel system like natural organs. That was when a light bulb went off for Miller; he saw an artist display the blood vessels system by injecting silicon into the blood vessels and then dissolving away the rest of the surrounding tissue. Miller wondered if he could do the opposite – creating a blood vessel network In a substance that could be dissolved away to create channels for blood to flow.

While experimenting with a number of different materials, he realized sugar could be the solution for this problem. Miller’s team built their own 3D printer that prints out a structure made of sugar mimicking the blood vessel system then created a gel that contains living cells and poured it over the structure. The water in the gel slowly seeped into the sugar lattice, dissolving the sugar and created a pathway for blood to travel and feed the surrounding cells.

Although this is a breakthrough, Miller stressed that the scientific community is quite far from actually making a functioning organ this way and no one knows how to create the organ or grow the type of cells that would be required. "This is not ready for human therapy yet but this was a big step for us in the lab," he said.


Reduce the Spread of Disease in Poor Nations

Many medical breakthroughs related to 3D printing revolve around fixing the problem after it has occurred. A perfect example of this is a project aimed at preventing the spread of diseases through 3D printing toilets.

Last year, A group of students from the University of Washington won a competition that awarded them $100,000 for their 3D printed toilet idea. The printer uses plastic waste, such as milk jugs, to build toilets. This project is specifically unique because it aims to build a large object and in order to create big objects, the students needed to build their own printer, made from salvaged parts that were also created with a smaller 3D printer.

This idea of using 3D printing to build toilets may seem uninteresting but in poor developing nations, the lack of toilets lead to many serious health problems. The project could help reduce the cost of building and distributing toilets in those areas.


Source: IT World





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