Tag Archives: 3d printer

3D printer ear looks and works just like the real one

3D printing is like a piece of future in the present – the number and extent of applications are just staggering. Recently, researchers from Cornell University have reated an artificial ear using 3-D printing and injectable molds that works pretty much just like the real thing.

3d printing ear

In a study published in PLOS One, Cornell bioengineers and physicians described how using 3-D printing and injectable gels, they created ears that are practically identical to a human ones.

“This is such a win-win for both medicine and basic science, demonstrating what we can achieve when we work together,” said co-lead author Lawrence Bonassar, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

This novel technology may be the solution reconstructive surgeons have long wished for to help children born with ear deformity or people who suffered major accidents. Dr. Jason Spector, director of the Laboratory for Bioregenerative Medicine and Surgery and associate professor of plastic surgery at Weill Cornell in New York City explained:

“A bioengineered ear replacement like this would also help individuals who have lost part or all of their external ear in an accident or from cancer,” Spector said.

To make the ears, they initially started out with a digitized 3-D image of a human subject’s ear, and converted the image into a digitized “solid” ear using a 3-D printer to assemble a mold; this is pretty much the standard technique with any 3D printing project.

Then, they high-density gel is similar to the consistency of Jell-o when the mold is removed. The collagen served as a scaffold upon which cartilage could grow. The process was really fast.

“It takes half a day to design the mold, a day or so to print it, 30 minutes to inject the gel, and we can remove the ear 15 minutes later. We trim the ear and then let it culture for several days in nourishing cell culture media before it is implanted.”

Spector and Bonassar have been collaborating on bioengineered human replacement parts since 2007, working specifically on replacing body parts.

“Using human cells, specifically those from the same patient, would reduce any possibility of rejection,” Spector said.

He added that the best time to place this will be on children, when they are approximately 6 years old.

The stem cell 3-d printer Image of 3-D cell printer courtesy of Colin Hattersley

3D printing stem cells could be used one day to ‘manufacture’ organs

We’re only in the early days of 3-D printing, but even now the breakthroughs made using such technology are most impressive like the genuine possibility of printing spare parts in space for the ISS, creating objects of great details on the nanoscale or even artificial muscles made using a 3-D printer. What’s fabulous though is that 3-D printing is developing at an accelerate pace. One day 3-D printers might actually be used to build working human organs saving millions of lives, maybe in a manner similar to how some SciFi movies depict tissue reconstruction.

The stem cell 3-d printer Image of 3-D cell printer courtesy of Colin Hattersley

The stem cell 3-d printer developed by scientists at Heriot-Watt University. (c) Colin Hattersley

The latter idea, though still very far fetched, recently had its foundation laid at the Scotland’s Heriot-Watt University and Roslin Cellab, where researchers there developed a novel technique which allows stem cells to be printed in blobs. Previously, researchers were able to engineer tissue samples combining artificial scaffold-like structures and animal cells, this is a method that is extremely laborious, however. Rather than manually positioning individual cells, using a 3-D printer  one can uniformly and accurately position them to form a desired tissue.

Stem cells, while extremely appealing for their pluripotent ability to morph into any kind of cell, are very hard to print since they are very sensitive to manipulation. The Scottish scientists tackled this issue by developing a sophisticated method that deposit droplets of a consistent size containing living cells through a valve-based printer nozzle that gently dispenses the cells.

The printing system is driven by pneumatic pressure and controlled by the opening and closing of a microvalve. Thus, one can vary the droplet size and rate of dispensing simply by changing the  nozzle diameter, the inlet air pressure or the opening time of the valve.

Still, though these first steps looks extremely promising, do not grow too excited. We are still decades away from developing a system capable of printing organs in 3-D. Organs, unlike muscles for instance, have a highly complex and sophisticated vascular structure that caries nutrients and exits waste, impossible to replicate by today’s technology. Vascular tissue engineering research is already on the works, however, and this aspect too might be taken care of. Make no mistake, it might not happen during our life time.

The method was reported in the journal Biofabrication.

via Scientific American

3d printing in space

3D printing in space might save astronauts a whole lot of trouble

3d printing in space

The 3D printing revolution is right around the corner. While we might still be a few years away from seeing such printers for home users at an affordable price, the technology has so far proven itself marvelously, whether we’re talking about jawbone implants, scale on scale mechanized dinosaur parts or extremely fine nanoscale objects. Yes, 3D printing has shown that its a versatile tool in various environments, and its just waiting to cross the frontier – to space. NASA is particularly interested in this type of technology, and recent tests in parabolic flight are promising.

At the dawn of the new millennium, NASA dabbled with 3D printing for a while, and engineers came up with the Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication (EFB3) – a special kind of 3D printer. Its working principle is similar to other models, only this is meant for heavy duty, special operating conditions and certain raw materials. As anything destined for aerospace, special is a keyword.

The EFB3 uses an electron beam gun, dual wire feed, and computer controls to compose metal elements from “feedstock”, or raw materials to you and me. You see, raw materials are easier to store, and in space… well, space is an issue. Its main advantage comes into play when custom work is concerned. Say astronauts need a new part to replace an old one that has malfunctioned or is susceptible to a malfunction. The cost of bringing a new one on the next cargo ship is astronomical. Pun aside, in deep space missions a re-stock would definitely be out of the question. With this machine, however, you just need to input the CAD design, place the feedstock and collect.

Like I said NASA has been working on this device for a while now, but in recent years it has preffered to partner with private establishments. Thanks to  Made in Space, Inc., NASA has been able to turn the EFB3 completely space friendly, as in small dimensions and microgravity operation. The team has been working on testing the units in parabolic flights where weightlessness occurs for short periods – the next step would be testing the equipment on the International Space Station.

‘This is exactly the kind of technology we want to capitalize on,’ remarked NASA’s Deputy Administrator, Lori Garver.  ‘We want to push the technology boundary, not only with improvements of our own systems, but it is our job to also see that growth in the private sector.’

source: Inhabitat 

The origamiesque robots made at MIT, the crawler (down) and gripper (up), which promise to be first in a new line of easy to produce, printable bots.

Printable 3-D robots might pave the way for massive home-made production

The origamiesque robots made at MIT, the crawler (down) and gripper (up), which promise to be first in a new line of easy to produce, printable bots.

The origamiesque robots made at MIT, the crawler (down) and gripper (up), which promise to be first in a new line of easy to produce, printable bots.

It seems 3-D printing is growing into a phenomenon, and rightfully so. We’ve seen jaw bones perfectly reconstructed and used as medical implants, and even nanoscale objects masterfully made by 3-D printers, and if you’ve yet to witness the potential, wait until you hear about the latest project spun off MIT. Scientists there have initiated a project titled  “An Expedition in Computing Printable Programmable Machines,”  which will basically allow anyone with a 3-D printer create his own robots, specially catered to their needs, even with limited to little robotics know-how or programming skills.

Robots are generally expensive, due to costly hardware and software development and require a lot of time to construct. The printed robots at MIT cost under $100 and can be made functionally ready within 24 hours. Quality is of little importance concerning this project, what’s important is making it easy, at least in first instance.

“No system exists today that will take, as specification, your functional needs and will produce a machine capable of fulfilling that need,” MIT robotics engineer and project manager Daniela Rus said.

The actual whole robot doesn’t get printed, but instead its plastic casing and backbone. The electronics and actuators are easily attached afterwords to the printout. So far, the researchers have produced two working prototypes:  an insect-like robot that crawls on six legs, which could be used to carry sensors or cameras to radioactive spill zones, and robotic gripper, which could be used by the elderly to easily pick up stuff. Wired has a video presentation of both robots below.

Now, they might not look like much, but they’re cheap and were made almost instantaneously, compared to the conventional process. If the project picks off, and becomes open source or a controlled collaboration at least, you could one day have access to a extensive database of robot designs. Pick one off that meets your needs, easily customize it by making use of the built in API, and have it printed out at home or at a local 3-D printer (they’ll pop out like mushrooms after a rainfall in the following years. just wait and see). Pre-made common tasks, like grip, grab, move and so on would be implemented and used by the user easily under some form of variations.

Lancovara thinks the MIT project is an exciting and promising one: “If it’s a plug-and-play system, then it’s feasible,” he said. But “obviously, it [also] depends on the complexity of the robot.” He’s seen complex machines with working gears printed in one piece, he says.

These are doable, without a doubt. The MIT project was funded by the National Science Foundation which awarded a $10 million grant for the five-year course. Considering its still in its infancy, and the necessary resources are there, I wouldn’t be surprised if by 2017 do-it yourself robotics takes a whole new meaning, crossing the barrier into more accessible ground.


source: wired

A 285 µm racecar. (c) TU Vienna

Nanoscale objects created by 3D printer in record speed

A 285 µm racecar. (c) TU Vienna

A 285 µm racecar. (c) TU Vienna

A team of researchers at Vienna University of Technology constructed various nanoscale models of incredible precision (St. Stephen’s Cathedral, London’s Tower Bridge or a F1 race car), using a technique called two-photon lithography. The device which the researchers used for their high precision 3D printing is an order of magnitude faster than others such similar, and opens a new set of applications, most predominantly medicine.

To create their fine structures, such as this F1 model race car captioned on the right, a liquid resin was used in the 3D printing process. A focused laser beam, guided by a set of movable mirrors, hardens the resin precisely where it needed to be. This isn’t any ordinary resin, however – chemists, also involved in the project, developed a special resin containing molecules, which when activated by the focused laser beam,  induce a chain reaction in other components of the resin, so-called monomers, and turn them into a solid. This activation occurs only when the trigger molecules absorb two photons of the laser beam at once, hence the two-photon lithography technique. Other 3D printed structures of similar nanoscale had been created before by other researchers, however these required a long time to complete.

The London Tower Bridge - distance between towers 90 µm. (c) TU University

The London Tower Bridge - distance between towers 90 µm. (c) TU University

“Until now, this technique used to be quite slow”, says Professor Jürgen Stampfl from the Institute of Materials Science and Technology at the TU Vienna. “The printing speed used to be measured in millimeters per second – our device can do five meters in one second.” In two-photon lithography, this is a world record.

Conventional 3D-printing processes require preparation of the previously created layer before another can be applied on top of it, and thus ultimately lead to the creation of a solid body. The liquid resin used by the Austrian researchers allows for a constant working surface, free of having to prepare it beforehand, greatly speeding the operation. The greatest optimization, however, was that of improving the mirrors’ control mechanism, precisely tuning their acceleration and deceleration periods.

Currently, 3D-printing is emerging as an industry shaping technology, due to its wide array of applications, from biomedicine, to fine mechanical tiny parts, to paleontology.  The TU Vienna recent research will most likely provide a big leap forward by offering a printing speed unrivaled so far, which can be scaled to larger structures as well.

The real-time video below demonstrates how the 3D printer made this 100 layer, nanostructure in just four minutes.

source: TU University press release 

3d printing infographic dinosaur

Paleontology 2.0: 3-D printed dinosaur skeletons turned into robots

Scientists at  Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania have set on a path that promises to revolutionize the way paleontology is studied, and model reconstructions are made from fossils. By using 3D printers, the researchers intend on cheaply and efficiently replicate bones, without going through the hassle of casting with plaster molds. This way, they can actually build very faithful scale models of dinosaurs, mechanize them, effectively turning them into robots, and thus study how long-extinct animals moved and behaved.

“Technology in paleontology hasn’t changed in about 150 years,” said Drexel paleontologist Dr. Kenneth Lacovara, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. “We use shovels and pickaxes and burlap and plaster. It hasn’t changed — until right now.”

With this in mind, Lacovara has taken to himself to create  3-D scans of giant dinosaur bones and other fossils in his lab. These 3-D scans are extremely valuable alone, not just printed – they can be manipulated, thoroughly studied and modeled through further computer analysis. To turn them to the physical realm, Lacovara listed mechanical engineer Dr. James Tangorra, an assistant professor in Drexel’s College of Engineering, to handle the effective 3-D printing part.

[RELATED] Jurassic Park comes to life in New Jersey. Robot-dinos!

The rapidly evolving technology of 3-D printing has seen a lot of advancements in the past few years, and more and more fields of applications, especially, engineering have aknowledged the valuable contribution and usefulness it can bring. Just last week we reported on the extraordinary story of a woman who had her entire lower jaw replaced by an exact titanium replica, which was built using a 3-D printer.

“It’s kind of like Star Trek technology, where you can press a button and the object pops out,” Lacovara said. A six-inch model of a dinosaur bone can be printed in a few hours using current technology.

3d printing infographic dinosaur

This technology will help Lacavora with his plans to create replicate dinosaur skeletons for museums without the costly and complex process of using casts, but more importantly, it will help him, and other scientists soon to follow hopefully, build exact, scale models of extinct species. When you’re studying sauropods the size of a stadium and weighing tens of tons, it’s extremely difficult to emit pertinent hypotheses concerning their movement mechanics or behavior, and building cast robots of their natural size sounds extremely dangerous. Actually, in this respect, palentology is nothing more than guesswork – once with the implementation of mechanized scale models of dinosaurs, for instance, this might change.

 “We don’t know a lot about the way dinosaurs move,” Lacovara said. “How did they stand? How did they ambulate? Did they run or trot? How did they reproduce? It’s all a bit mysterious,” especially when it comes to the largest dinosaurs.

Lacovara predicts that they will have a working robotic dinosaur limb constructed by the end of 2012. A complete robotic dinosaur replica will take one to two years to create. Check out a sample of Lacovara and his team’s first 3-D reconstruction, an ancient New Jersey crocodile, in the video below.

DIGITAL PALEOART: Reconstruction and Restoration from Laser-Scanned Fossils from Evan Boucher on Vimeo.

[Drexel University]

Computer model, next to the finished part of the lower jaw. (c) Layerwise

Surgery replaces woman’s jaw with a 3D printed titanium one

Hailed as a breakthrough in reconstructive surgery, an 83-year old woman had her lower jaw replaced by an exact 3D printed replica made out of titanium. The implant was made by heating and fusing together titanium ore, one layer at a time with a laser. The procedure took place last summer in the Netherlands, but only recently became public.

Computer model, next to the finished part of the lower jaw. (c) Layerwise

Computer model, next to the finished part of the lower jaw. (c) Layerwise

Usually, reconstructive surgery, such as the one the elderly woman would have had to go through were it not for this alternative, is extremely complex and laborious, typically requiring 20 hours of surgery, coupled with up to four weeks of hospitalization. Due to her old age, this was dubbed too risky, and instead the surgeons at the Biomedical Research Institute at Hasselt University in Belgium decided to opt for this innovative and novel technology.

After the design of the jaw was delivered as an exact replica of the one to be replaced, it only took a few hours for it to be printed, as a laser fussed thousands of layers together. The implant mimics all the complex feature of the original lower jaw – articulated joints, cavities to promote muscle attachment and grooves to direct the regrowth of nerves and veins. After the print was ready, it was given a bioceramic coating. At the end, it only weighed 30 grams more than the original bone structure.

It only took a few hours of surgery and four days of hospital care, a fifth of the current required recovery time. A follow-up procedure will commence soon, as doctors need to remove healing implants inserted into holes built into the implant’s surface and attach a dental bridge, such that fake teeth can be screwed on to provide a set of dentures.

“Shortly after waking up from the anaesthetics the patient spoke a few words, and the day after the patient was able to swallow again,” said Dr Jules Poukens from Hasselt University, who led the surgical team.

“The new treatment is a world premiere because it concerns the first patient-specific implant in replacement of the entire lower jaw.”

This remarkable breakthrough only goes to show how 3D printing can grow to become indispensable to surgery in the future. Broken limbs, entire structures that need to be replaced, can be fully customized and replaced easily. The reduced waiting time as a result of reduced procedure time, means that even more people can now benefit from surgeries faster, reducing risks and allowing them to return to their families a lot sooner. And these are just bones.

LayerWise, a specialized metal-parts manufacturer, which offered the necessary technology to 3D print the jaw, claims that print body organs ready for transplant, however such a feat might not be possible during our lifetimes.

“There are still big biological and chemical issues to be solved,” said Ruben Wauthle, LayerWise’s medical applications engineer,.

“At the moment we use metal powder for printing. To print organic tissue and bone you would need organic material as your ‘ink’. Technically it could be possible – but there is still a long way to go before we’re there.”

The smallest 3D printer

Although they’ve been around for a while, 3D printers still manage to impress me with the quality and precission of the outputted models. Recently, another step in the popularization of this technology has been made by addressing its size once with the development of the world’s smallest 3D printer to date.

The smallest 3D printer comes from the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, where a team of mechanical and chemical engineers developed a working product the size of a carton of milk, and weighing in at only 1.5 kilograms. The prototype’s cost was only  €1,200, remarkably cheap for this kind of technology and size employed; of course, if mass produced the price would drop off significantly.

The 3D printer works through layer by layer tech, as simply put by it’s creators.

The basic principle of the 3D-printer is quite simple: The desired object is printed in a small tub filled with synthetic resin. The resin has a very special property: It hardens precisely where it is illuminated with intense beams of light. Layer for layer, the synthetic resin is irradiated at exactly the right spots. When one layer hardens, the next layer can be attached to it, until the object is completed. This method is called “additive manufacturing technology”. “This way, we can even produce complicated geometrical objects with an intricate inner structure, which could never be made using casting techniques”, Klaus Stadlmann explains. He developed the prototype together with Markus Hatzenbichler.

Applications for this kind of device are quite varied and almost limitless. It can be used in the medical industry, you could  print your own spare parts if you can’t find one available (the resolution of the 3D printer is so high that it beats any kind of mold tech fly high), and of course you could transpose something your mind cooked up in CAD into the 3D physical realm.