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3D Printing is Creating Real-World Solutions Layer by Layer

Posted by cfeehan on November 20, 2015


3D printing is a technology that almost doesn’t sound real. The idea that you can input a digital file into a computer and the diagram or object on that file can be created in real life in just a few minutes or hours literally sounds like magic. I know, I sound so unhip right now, but it boggles my mind. 3Dprinting.com defines the method as “a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes; in an additive process, an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created”.

If you’d like some visual clarification, here’s a video of 3D printing live in action…USING CHOCOLATE AS THE PRINTING MATERIAL. You heard me correctly. Although the material is chocolate, the basic premise is the same – the design is made up in a CAD (Computer Aided Design) file, the 3D modeling software “slices” the model into hundreds or thousands of horizontal layers, and then the object is created physically layer by layer in the material of choice, which can be metal, plastic, concrete, and of course, even chocolate!

Although chocolate mugs are pretty cool (and delicious), 3D printing is being used for some even bigger and better things. In the news recently, I read about Tumbles, an adorable terrier puppy who was born without front legs. Thankfully, this roadblock won’t stop him from living a full life – he will soon be given the chance to move around like a normal dog thanks to 3D printing! At Ohio University’s printing lab, they printed up a sort of doggy “sled” for Tumbles, which will allow him to walk around, eat, and play like any other puppy. It took many hours to create, but once he gets used to it, Tumbles’ life will be changed for the better! Meet Tumbles and watch him try to get used to his new 3D printed device below (and get ready to say “awwww”).

And now, here’s the real feels-inducer: 3D printers can even make prosthetic limbs for people who were born without them, or have lost them. One specific organization is called e-NABLE, which provides prosthetic hands for children who are missing fingers or arms below the elbow, and cannot afford traditional prosthetics. These 3D-printed prosthetics do not have any electric parts; they use an elastic tension system which allows the hand to grip. The absolutely amazing thing about this organization, however, is that they provide these prosthetics for free to children. Volunteers like Felipe, who you’ll meet in the video below, use their own hard-earned money to pay for the materials and energy needed to manufacture the prosthetic arms. Each one costs about $100 US to make, and takes around 72 hours to print. Honestly, these volunteers are incredible people, and this story moved me so much. The video IS a bit long, but it’s totally worth it if you have time.

You can also learn more about the organization, donate, or become an e-NABLE volunteer or educator by visiting their website here.

Some other cool things that have been made using a 3D printer:

It’s become undeniably clear that 3D printing can create some pretty amazing solutions to unavoidable problems in our world today, and in some cases, even just provide a bit of novelty. If 3D printing is already presenting affordable alternatives to traditional prosthetic limbs and high housing costs, I can’t wait to see what comes next. 3D-printed time machine, anyone?


Caitlin Feehan, Blogger & Editor

Converse have been my footwear of choice for the past 9 years, I’m convinced that all doors and sidewalks are conspiring against me, and I enjoy sticking my head out of the passenger window on long car rides.