Question: What can you print with a 3D printer? Answer: Almost anything. Still skeptical? Consider this. Four years ago, restaurant manager Eric Moger, lost almost the entire left side of his face due to emergency cancer surgery. Now, according to The Province, thanks to cutting-edge, three-dimensional printing technology, Eric has his face back.
Surgeons and technicians made scans of what remained of Moger’s skull and used computers to recreate his old face. Using a new type of 3D printer, they were able to build up layers of nylon plastic to produce the missing parts.
The prosthetic face has changed Eric Moger’s life, making it possible for him to drink his first glass of water in years and to taste real food for the first time since his surgery.
The use of 3D printing for prosthetics is only a small part of the world of possibilities developers are considering. In medicine alone, thoughts have already turned to replacement body parts and organs.
CNBC reports that Organovo Holdings, an OTC traded San Diego-based company that focuses on 3D bio printing technology is working on printing functional human tissue for medical research.
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And, although, Shaochen Chen, a professor of nano-engineering at the University of California says growing functional organs is at least 10 years away, the technology is under development. In the meantime, Organova, has collaborated with pharma giant, Pfizer (NYSE: PFE [FREE Stock Trend Analysis]), in hopes of using existing bio printing techniques to aid in the development of new drugs.
Other uses of 3D printing, like proto-type modeling, are becoming almost normal. The cost of the printers has been a major sticking point, but even that is coming down. Leading IT research firm, Gartner, forecasts that by 2016 printers will be available for less than $2000.
Digital news outlet, Quartz.com reports two European architectural firms even have plans to print buildings. The first, by Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars, will cost $6.4 million and is expected to be completed by 2014.
The second, being built by London-based Softkill Design will take 3 weeks to “print” and only a day to assemble. The 3D building printers are large – but not as large as you might think – no more than 20 feet high. They print building components, which are then assembled.
Some of the major players in publicly traded 3D include 3D Systems (NYSE: DDD), currently seen as one of the most promising companies. ExOne (NASDAQ: EXONE) prints in more materials than others, an advantage as the technology advances.
Proto Labs (NYSE: PRLB) specializes in prototype printing, one of the most well understood uses for 3D printers. iRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT) is not, strictly speaking, a 3D printer company, but it is about to get into the market.
Finally, Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS) has merged with companies with connections in aerospace, automotive, medical and military. As 3D technology develops, these connections will prove very useful.
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