Words by: Puja Shah
Recently, a brain surgeon in Holland by the name of Dr. Bon Verweij successfully replaced the complete skull of a 22-year-old woman with a 3D-printed, tailor-made plastic skull in a surgical procedure that lasted 23 hours. The patient had a chronic bone disorder that caused her skull to be 5cm thick. The hospital claimed the condition progressed to the point where she had lost her vision. The progression would have killed her, but three months after the operation, the patient regained her vision and was able to return to work. So Dr. Verweij decided, in order to save her…he had to just print up new parts. In a hospital interview, he stated, “Now we can use 3D printing to ensure that these components are an exact fit. This has major advantages, not only cosmetically but also because patients often have better brain function compared with the old method.”
I know, that’s what I said when I first heard about doctors printing body parts. What’s next? Printing a new best friend? It’s pretty amazing that Fripp Design and Research, a UK-based company, says batch-printing of up to 150 prosthetic eyes an hour is becoming a reality. Their mass-production technique promises to speed up the manufacture of eye prostheses plus drive down cost. This will help developing countries, since according the World Health Organization, there are an estimated 45 million blind people and 135 million visually impaired people worldwide. With limbs, skin and even bones on the way, this is revolutionary to the human race.
So…how does it work?
This isn’t your average mini desktop printer. 3D printing is additive manufacturing or direct digital manufacturing. That means the plastic, or the material being “printed” is built up one layer at a time until the final product is completed.
Basically, it can give you what you want right when you want it.
It’s kind of like The Jetsons. With the press of a button, just like Judy Jetson, we can soon print up our family’s Thanksgiving dinner feast.
What are the implications of manifesting objects with the press of a button?
Miraculous medical advancements, increased efficiency, customization of products and reduction of relying on others for goods are all positive points. Helping the environment in elimination of shipping and using recycled plastic are right on the mark. Just as there were when the world turned during the internet boom in the 90’s, there are some implications to this printing process. Personal interactions may decrease as a community. No longer will you need to go to the local hardware store and ask Joe for a lamp part that you just can’t seem to find, not even online. With 3-D printing, you will just print it up. Some are saying that illegal objects, such as guns and bombs, will be harder to control. On a large scale, our current needs and state of manufacturing will shift. Economists are intrigued by what will happen to the world if 3D printers find their way into our houses.
So…what will happen when they take over our homes?
Along with miraculous medical advancements, a Chinese company recently printed 10 houses. Yes, 10 real houses. If we are printing human skulls and houses today…what do you think we will be able to print out in a few years? Massive temples? Flying saucers? A new best friend?