Browsing articles in "3dprinting"
Oct 5, 2015

Spanish Man Receives 3D-Printed Ribcage


Medicine is one of the most exciting applications for 3D printing.  The idea that we can create custom braces, grafts, limb replacements and more that are uniquely shaped to help each individual to overcome whatever ails them is very exciting indeed.  The newest contender for most impressive use of 3D printing is the titanium ribcage.  Designed and built to replace the ribs of a man that had to be removed due to a tumour, the part was specifically printed to match his exact internal geometry.

Ordinarily, it is very difficult to replicate the rib cage due to the complex shape and a flat titanium plate has been the go-to option for the last few decades.  They aren’t ideal, as they can come loose and increase the risk of further harm or complications.  By taking a CT Scan of the man’s chest prior to the surgery, the hospital was able to have a pre-made rib cage replacement sitting ready to go once they had removed the cancerous area.

Rapid Prototyping is perfect for this kind of requirement, as the speed at which the part was required was crucial- time is of the essence, especially with cancer.  They needed a part as fast as possible, and as they were only ever going to build one with these exact dimensions Rapid Prototyping was the obvious choice.  That is the essence of why Rapid Prototyping is such an important part of medical development- we need treatment fast, and it needs to customise to fit everyone’s unique needs.

The video below shows the 3D printed ribs being put together:


Sep 29, 2015

Minesweeping- 3D Printing Helps Clear the Way


Landmines. Every month, 1200 people are maimed, and a further 800 killed throughout the world due to landmines. Landmine removal efforts are clearing about 100,000 mines a year, but at rate it will still be over 1000 years to get them all. The cost of clearing them is huge, with estimates in excess of $50 billion. Worse still, for every 5000 mines cleared, one person will die in the process.

There are over 110 million active landmines all around the world. To put it in context, there is approximately 57 million square miles of land. This means that there are nearly two mines for every one square mile of earth. Of course, the mines are not scattered evenly, with countries like Cambodia having a much higher concentration- 6 million mines to only 112,489 square miles of land- a much scarier 53 mines in a square mile.

But minesweepers have found themselves an unlikely ally in the fight to clear the planet of these dreadful things. Using 3D printing, J. Kim Vandiver and Allen Tan have been working on a way to print demining training aids. Mines are very hard to transport (even deactivated ones) as they are considered ordnance, and as such no airline or courier will go near them. It can be difficult to teach the complicated process of demining without live models- books and charts simply do not cut it. In countries like Cambodia, where the problem is at it’s worst the lack of training tools is even more notable as many of those on the demining teams have little or no formal education to start with. This makes learning such a difficult process from a book even more challenging- and minesweeping is a career in which you absolutely have to know what you are doing.

Using 3D printing, Tan has created a suitcase (below) full of replica land mines. He calls it the Advanced Ordnance Teaching Materials kit. It contains ten 3D printed explosive devices, which he plans to use to teach minesweepers all around the world about defusing the mines safely. It’s already been noticed, with orders in from the UN, PeaceTrees Vietnam, Switzerland’s International Committee for the Red Cross, and even the US Army’s School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal.3dp_landmines_AOTMkit-288x300

Hopefully the work that people like Vandiver and Tan can be built upon and further progress can be made in the fight to clear the world of landmines. The video below shows a group of minesweepers working with the kits- and it is clear even watching them that the level of understanding as to how the mine operates is already improving- giving them the knowledge they need to safely diffuse any mines they encounter.



Sep 22, 2015

3D-Printing Helps Young Girl Breathe Easier

katie parke 3D printed trachea

The last few stories we’ve had about the progress being made in medicine with 3D-printing have been work undertaken in China.  This week, something a little closer to home- a girl from Northern Ireland has recently undergone surgery that was made safer and easier with the help of 3D-printing.

Six-year-old Katie Parke has a condition known as pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, or PAP.  The disease causes a build up of grainy deposits in the lungs, which makes it harder to breathe.  Unfortunately the primary treatment isn’t pleasant, and involves a procedure known as a lung lavage.  Essentially, one lung is ventilated while the other is washed out with a saline solution.  The difficulty arises in finding the correct size of tubes, with surgeons often wasting time trying multiple combinations to ensure the operation is successful.

This time, they performed a CT scan of the area before the surgery and used 3D-printing to create an exact replica of Katie’s trachea.  This let them select the tubes they needed before the operation and ensured that Katie spent as little time as possible under anesthesia and on a ventilator.

Unfortunately, PAP has no cure as of yet, so Katie will have to periodically come in and receive treatment for the rest of her life.  Due to her age she will have grown between each visit and different tubes will be required to fit her trachea.  3D-printing a replica before each surgery will make the procedure easier, reduce the risks involved and improve Katie’s recovery time.

Great Ormond Street has posted a video of a trachea being 3D-printed, which you can watch below.

They are planning to expand their use of 3D-Printing to plan surgeries, improve training and ensure that their patients get the best possible care.

Sep 17, 2015

To Infinity and Beyond!

‘Sure. 3D-Printing can be tricky, but it’s not rocket science’

Actually, it is.  NASA have been testing 3D-printed rocket parts for the last few years, and they are finally starting to see some serious results.  Last month they built a 3D-printed turbopump (a part used to produce a high pressure fluid for feeding a combustion chamber).  The test is on display in the video below.

The cool thing about 3D-printing these parts is that they used half the materials and produced the parts in half the time.  That’s a lot of time and money saved considering the kind of budget space exploration has.

The tricky bit at the moment is ensuring that the parts they make and as strong and dependable as traditionally made parts, which requires significant testing.  Once that is done though the potential for development is incredible.  With future engine design stalled as many of the complex geometries required are not feasible using traditional methods, we are on the verge of a big leap forward in rocket technology.


Sep 9, 2015

China developing 3D-Printed Back Braces

back brace

China is on a roll this month, with 3D-printed hip implants making the news last week, this week there are 3D-printed back braces in the spotlight.  This is yet another excellent medical application that 3D-printing lends itself to in order to meet the growing expectations people have about healthcare.

The Chinese are looking into using the braces to treat conditions such as mild to moderate scoliosis.  Ordinary back braces are clunky, uncomfortable and don’t allow air to circulate- problems that are overcome with a custom brace.  The brace can be designed with minimal extrusion, allowing it to fit under the patients clothes, and can have intricate patterns built in to improve airflow which reduces the buildup of heat, as well as making the brace lighter.

The braces need to be light, but also strong enough to support the realignment of the patient’s back.  Dr Hans-Rudolph Weiss,  an orthopedic surgeon from Germany has been working with the researchers at the National Rehabilitation Aid Research Centre in Beijing and is continuing to develop the braces, working on making them more robust, lighter and less noticeable.  Hopefully his efforts will help further the growing potential in 3D-printing for medical uses, and help make the lives of thousands of people easier.

Aug 27, 2015

Hand Drive your Wheelchair with 3D-Printing


The easy accessibility of Rapid Prototyping has opened the doors for development allowing those with ideas that might not otherwise have seen the light of day to make the stage.  That is exactly what has happened with Kate Reed and Nathaniel Tong.  The two designers have teamed up to produce the wheelchair attachment you can see above.  It is a relatively simple attachment which will allow the wheelchair to be powered via a rowing motion.

Lever powered wheelchairs already exist- designed to engage more muscle groups and make getting about easier. However, they can cost up to $10,000.  Compared to this clever attachment, which is open source, costing no more than the price of materials- about $40.  As the pieces are printed, they can be customised to fit the needs of the user- such as being made smaller to fit the hands of a child.

The parts required are relatively simple- six 3D-printed parts, screws, lock nuts, some aluminium pole, a mountain bike brake assembly, a bicycle brake cable and a spring.



Kate and Nathaniel were inspired to create this upon discovering the financial struggles that many wheelchair users face- with statistics placing them as less likely to have jobs and more likely to live in poverty.  They are continuing to work on their hand drive mechanism, improving it’s speed and reliability.

Aug 11, 2015

SLA Electric Violin- the 3Dvarius

SLA violin

With a body as clear as the sound it makes, Laurent Bernadac’s 3D printed violin is certainly a sight to behold.  Having been carefully constructed entirely using Stereolithography, the body is strong and resilient enough to put up with the rigours of a performance, but has the excellent surface finish and build clarity that can only really be achieved using SLA.

Unlike traditional violin production, Laurent was able to print the violin as a single piece, using UV light to cure the resin to ensure it was fully polymerized.  From there is was a simple matter of cleaning up the body to ensure that it provided the optimal playing comfort and performance clarity.  The only parts that were not made in SLA were the tuning pegs and the strings.

This piece is remarkable because it is the first of it’s kind to fully utilise SLA to this extent.  Previous efforts have been made at 3D printing using SLS and FDM machines, but SLA has already shown itself to be a more versatile method, and shows the potential it could have for instruments in the future.

Now, what you really want to hear, the violin in action:


Jun 9, 2015

3-D Printing Helps Sir Bradley Break World Record

On Sunday Sir Bradley Wiggins broke the UCI Hour record- the record for the furthest distance a cyclist can travel in an hour.  His distance of 54.526km (33.88 miles) beat the old record of 52.937km set by Alex Dowsett just weeks ago.  The UCI has seen a lot of impressive numbers, with the record being tackled every few years and the peg being moved a little higher every time.  The cyclists take the credit and do most of the work, but the technology that they ride has come across in leaps and bounds as well.  With aerodynamic clothing, carbon fibre bikes, and now custom 3D printed handlebars.

In order to ensure he had the best possible chance for his attempt, Wiggins’ handlebars were specially designed to be ultra-lightweight and have maximum aerodynamic efficiency. To achieve this they needed to ensure that they kept his shoulders as narrow as possible to give him the most streamlined shape.  However, he was riding for a full hour so they still needed to be comfortable for him to rest his arms on for the entire duration of the ride.

In order to achieve this, the parts were printed in metal allowing his team to make small changes right up to the final days before the race and customise the parts as they saw fit.  Building in metal ensured that the handlebars were light enough so as to not provide any unnecessary extra weight, but strong enough to support him throughout the race.  Not content with cars, aeroplanes and medicine, metal sintering is now making its mark on sport.  It won’t be long before custom printed handlebars become an increasingly common sight in professional cycling and beyond.


Apr 8, 2015

3D-Printing could save your life

Medicine has been around for thousands of years, and has had many leaps forward.  Shining moments which change the way we treat injuries and illnesses- the Hippocratic method,  immunisation, anaesthetics, antiseptics, vaccinations, transplant technology.  The next big leap is just around the corner, and has already started making an impact on the way we can treat patients.

3D-printing has been in use since the 1980s, but it is only recently that we have been able to print parts with the necessary levels of detail and endurance to consider them for medical use.  The potential is endless, with scientists predicting that it will be possible to print functional organs which can be transplanted to replace damaged or dying parts.  An Italian studio known as MHOX have been working on 3D-printed eyes which could replace or potentially be used to enhance regular human sight with features like zoom, photography, and of course WiFi.  This may sound like science fiction, but they believe the technology will be readily available by 2027.

With all this to look forward to it’s easy to miss the developments that are being made today.  Using titanium it is possible to create skeletal structures that can be placed within the human body.  A man in Wales had his face rebuilt using titanium after he was injured in a bike accident.  A team in Southampton created a replacement hip, and the dentistry industry have been using it to create caps and crowns for teeth faster and more cost effectively.

finishes 088

Last month, we covered a segment on 3D printed prosthetics involving Robert Downey Jr. and a group known as Limbitless Solutions.  Prosthetics is an industry that is being revolutionised due to the huge cost reductions 3D-printing technology brings.  While an arm would cost upwards of £25,000 before, they can now be made for as little as £200.  This makes the technology far more accessible and will hopefully spur even greater developments.

The medical industry is always developing, always looking for new ways to help and to heal- 3D printing will be one of the ‘big leaps’ of the 21st century.   Due to the unique nature of each person and their medical requirements, it is likely that the field will be suited to low volume production, and due to the strict standards set for the materials used the bar is set very high in terms of the equipment and expertise required.

Dec 5, 2014

Christmas shopping with a 3D Printing twist!


If you have ventured into your local town over the past few days you will be left with no doubt that Christmas is just around the corner. City centres have become a constant hive of activity with finding a parking space near as challenging a task as finding that perfect present for your loved ones.

For those in Maryland (US) however finding a truly unique Christmas gift may just have become that little bit easier thanks to a new business venture, the 3D Print Factory. A 3D Print shop which opened its doors earlier this November, the 3D Print Factory offers customers access to every technology offered by 3D Printing including custom prototyping and reverse engineering services. The store’s current location within Valley Mall  specialises in custom 3D Christmas ornaments for the holidays season in addition to custom figurines (personalized, sports, celebrity etc) and any other printable file.

So if you happen to be in the Maryland region over Christmas and know someone with an interest in 3D Printing you might just find the perfect Christmas gift after all, just look for the 3D Print Factory logo!