Five uses of 3D printing you've never heard of © Getty Images

Five uses of 3D printing you’ve never heard of

It’s been hailed as the next great technological innovation, set to revolutionise global manufacturing and transform the way we live. You’ve probably already heard of 3D-printed body organs and cars, but here are some of the more unusual uses for 3D printing...

1

3D-printed clothes

Fantasise about wearing tailor made suits or designer dresses? In the future, clothes that most people could only dream of will become available to the masses. You’ll be able to design and customise your very own threads, printing them off on your 3D printer for a fraction of the price of a Louis Vuitton outfit.

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Here's one I made earlier. Dita Von Teese © Shapeways
Here’s one I made earlier. Dita Von Teese © Shapeways

Earlier this year, burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese revealed the world’s first fully articulated, 3D-printed dress at a fashion shoot in New York, paving the way for future designers to print their own line of clothing.

The gown, designed by Michael Schmidt and Francis Bitonti, was printed by a company called Shapeways. Using industrial-scale 3D printers, Shapeways can create garments that are a perfect fit. Dita’s custom-made dress, for example, boasts nearly 3000 articulated joints, not to mention 12,000 Swarovski crystals.

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3D-printed homes

Bored of the same old bricks and mortar? Then why not print your own home!

© Universe Architecture
Still waiting on the 3D printed curtains © Universe Architecture

Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars recently revealed his design for the first ever 3D-printed house. The house takes the form of a Möbius strip – a continuous looped surface with only one side. It’s the same shape you get if you take a strip of paper, give it a half-twist, and then join up the two ends to form a loop.

The ‘Landscape House’ is made from printed layers of sand, which are melded together with a chemical binding agent. This creates hollow shells, which can then be filled with fibre-reinforced concrete to give the building extra strength.

By doing away with traditional, manual construction methods, a 3D-printed home could pop up in a smidgen of the time of today’s homes, with building sites resembling something out of Star Trek.

3

3D-printed moon bases

With resources on Earth rapidly running out, scientists are exploring the possibilities of colonising the Moon and other planets in our Solar System. But there are still some big unanswered questions, such as how do you actually go about transporting a habitat to a distant world?

Time old design, high tech engineering © ESA/Foster + Partners
Time old design, high tech engineering © ESA/Foster + Partners

Now, a team of researchers has come up with a solution: print out buildings on-site using the local soil as a printing material. This nifty idea was proposed by Enrico Dini, the inventor of a huge 3D printer called the D-Shape, in partnership with the European Space Agency and the architecture firm Foster + Partners.

To test the process, Dini created a fake lunar soil, mixing it with magnesium oxide to make a base material. His printer constructed a solid 1.5 tonne building block at the rate of two metres an hour, but he estimates that this will increase to 3.5 metres per hour with a next-generation printer. This would allow an entire building to be completed in a week.

4

3D-printed sweets

If you’re short of gift ideas for that special someone this year, you could do worse than a gummy effigy of yourself. After all, nothing says romance like an edible sculpture of your beau.

3D printed gummi man rocking some Fortnite-inspired dance moves © Fabcafe
3D printed gummi man rocking some Fortnite-inspired dance moves © Fabcafe

A recent workshop at FabCafe in Tokyo, Japan used 3D printing technology to create custom-made sweets. Participants first stood in a 3D scanner to have their body mapped, and then a 3D printer created a detailed silicone model of their likeness. This was in turn used to make a mould, with the end result being a very tasty mini-me.

The choice of sweets isn’t just limited to gummy goodness either – FabCafe also lets its customers make chocolate doppelgängers for their sweet-toothed sweethearts.

5

3D printing vending machine

Do you have some 3D printing ideas of your own? If so, you might be interested in ‘The Dreambox’ – a 3D printing vending machine that’s capable of creating a seemingly endless selection of objects.

Built by students at the University of California, Berkeley, the machine uses spools of colourful plastic to print out its products. These range from preloaded items such as cups and dog tags, to the thousands of objects available on the design-sharing website Thingiverse. Customers can even bring along their own designs for printing.

With print costs ranging from $3 to $15, the only limits are your own imagination; well, that and the 7-by-9-by-5-inch size restraint. In time, perhaps we’ll no longer need to send away to China for those awkward replacement parts – all it’ll require is a quick trip to the office vending machine.


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