In-depth

What can 3D printing be used for?

3D printers aren’t all just about printing pointless miniature statues, there are some really cool things the tech can do

3D printers have been around for a while now and although most examples of what they can do seem to revolve around making miniature busts of people, there are some real-life useful things the technology can do.

Aston Martin DB5 replica

Aston Martin cars are really expensive, and old Aston Martins even more so. So when the producers of James Bond flick Skyfall wanted to blow one up, they weren't going to use the real thing!

Instead, a Bavarian 3D printing company by the name of Voxeljet made three painstakingly accurate 1:3 scale models of the vehicle. Each pretend car was made from 18 plastic parts printed using voxeljet's VX4000 printer. The printer can make parts as big as four meters by two meter by one meter. A prop company then assembled the models, painted them and added bullet holes.

The models themselves cost far less than the $2.6 milllion a real DB5 is worth. However, one 3D model sold for over 60,000 at an auction.

Camera lenses

Camera lenses aren't easy to make, but this person used a 3D printer to make one. They used acrylic instead of glass for the lens. They also made the housing and all other parts using a 3D printer.

The results aren't all that great, but give images a weird looking effect and show that it does, kind of, work.

3D printed candy

Possibly one of the most delicious applications of the technology, 3D printing can even be used to manufacture edible goods like sweets. Food-based 3D printing hardware like the ChefJet Pro is capable of producing intricate delicacies made out of sugar and frosting.

While expensive, the creations this technology can make are incredibly impressive, and the hardware has drawn significant interest from high-end chefs and gastronomes.

In space, no one can hear you print

Nasa has turned to 3D printing to create parts and tools on the International Space Station. Known as the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), it was installed in the station in April 2016. In June it printed out its first tool, a wrench that enables astronauts to carry out maintenance work aboard the orbiting lab. The wrench also has a fastening clip so the tool doesn't fly off into space.

The 3D printer was made by California-based company Made In Space and is the only 3D printer to be sent into space.

Saving a baby's life

Doctors at the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital in Connecticut saved the life of a two-week-old baby by printing out a near-perfect replica of its heart and using that to practice an extremely difficult procedure on the child's organ. The doctors could build up a picture of the heart by using MRI scans which were then used to create the replica.

The baby's heart had abnormalities such as holes and unusually formed chambers. However, all these could be corrected by surgery. The model gave surgeons a unique chance to plan and practice the procedure. By doing this, surgeons avoided having to stop the baby's heart and only needed one operation to save the child's life.

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