I’m fascinated with 3D printing, and have written a number of posts on the topic. There are numerous applications in medicine, and particularly in trauma care. We are currently able to print substitutes for bone, cartilage (trachea), bladder, skin, and more. To date, all of these use the same 2D technology found in ink-jet printers. But instead of 2D splashes of ink, three dimensional bits of plastic or metal are stacked on top of each other one layer at a time and fused by a laser.
UC Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have developed a new 3D printing technology that coalesces an entire object at once using 3D information projected by shining light fro a standard LED projector into a column containing a special resin. The device has been renamed the “replicator” since it functions like the device seen in various Star Trek series. Here’s a brief video:
Bottom line: This is new technology, so it’s still a bit glitchy. The surface definition is lower than conventional 3D printing, which will limit its usefulness in some medical applications. And currently, the size limit is only four inches. But it will allow printing over existing objects, which may give it some real advantages. I’m sure there’s more to come with this promising new technology.
- A next-generation skin bioprinter
- The ultimate bone bioprinter
- Planning orthopedic surgery using a 3D printer