3D printing has been around since the 70’s, but 3D printers have only been made commercially available within the last few years. 3D printing, as opposed to traditional machining, is an additive process rather than subtractive. This can mean much less waste and carbon footprint. There are all types of 3D printing processes and materials that can be used, from plaster to thermoplastics to metal alloys. And, the industry is constantly coming up with new types of materials.
Some see 3D printing as the future of manufacturing, leading to major changes in global trade. Why ship a product all the way from China to the US when it can just be printed at home? Small, practical objects that are already being printed by consumers include buttons, picture frames, toys and jewelry. There are also innovative objects such as sculptural art, wearable objects, and iPhone cases.
By no means is this a comprehensive list of 3D-printed objects. This industry is just in its infancy, and with 3D printing startups popping up all over like the Micro by M3D that reached its $50k funding goal in less than 11 minutes, it seems the world wants the revolution to happen.
Here is a list of some of the most compelling, and sometimes practical, 3D-printed objects that can make great conversation points at the office vending machine.
1. 3D Printed Acoustic Polyamide Guitar
Cubify offers 3D printing solutions for a range of products including fashion, décor, kids, and entertainment. Some of the thought behind 3D printing a guitar is that musicians, if they wanted to, could design a guitars to their own specifications and print them on a 3D printer. Cubify also mentions the scarcity of high quality wood and the ability to recycle the material (if some rocker decides to smash a 3D printed guitar on stage), as reasons for printing an acoustic guitar in 3D. This guitar was printed on a 3D Systems SinsterStation Pro using Duraform PA, as well as metal material for the soundhole cover and heel joint.
2. Miniatures of Yourself
TwinKind is a German-based company that creates figurines based on your likeness. There are other companies out there that produce 3D-printed figurines, but TwinKind has a great looking product. To create a figure, a 3D scan is first made of yourself using multi-camera photogrammetry technology (sort of like the process used for the Matrix films). Then, a print is made from 1:12 to 1:5 scale, ranging in price from € 250 (US $345) to € 990 (US $1,365). They even create figurine likenesses of pets.
3. 2,500 square-foot house in 24 hours
Developed by Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis from USC, Contour Crafting is a fabrication process that allows large-scale parts to be fabricated quickly, layer-by-layer, using robotics and three-dimensional processes. Contour Crafting is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research, and recent developments have been focused on the construction of houses (possibly emergency or low income uses), as well as the possibility of constructing structures on the moon and Mars.
4. Sad Keanu Reeves 3D-Printed Figure
The sad Keanu Reeves phenomenon started after a photograph was taken of him sitting on a park bench in New York City which some translated as him looking sad. A Reddit user combined images of Reeves on the bench with the text “I really enjoy acting, because when I act, I’m no longer me.” (You may have heard of the “Cheer up Keanu Day” on Facebook.) A couple years later, a 3D-printed miniature was designed by Nancy Liang and is now available for $45 on Shapeways.com. Since then, fans of Keanu Reeves and his miniature have taken to the streets to photograph his miniature likeness in different environments.
5. Espresso Drinking Cups
While we can talk about building cars and housing with 3D printers, some of the most practical applications of 3D printing can be found in normal household items such as plates, utensils, and picture frames. One Coffee Cup a Day was an experiment in ideating, designing, and producing 30 different espresso cups in 30 days. The cups were printed in ceramic by Shapeways, and most are available for purchase on their website. This could be where 3D printing will make the biggest impact, as many 3D models are made available as open source designs that can be downloaded for free, revised and/or improved, and shared once again.
6. 1960s Aston Martin DB5 demolished in Skyfall
If you looked really close in the James Bond movie Skyfall you may have noticed some shots of the 1960s Aston Martin DB5 weren’t actual Aston Martins at all, but rather 1:3 scale replicas printed on the VX4000 3D printer by the German company Voxeljet.
7. American Craftsman Bungalow Birdhouse
Can we think about the birds for second here? Don’t they need homes too? Artist Brent Rosenburgh (aka Erik J. Durwood II) has designed this American Craftsman Bungalow Birdhouse that is completely free to download. The house was designed for smaller birds like finches and chickadees, but can be scaled up to accommodate larger species. The design features two entrances, ventilation through the chimney and windows, and sloped drains in the base. Inhabitants will also appreciate the interior of the birdhouse has also been modeled as well.
8. Crayon Creatures from Kid’s Drawings
Now your kids (and grown up kids alike) can print 3D renderings of crayon drawings. The company, Crayon Creatures, use 3D printing technology to turn flat drawings into sculptures. The sculptures are made out of sandstone and measure 4-inches (10cm) at the largest length. The price of a Crayon Creature is a bit expensive ($130 plus shipping), but those of you not interested in investing in a 3D printer or software can have a “creature” made in Barcelona and shipped back to you.
9. Prosthetic Limbs, Implants, & Organs
The medical industry has plenty of uses for 3D printing, from creating custom implants to prosthetic limbs and bone replacements. Considering there are approximately 1.7 million people in the United States living without one or more natural limbs, the ability to print a custom limb is nothing less than revolutionary. Of course, there are other factors to consider like how the limb attaches to the body and the fact that 3D-printed objects are only made of one material, but the customization aspect opens new doors and quickens manufacturing time. 3D-printing technology can also be used for accident victims and those needing implants for reconstructive surgery. There is also research being done in bio-printing, a method by which living cells (combined with another material such as gel or sugar) can be pushed through inkjet printer heads to create tissues or organs.
A controversial issue at the very least, guns can be made from 3D-printed parts that can then be assembled into working weapons. Guns can be made in all shapes and sizes, from handguns to assault weapons. The photo above shows the 3D-printed gun called “The Liberator” that made history last year when the designer Defense Distributed posted the instructions online. The US Department of State quickly demanded the design be taken off the internet. The federal government requires plastic guns to have a piece of metal that can be detected by X-ray machines and metal detectors, but those pieces can easily be removed, making it possible for plastic guns to get by security checkpoints.
MakerBot Thingiverse by user “damm301” has a model of Winterfell that’s available under the Creative Commons – Attribution – Share Alike license. The 3D model is just a section of the Seven Kingdoms three-dimensional map at the introduction of HBO’s Game of Thrones series (and one that hasn’t changed since episode 1, thank the gods). Once printed, you can paint the individual structures in the same color palette as the TV show intro, or develop your own color scheme.
12. “Ironjack” Articulated Action Figure
MyMiniFactory.com has all kinds of models for smaller sized 3D printing, from jewelry to educational almost practical items such as an iPhone Brass Knuckles case. One object that stands out on MyMiniFactory is the Ironjack model designed by Tannisch. The action figure has 59 parts that are all jointed (not glued), allowing up to 20 points of articulation. The Ironjack uses 287 grams of filament and 210mm x 120mm x 60mm when complete.
13. 3D Print Canal House
For architects, 3D printing makes the process of designing and constructing more personal, at both reduced scale and full size applications. In Amsterdam, an international team is building the 3D Print Canal House – a research and building site for 3D printing. The centerpiece of the project is the KamerMaker, a large moveable 3D-printer (by crane) that is fabricating the Canal House out of new materials derived from biobased raw materials, and can also print with recycled plastics. The project explores the sharing of digital architecture designs and addresses how 3D printing can be used to solve world housing problems.
14. EDAG Genesis
The German engineering firm EDAG recently showed off their 3D-printed auto called the “Genesis” at the Geneva Motor Show. The frame, inspired by a turtle shell, was created using thermoplastic in a 3D printed additive process. EDAG’s accomplishment, although still conceptual, shows that 3D printing can be done a large scale and not just by creating smaller parts that need to be assembled. A unibody design could, EDAG says, be constructed with carbon fiber to build stability and reduce overall weight.
Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.