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3-D Printing Oddities: A Versatile Technology

Manufacturing has made a giant leap in the last thirty years, shifting from injection molds, assembly lines and other high-waste industrial methods to an incredible new technology called 3-D printing. This method uses a filament or other extrusion mechanism along with a guiding computer design spec to create 3-dimensional objects that have nearly limitless uses. How limitless, you may ask? Here are few of the more unusual ways that 3-D printing is making its mark on the world:

3-D Printing Body Parts

When paired with the advanced imaging and diagnostic tools available to modern medicine, 3-dimensional printing offers some intriguing possibilities. Recently, a University of Iowa surgeon was able to "pre plan" a tricky heart surgery for a pediatric patient by literally printing the child's heart from scans in order to examine it from all angles. This allowed the surgeon to plan his movements ahead of time and shorten surgical time, reducing the risk for the patient. In addition to diagnostic uses, other doctors are using body-safe mediums in printers in order to make customized implants that help organs heal and reform after defects or injuries.

3-D Printing Guns

It may sound like a concept straight out of a sci-fi movie, but the first shot from a 3-D printed gun fired in early 2013. The small gun, called "The Liberator," was released as a free-to-the-public blueprint file by its creator, Defense Distributed. The company champions the cause of the American public's right to bear arms, and embraces this new technology as a way to make it happen. Legislators, meanwhile, are scrambling behind the invention in a hot debate over how to control or license it.

3-D Printing King Richard III

When the body of long-lost king Richard III was uncovered earlier this year in England, it gave history and forensic buffs alike a rare opportunity. Using measurements of the skull and 3-D printing, Caroline Wilkinson, a facial reconstruction expert from the University of Dundee, was able to work with her colleagues to recreate the king's head and face. The sculpture-like result is eerily lifelike and gives the impression of looking directly at the dearly departed King.

3-D Printing Food

The printing medium used for 3-D printing is typically some sort of polymer or filament, but the technology holds true even when more unusual mediums are chosen. Materials like dough, sugar and starch are being used by creative bakers and chefs around the world to create bespoke cake toppers, chocolate bars and other sweet treats that truly reflect the client ordering them. While the relatively new status of the technology limits some aspects of "printing food," new designs are emerging with several nozzles and more advanced creation fields that make more intricate recipes a reality in the near future.

Movies and books of the future almost inevitably include some sort of replication technology, and we're moving ever-closer to making sci-fi a reality. With these awe-inspiring results already in the history books, the advancement of 3-D printing could swiftly become the replicators that we've wondered about for so long, in turn becoming as commonplace as microwaves are to us today.

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