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3-D Printing Goes Mainstream

© DNA Seattle

Technology brings the newest “maker” trend to the consumer.

Imagine being able to “print” that lost—but crucial—Lego brick for your child. Or to listen to music on your iPhone, then “print out” the album on vinyl. This is all possible in the very near future, thanks to 3-D printing. These printers take information from software like CAD and materialize it—usually in plastic. Also called “additive manufacturing,” 3-D printing involves spraying in layers to build up the desired product. Now 3-D printers have come to market that are relatively affordable for consumers ($1,000–$2,000), so look for this technology to be used in increasingly creative ways in the home. In the meantime, 3-D printing is showing up in some revolutionary applications.

Print and Conquer

The U.S. Army has developed self-contained labs to deploy in war zones. (Picture a futuristic machine shop, housed in a shipping container.) Lab scientists there collaborate with soldiers to invent solutions to their battle problems. Key equipment includes two 3-D printers: one that produces plastic and the other metal. They can even print weapons.

A New You

Getting a crown at the dentist just got easier (or faster, at least). Dentists can produce a crown in a single sitting when a 3-D printer creates the new tooth on the spot from imaging. Next stop: body parts. Doctors are already printing custom bone replacements. In January, a patient in the U.K. received a new jawbone made from titanium powder and printed just for her.

If the Shoe Fits

Designers are experimenting with bespoke shoes printed from scans of the individual’s foot. French-born Luc Fusaro has created running shoes for world-class sprinters that are impossibly light and include special features such as spikes for traction. The 3-D fashion company Continuum sells custom-printed women’s pumps (customers select color, size and heel height), though they’re a splurge at $900.

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