File - Print - New jawbone please. How printers are getting smart.


Printers. They are quite often the bane of our lives. With their endless paper-chewing, ink guzzling and baffling flashing lights you could mistake them for being the most inefficient and useless of our office friends. But hold your horses because major things are happening in the printer world and it might not be long before we are printing out our own shoes, tableware and even body parts!

A company called LayerWise used innovative 3D printing technology to print out a synthetic jaw which was then implanted into an 83 year olds mouth.

This has been the first operation of its kind and proves that what we can produce from the virtual to the material world has come on a long way since simple Word Documents.

3D prints works by translating a digital design into a 3D format using layers of plaster, powder and resins.

As well as an emergence into the medical industry, 3D printers are also being regularly used by car and aeroplane manufacturers such as Formula 1 as well as footwear and jewellery makers.

The jaw operation took place in July last year in Holland and proved successful in treating the chronic bone infection known as Osteomyelitis. The jaw is made from Titanium power and took several hours for the printer to layer each millimetre of the jaw before heating it to harden. The synthetic jaw is a complex structure, with enough cavities and joins in it to encourage the muscles to grow back around it.

Prof Dr Jules Poukens, from Hasselt University in Belgium, was in charge of the surgery. The patient was able to speak and swallow the day after having the op and it’s believed that this method cuts down recovery time.

Now the possibilities of 3D printing are being realized, UK companies are starting to jump on the band wagon.

A company called MakieLab are launching an App in April to allow anyone to design their own avatar which will be turned into an action figure back at the MakieLab HQ by their specially made 3D printer.

The implications of this are huge, this process cuts out a lot of the middle men involved in design and production and might see the end of big companies using mass production in the Far East to import their goods. The environmental impacts of this are currently looking positive.

Further down the line we might even all end up with a 3D printer at home. Making our own prototypes for our everyday products might become the norm.

So the next time you consider shoving your printer off your desk, just remember it might end up changing the world we live in.

Jessica Hazel

Writer, blogger and director of Smoking Gun Vintage



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