How 3D Printing in being used in Australia 2017
Firstly what is 3D printing? The process for creating objects using a type of 3D printer has been around since the 1980s but due to the recent reduction in production costs and advances in their output quality they have rapidly grown in availability and usefulness. In 1993 the company Solidscape introduced a high-precision polymer jet fabrication system with soluble support structures, also known as the “dot on dot” technique. Today a good quality 3D printer is fairly cheap and can be purchased for $500 and this has allowed businesses big and small to start exploring their capabilities.
All types of products from small household items to prosthetic limbs have been made using 3D printers and the innovations are only growing as they become more widely used. The Australian venture capitalist Steve Sammartino has predicted that 3D printing will even outstrip the internet in its revolutionary impact, ushering in an era of “desktop manufacturing” which has massive implications for many industries.
In Australia one such innovation comes from M. Hank Haeusler, associate professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. Haeusler has been working with his students to develop ways to introduce 3D printing to the building industry, he hopes that once perfected the technology can reduce the cost of building a home by two thirds and that this will eventually solve housing problems both in the third and first worlds.
3D printing will also have a significant impact on Australian manufacturing; it opens up many opportunities to leapfrog international competition by adopting the technology early. In their article “How 3D printing can revolutionise Australian manufacturing,” Gordon Wallace and Stephen Beirne see the advent of 3D printing as a great opportunity for Australia to lead the world. They see the biggest opportunities in education and training; “Herein lies an opportunity for scientists, engineers and educators at large to reconnect the dots and get the next generation excited about science and engineering.”
Earlier we mentioned 3D printing of prosthetics, an obvious application, but what about the manufacture of body parts? Surely the stuff of science fiction? Richard Guilliatt writing for The Australian newspaper sees the manufacture of body parts as increasingly possible. Pioneers like Dr Marc Coughlan has been repairing skull fractures by using replacements made by a company based in Melbourne, using 3D printers to mould the implants to the exact contours of a patient’s skull. Dr Coughlan has even replaced damaged vertebrae with a printed replacement, but he isn’t stopping there. Dr Coughlan has been working on printing actual organs by “printing” its cellular structure.
Australian businesses have also managed to monetize real world applications, companies like Anatomics, based in Queensland. Led by chief executive Andrew Batty the company takes orders globally for a range of implants for aesthetic replacement and improvement. He sees 3D printing as an incredible opportunity but warns against standards being lowered for economic gain. In a similar field is Melbourne company 3D Medical, announced it had developed Australia’s first 3D-printed titanium jaw implant designed to realign the face of a 32-year-old Melbourne man.
Work in the field of 3D printing is also happening within the education system, inside the laboratories of the Intelligent Polymer Research Institute at Wollongong University where Professor Gordon Wallace and his team are inching towards medicine’s Holy Grail, actually manufacturing human flesh and bone on a 3D printer. Wallace sees various different printers being used in unison to create the final parts; he has successfully used stem cells infused in liquid to pass through the printer nozzles. Wallace sees huge potential in medicine to revolutionise the field where printers in Doctors surgeries could be a reality.
3D printing has just begun to find its place in modern society; the technology is on the brink of revolutionising many industries and fields. The impact on human development will be huge and Australia has the chance to be at the forefront of this change as an early adopter and innovator.