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3D Printing in June 2017: An Update

As always, the world of 3D printing is full of surprises.  June of 2017 is no different.  Here’s the roundup of the most exciting and groundbreaking events and breakthroughs in this cutting-edge field.

Business Standard reports on a remarkable new invention developed by Rifath Sharook, an 18-year-old from India.  Mr. Sharook, who hails from Pallapatti in Tamil Nadu, has created a 3D printed satellite, which is the world’s smallest.  It will launch into space with the help of NASA on June 21st.

The KalamSat satellite, named after nuclear scientist and former President APJ Abdul Kalam, “weighs only 64 grams.”  “Sharook’s project, the first to be manufactured via 3D printing, got selected through a competition, ‘Cubes in Space,’ sponsored jointly by NASA and ‘I Doodle Learning.’  The project aims to [measure] the performance of new technology in space.”  The KalamSat “was funded by an organization called ‘Space Kidz India.”

Sharook explained the KalamSat will be aboard “a sub-orbital flight and after launch the mission span would be 240 minutes.  The tiny satellite will operate for 12 minutes in a micro-gravity environment.”

As Sharook elaborates, “the main role of the satellite will be to demonstrate the performance of 3D printed carbon fiber.  We designed it completely from scratch.  It will have a new kind of on-board computer and eight indigenous built-in sensors to measure acceleration, rotation, and the magnetosphere of the earth.  The main challenge was to design an experiment to be flown in space which would fit into a four-meter cube weighing 64 grams.”

Elsewhere, Science Magazine reports on yet another astounding breakthrough 3D printing is bringing to the medical industry.  Scientists at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and McCormick School of Engineering collaborated to 3D print mouse ovaries.

According to these teams’ findings published in Nature Communications, these “prosthetic ovaries made of gelatin have allowed mice to conceive and give birth to healthy offspring.”  One day, the team at Northwestern hopes 3D printed ovaries such as these could “be used to help restore fertility in cancer survivors rendered sterile by radiation or chemotherapy.”

“The researchers used a 3D printer with a nozzle that fired gelatin, derived from the collagen that’s naturally found in animal ovaries.  The scientists built the ovaries by printing various patterns of overlapping gelatin filaments on glass slides – like building with Lincoln Logs, but on a miniature scale: each scaffold measured just 15 by 15 millimeters.  The team then carefully inserted mouse follicles – spherical structures containing a growing egg surrounded by hormone-producing cells – into these ‘scaffolds.’”

The team at Northwestern “then tested the more tightly woven scaffolds in live mice [by punching] out 2-millimter circles through the scaffolds and implanting 40-50 follicles into each one, creating a ‘bioprosthetic’ ovary.  [Subsequently, they] surgically removed the ovaries from seven mice and sutured the prosthetic ovaries in their place…the researchers allowed the mice to mate, and three of the females gave birth to healthy litters.”

The Northwestern researchers are hopeful these sorts of 3D printed bioprosthetic ovaries will be available for humans in the future.

The medical field also saw a different revelation.  The Verge has a fascinating new article out about a groundbreaking bioprinting process developed at the University of Florida.

A team at the University of Florida led by Thomas Angelini and Chris O’Bryan have discovered a way to 3D print delicate objects such as medical implants.  They published their findings in the journal Science Advances.  Their new process works by “suspending fragile 3D printed structures in a Jello-like goo while the liquid ink [of the object] hardens, [which keeps the object from] warping or sagging.”

The problem this team was attempting to overcome occurs when a doctor or other medical professional wishes “to 3D print a thin, hollow, or otherwise fragile object.  The 3D printer lays down layers of a material like silicone until enough build up to form a tube.  But there’s this lag time between when the printer first squirts out the liquid ink, and when that ink solidifies – which presents a [conundrum]: how do you keep your structure from collapsing or bending before it fully hardens?”

This is why Angelini, O’Bryan, and the rest of their team at the University of Florida developed this goo.  This material, which they dubbed organogel, supports the liquid ink as it hardens.  Organogel is made from “squishy, microscopic, chemical balls that are packed together in mineral oil.”

O’Bryan explains: “[it’s] like a ball pit in McDonald’s.  Just shrunk down to sizes that are one-hundredth the size of a human hair.”  “Under most conditions, the organogel acts like a gooey solid that envelopes the 3D printed structure and keeps it immobile.  But during the actual printing process, the 3D printer’s nozzle puts just enough pressure on the organogel that the goo turns into a fluid right at the tip – flowing around the nozzle as it squirts silicone ink in a 3D pattern.”

Using this organogel, the team at the University of Florida “3D printed an extremely thin-walled windpipe that took 24 hours to harden – time when it could have bent or collapsed without the organogel’s support.  They also printed out what they affectionately call the ‘sea anemone,’ a strange little Cthulhu creation that squirts water through its tentacles.”

This was done in order to ensure organogel 3D printed implants of the future would be strong enough to “pump liquid without bursting or leaking.”  The experiment was a success!

Of course, 3D printing isn’t only revolutionizing the medical industry – it’s also got its hands in the military industrial complex as well!

Since the U.S. military dropped the Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) bomb, or ‘Mother of All Bombs’, as is its nickname, on ISIS militants in Afghanistan in April, engineers at the Air Force Research Laboratory have been hard at work attempting to replace and update it.

According to 3Ders, these engineers are using 3D printing in order to develop such a replacement.  The engineers believe “3D printed casing for the weapon could produce a larger blast with less debris…the new 3D printed bomb would be lighter and smaller than its predecessor, but would still cause huge damage to its targets.”

Dr. John Corley, who is a retired Four-Star Air Force General and Core Technical Competency Lead for Ordnance Sciences at the dedicated Air Force Research Laboratory spoke at a recent weapons showcase: “we’ve been working on printing [munitions] for the past five to ten years.  3D printing can be used to reduce the size of the bomb, particularly the thickness of its case walls.  The result of doing this could be significant: with slender 3D printed casing, the bomb could provide a larger blast with less debris.”

Indeed, these researchers have 3D printed prototypes of these new casings “in a repeating diamond pattern, while 3D printing has also been used to fabricate fuse prototypes.  Overall, 3D printing could provide many advantages for the Air Force as it develops its next generation of weapons.  In addition to providing the bombs with a larger blast radius, 3D printed aspects could also reduce the bombs to a more appropriate size – something that is especially important as military aircraft get smaller.”

“The Air Force is currently weighing up whether it should make these new bombs in house or have them made by contracted companies.  Either way, these 3D printed explosive devices are probably still a few years away from completion.”

Be sure to visit Replicator World again for more 3D printing updates!

Image Courtesy of The Verge

Quotes Courtesy of Business Standard, Science Magazine, The Verge, and 3Ders

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