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3D Printing in the New Year

The new year begins with the CEO of a 3D printing company pleading for common sense over corruption when it comes to net neutrality.

Just hours after the FCC ruled to repeal Obama-era regulations regarding the internet, the New York Daily News ran an opinion piece by Tom Finn, CEO of 3D printing startup Shapeways.

Finn described the FCC’s decision as eliminating “net neutrality protections.  These protections have prevented internet service providers like Comcast and Charter from discriminating against websites or pushing internet users towards services that the ISPs own or that have paid for priority.”

Finn goes on to say: “one of the biggest losers of this decision will be startups like mine and the users who benefit from them…in the past, an innovative startup could challenge an established company by offering a better service.  Now, it would also need to figure out how to out-bid [tech giants] for advantageous internet access.”

Finn’s “company, Shapeways, gives anyone with an internet connection access to 3D printing technology.  [Shapeways allows] everyone to turn digital files into objects made of materials such as ultra-high-detail plastic, porcelain, steel, and even gold.  [Shapeways’] marketplace allows entrepreneurs and designers to open shops and sell those independently created, 3D printed objects to customers around the world.”

“Since every object is printed on demand, these shops allow creators to reach the whole online world without upfront cost or risk.  But [Shapeways – and other companies (and creators) like it] need a level playing field in order to be able to compete.”

Finn describes how without net neutrality protections, “ISPs would simply be able to wait for [Shapeways] to prove the viability of [its] model, and then create their own 3D printing services.  Once they have their own version of [Shapeways’] product, those ISPs could decide to block or throttle access to [Shapeways and companies like it], or even redirect traffic to their own services instead.”

Finn concludes: “The FCC’s vote…does not have to be the final word in this debate.  Congress can – and should – step in to protect net neutrality.  It could even do so in a bipartisan manner…[Shapeways, among many other tech companies,] are asking Congress to take the steps necessary to protect an open internet.  Congress needs to make clear it stands behind a fair, open internet, which ensures a level playing field for everyone.”

From the internet to the ancient world, 3D printing’s wide grasp knows no bounds:

As 3DPrint describes, in 2001, the Yungang Grottoes were included by UNESCO in its World Cultural Heritage list of historical sites.  The grottoes, located in the city of Datong in China northern Shanxi Province, “contain 252 caves and niches, and 51,000 carved statues, and are considered to be a classical Chinese masterpiece.”  Among the 1,500-year-old grottoes are three specific Buddhist statues.

Now, those three statues have been replicated using 3D printing.  These full-size replicas are currently on display in the coastal city of Qingdao.  This project was spearheaded by a one-billion-yuan investment by the Qingdao Publishing Group in conjunction with Zhejiang University and the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute.  “The middle replica is 10 meters tall, and the two 3D printed statues flanking it are six meters.”  Zhang Zhuo, Head of the Yungang Grottoes Research Institute marvels, “it’s hard to believe they are reproduced.  They look so real.”

This project has gone through two stages.  “Starting with planning, data acquisition, and processing, and moving on to structure design, large-scale 3D printing, construction, and assembly of the replicas, sandblasting, and light source design, and installation.”

The researchers “first built 3D models of the three statues, before reproducing them with 3D printing technology.”  As Zhejiang University’s Assistant to the Dean of Cultural Heritage, Diao Changyu, elaborates, “the color was first painted automatically by machines.  Then artists from Yungang added color in detail.”

Following the success of these three-3D printed Buddhist statue replicas, plans have now been made to reproduce two other caves from the Yungang Grottoes using 3D printing technology.

Replicating ancient statues may be fascinating…but do you know what’s even more fascinating?

3D printing with lasers.

New Atlas reports on the development of volumetric 3D printing.  This new super-fast 3D printing process was developed by a team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

Volumetric 3D printing “uses hologram-like lasers to make complete objects in seconds inside a tank of liquid resin…[this] process overcomes many of the limitations of conventional additive manufacturing.”

These limitations include long print times, ridging, and temporary structures for support during the actual printing processes.  Volumetric 3D printing bypasses all this by creating “the entire object simultaneously.  [This occurs] by using three overlapping lasers beamed in a hologram-like pattern into a transparent tank filled with photosetting plastic resin.  A short exposure by a single beam isn’t enough to cure the resin in a short time, but combining three lasers can induce curing in about ten seconds.  After the object is formed, the excess resin is then drained off to reveal the complete unit.”

So far, the researchers have used volumetric 3D printing to produce “squares, beams, [geometric] planes, struts at arbitrary angles, lattices, and complex, curved objects.”   However, the team points out this processes’ limitations when it comes to producing more complex shapes with higher resolutions.  “The hope is the development of more responsive polymers will not only allow for larger objects with higher resolution, but also the printing of objects out of ultralightweight hydrogels.  In addition, volumetric 3D printing works in weightlessness, making it useful for manufacturing aboard spacecraft.”

As LLNL Engineer Chris Spadaccini concludes: “[The development of volumetric 3D printing is] a demonstration of what the next generation of additive manufacturing may be.  Most 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies consist of either a one-dimensional or two-dimensional unit operation.  This moves fabrication to a fully 3D operation, which has not been done before.  The potential impact on throughput could be enormous and if you can do it well, you can still have a lot of complexity.”

Finally, once again, we circle back to the government – and how it may affect the realm of 3D printing.

Health Data Management caught wind of guidance recently released by the FDA in regard to the future of the 3D printing industry.

This guidance was mostly aimed at the manufacturers of 3D printed devices.  As Health Data Management was quick to point out, “[3D printing] is increasingly being used by radiologists and other medical professionals, typically to build accurate anatomical models that prepare clinicians and patients for surgery.  However, there are growing indications that the technology will eventually come into play not only in radiological procedures but also in treating patients.”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, explained the reasoning behind the recent release of his agency’s guidance: “the FDA is now preparing for a significant wave of new technologies that are nearly certain to transform medical practice.  We’re working to provide a more comprehensive regulatory pathway that keeps pace with those advances, and helps facilitate efficient access to safe and effective innovations that are based on thee technologies.”

In order to guide 3D printed device manufacturers in a productive manner, the FDA “reviewed more than 100 3D printer-manufactured devices currently on the market and has approved the first drug made on a 3D printer.”

Gottlieb continues: “we envision burn patients in the near future will be treated with their own new skin cells 3D printed directly onto their burn wounds.  Further down the road, there is potential for the same technology to eventually be used to develop replacement organs.”

The FDA’s new 3D printing guidance “is intended to advise device manufacturers on the technical aspects of 3D printing, as well as what information they should include on submissions for developing 3D printed medical devices.  This guidance includes FDA thinking on approaches to 3D printing such as device design, functional testing of products, durability of products, and quality system requirements.”

What will next month have in store for the wacky world of 3D printing?

Image Courtesy of New Atlas

Quotes Courtesy of the New York Daily News, Shapeways, 3DPrint, New Atlas, Health Data Management

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