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May: 3D Printing

We begin our monthly tour around the world of 3D printing by turning tragedy into triumph.

Dezeen reports on an intriguing new proposal concerning the rebuilding of Notre Dame Cathedral.  Following the fire it barely survived last month, $1.12 billion has been pledged to rebuild the world landmark.

For its part, Dutch company Concr3de has proposed an innovative and sensitive method for using that money: 3D printing.  Already, Concr3de has 3D printed a replacement gargoyle.  “Concr3de, which was founded by architects Eric Geboers and Matteo Baldassari in 2016, used 3D scans to reproduce Le Stryge, a demon statue atop the roof of the gothic cathedral, which collapsed in the fire.”  The team used an Armadillo White, a small 30 x 30 x 30 cm printer.

As Geboers explains: “we saw the spire collapse and thought we could propose a way to combine the old materials with new technology to help speed up the reconstruction and make a cathedral that is not simply a copy of the original, but rather a cathedral that would show its layered history proudly.”

Indeed, Geboers “believes using the materials left behind after the fire would address some philosophical problems posed by rebuilding Notre Dame to the original design while using new materials.”

“The Lutetian Limestone originally used to build Notre Dame, along with much of Paris, was taken from mines, which have since been buried under the expanding city. Large oak beams, which made up the now-destroyed timber roof of the cathedral were made from trees felled in the 13th century.”

If the project were to use “Concr3de’s proposal, this would allow the original material of the damaged building to be used in its reconstruction.  Even the limestone damaged by the high temperatures of the blaze could be used in the process.”

The team’s White Armadillo 3D printer is “a custom inkjet 3D printer fine-tuned to work with stone and stone-like materials.  It prints with 0.1-millimeter precision…any geometry is possible without the need for supports.  It also allows for significant material customization.”

“3D printing the more intricate pieces [of the restoration project] would address France’s labor shortage, suggested Concr3de, while still employing existing skilled stonemasons to fix the printed pieces into place.”

From the still beating heart of Paris to an actual beating heart – Live Science reports on the development of a ‘proof of concept’ 3D printed heart created by a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel.  The researchers published their findings recently in the scientific journal Advanced Science.

This heart, “which has four chambers and blood vessels” beats – ‘sort of.’  The heart was 3D printed from human tissue.  “Though the heart is much smaller than a human’s (it’s only the size of a rabbit’s), and there’s still a long way to go until it functions like a normal heart, the proof of concept experiment could eventually lead to personalized organs or tissues, which could be used in the human body.”

The team began 3D printing the heart “by taking a small sample of fatty tissue from a patient.  In the lab, they separated this tissue into its component cells and the structure on which the cells sit, called the extracellular matrix.  Using genetic engineering, the scientists then tweaked the various components, reprogramming some of the cells to become cardiac muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, and some to become cells generating blood vessels.”

These cells were then loaded into a 3D printer as bioinks.  The printer “had been programmed to print a heart based on CT scans taken from the patient and an artist’s depiction of a heart.  The printer took between 3 and 4 hours to print the small heart with basic blood vessels.”

The team hopes one day “a personalized 3D printed heart might ease the shortage of transplant organs available to patients and could also circumvent some of the risks associated with transplanting another person’s organ – namely, that the body’s immune system can reject these foreign tissues.”

The next step is “to print a full-size, fully functioning heart.”  In order to do this, “the scientists would need to print a higher resolution organ – one with much more vasculature capable of carrying oxygen and nutrients through it.”

Elsewhere in the healthcare industry, reports on Veterans Affairs, the governmental agency tasked with aiding veterans.  Apparently the VA wishes to expand its presence in the 3D printing arena.

As Dr. Beth Ripley, a radiologist at VA Medical Center Puget Sound and Chair of the Veterans Health Administration’s 3D Printing Advisory Committee explains: “3D printing is a total game changer.  Often technology pushes us further away from our patients…this technology is allowing our VA staff to really come close to the patient.”

Indeed, the VA “has launched an aggressive campaign to put 3D printers in many of its medical centers.  The initiative aims to improve patient care by aiding surgical planning, crafting assistive medical devices and prosthetic limbs, and eventually creating bones and organs for transplant.”

“The department has more than 100 printers at 23 medical centers, up from just three in 2017.”  It has plans for even more. “VA Ann Arbor Healthcare Systems in Michigan currently is working on creating an artificial lung, which could be utilized while a patient waits for a lung transplant or needs help breathing during recovery from a respiratory illness.  The 3D artificial lungs would replicate the structure and size of the blood vessels and would be constructed of substances that would be more compatible with the human body, reducing immune response.”

“The VA’s 3D Printing Center of Excellence falls under what VA calls its VHA Innovation Ecosystem, which encompasses programs aiming to identify best practices at VA medical centers and push them out across the VA’s health system.

Finally, Tech Crunch reports on Carbon, which “has authorized the sale of $300 million in Series E shares…if Carbon raises the full amount, it could reach a valuation of $2.5 billion.”

Carbon, which is based in Redwood City, California, became famous following the release of “its proprietary Digital Light Synthesis 3D printing technology.”  Indeed, Carbon has used this technology in “manufacturing, building high-tech sports equipment, a line of custom sneakers for Adidas, and more.”

Already, Carbon “was valued at $1.7 billion by venture capitalists with a $200 million Series D in 2018…to date, it’s raised a total of $422 million from investors like Sequoia, GV, Fidelity, General Electric, Hydra Ventures, and Adidas Ventures, not including the incoming round of capital.”

Carbon’s aim is “to help designers and manufacturers be more efficient, cut costs, and waste less energy and materials.”

As Carbon’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Office Joseph DeSimone explains: “we are at the forefront of digital manufacturing, creating a new standard for the industry.  In order to continue pushing the boundaries of what our technology can do and to execute our global strategy, we need to have the best team at the top.”

Image Courtesy of Dezeen

Quotes Courtesy of Dezeen, Live Science,, and Tech Crunch

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