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Additive Manufacturing – A New Tool in the Manufacturing Toolbox Part 5

Gee Whiz! Stuff
Blog Written By: Hutch Hutchison, Principal, Technology & Engineering, FuzeHub
This week we’re going to have some fun! Sorry for the weeks prior where I went through history and process of this exploding technology. I have taken you behind the scenes, away from all the hype that the media is giving to Additive Manufacturing, and given you some facts. Now, let’s get to the fun part- the “Gee Whiz” of Additive.
Let’s start with some research done at MIT on 3-D printing. The Mediated Matter Lab is working on ways to mimic nature, in the printing of structural components. I really like the gradient that they are printing into cement columns, mimicking the structure of our bones, resulting in a lighter weight but stronger structure. Check out this video:
MIT Structural 3-D Printing
While we are on the topic of structures, there is so much going on around the world with 3-D printing of stone structures, sculptures, even whole buildings. This video, (warning, it’s rather long!) is a concept, that is actually in the development stages. It’s a great idea to inexpensively print houses for the poor, cheaper and faster than temporary structures for emergencies.
3-D printing of shelters
Continuing the theme of structures, let’s consider the human body. Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, has been pioneering the use of 3-D Printing as a manufacturing tool for some time. One of their projects has been to take on the job of manufacturing artificial limbs, prosthetic devices. This video shows the progress of this project. I like it because it gets some of the principles that we have discussed in this blog – complex design (note the lattice structure of the interior of the hand – to be covered with skin-like material for the final patient assembly.
Enjoy!                                   Oak Ridge Artificial Hand
So, now we’re on the topic of hands, and the need for skin to cover the hand, researchers at the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine, at Wake Forest University are experimenting with use of a standard HP inkjet printer to print the correct type of skin cells to repair burn victims. Perhaps these two (Oak Ridge and Wake Forest) will one day combine to product a prosthetic limb with real skin!
Printing Skin!
You might gather from some of this that biomedical applications represent some of the largest growth in the additive manufacturing technology – and I agree. We see two examples here with limbs and skin. Additive has been used for 14 years to make hearing aids – remember we have talked about mass customization? A number of different, custom hearing aids can be fabricated in a single am build. Over 20,000 have been built so far. Over 40,000 hip replacement prosthetics have been made with AM. AM Dental prosthetics represent a huge industry, and almost make it worthwhile for a dentist to have his own AM machine- metal and/ or plastic (or, as recently prototyped, porcelain).  Other body parts that are moving from their experimental starts include veins, organs, (Organovo, in California, sees a future having a 3-D printer in a surgical theater, printing replacement organs, supplied by the patient’s own cells!) bones, (Wake Forest also has a bony scaffold material that is print-able, and, when cultured with the patient’s cells, actually promotes real bone growth.) and ears!
Apart from the actual body parts, AM has made inroads into tools and fixtures. Surgeons have developed actual size models of the surgical areas they are to operate, such as a patient’s brain. To have a life-size model of a brain, from which a surgeon is to remove an aneurism, provides a rehearsal opportunity, which allows the surgeon to properly plan the actual operation. The model can be facilitated by a CT scan, or MRI, or even X-Ray, so that the model is exact.
Surgical tools, clamps, other aids can be quickly produced, even during the operation, to respond to some quick need. The Army has already put together CAD models to allow a battlefield surgeon to produce an entire surgical kit additively. More medical applications of this rapidly growing technology are evident almost every week.
So, that’s it for this week! Finally, in our last Blog, next week, we get down to what you have been waiting for – machines, costs, pro’s & con’s, materials, and, most importantly advice. We will give a subjective scoring system to help you determine your “need” for AM, and advise on ways to adopt this enabling (not disruptive) technology.


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