3D Printing the Way to a Better World

30 years ago, the first 3D printer was too expensive and too large for anyone but corporations to use. Today, there are versions available to the general public for as little as $500. They are used to print everything from cars to jewelry.

Images by Local Motors and Design-Milk

Cool as that is, this new technology is doing much more than giving people products on demand. 3D printers are dramatically changing lives.

Nearly 2 million Americans have lost limbs. That number skyrockets when you look at the rest of the world. Many people can’t afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on prosthetics. So they go through life without a hand, leg, or other body part.

That’s where 3D printing becomes important. With access to a 3D printer and a few simple tools, the cost of prosthetic hands drops dramatically from $40,000 to $50.

Image by E-nabling the Future

Volunteers at E-nabling the Future are giving new hope—and hands!—to people in need globally. By giving away free prosthetic designs that can be 3D printed anywhere in the world and completed with supplies commonly available at hardware stores. 3D printers are making it possible to put replacement limbs within reach for millions.

Prosthetic hands are not the only way that 3D printing is revolutionizing the health and medical fields. It’s also simplifying the organ donation process. Being matched with an organ donor is a long process, and sometimes donors are never found.

Now, organs can be harvested in labs by using 3D printed scaffolding. This scaffolding acts as a framework to grow an organ from a patient’s stem cells. 3D printing ends the search for human donors and eliminates the chance of the patient’s body rejecting the new organ.

Image by Museperk

3D printing continues to make its impact outside of health too. Pictures have been printed as figurines for the visually impaired to “feel” the images. With loss of sight comes the loss of ability to see things that trigger memories. These printed figurines allow the blind to feel and mentally visualize those memories in order to regain them.

It’s amazing to look at everything 3D printing has accomplished in the last 15 years. Doctors and researchers are already hard at work on the next wave of breakthroughs. There are predictions of nanoscale medical developments and companies collaborating with their customers to create new products. Who knows? In the next decade, we might be printing our own pacemakers and organs to bring to the hospital!



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