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Here We Go Again, In 3D

Recently surgeons at Utrecht University’s UMC in the Netherlands replaced the entire top of a 22-year-old woman’s skull with a 3D printed customized implant made from plastic. The woman, who suffered from a rare disorder in which her skull was gradually becoming thicker and thicker, would eventually die as her skull compressed her brain. Over the last several months, numerous, compelling tales have emerged about the 3D printing of prosthetic hands for injured children and adults in war torn countries around the world.

An article in 3D UNIVERSE reported on a 53-year-old man named Jose Delgado, who was born without most of his left hand.  Jose has used multiple types of prosthetic devices over many years, including a myoelectric version that uses the muscle signals in his forearm to trigger closing or opening the fingers. The cost of this myoelectric device was $42,000, the cost of his new e-NABLE, 3D printed hand, about $50.00.

For many, the term 3D printer conjures up visions of a machine much like those found in nearly every home office and connected to the family PC or laptop, which produces exact copies of documents from a digital file at the touch of the print icon. While three-dimensional printing of tangible objects has not yet reach that level of simplicity and size, the day of such wizardry may not be far away. A Harvard Business School graduate, Grace Choi has come up with a way to disrupt the $55 million makeup industry with her new mini 3D printer, named Mink. It will allow users to print out any color of makeup using FDA-approved ink, right in the home.

3D printing is a process of making a three-dimensional object from a 3D model or other electronic data source where successive layers of material are laid down under computer control. Originally a technology used by tech savvy hobbyists, 3D printing has fast become the next great technology disruption. Predictions of consumers casually downloading digital designs of everything from shoes to furniture and printing out a new family room ensemble or a pair of high fashion heels for the annual New Year’s party has many industry leaders taking notice to the potential impact of the newest technology craze.

As more raw materials become available at less cost, and smaller simpler machines are engineered, the likelihood of a 3D printer in every home is closer to becoming reality. A startup called “New Matter” thinks its Mod T printer can bring 3D printing to the mainstream.  The company will offer its Mod T, priced at just $249 starting early in 2015 and will allow consumers to make desirable and usable products from hundreds of digital designs, downloaded from the Internet.

The deliberate evolution of 3D technology has a “been there before” ring to it. Computing, was once a little known technology performed by number-crunching, techno-geeks in out-of-the-way rooms filled with huge, buzzing machines.  It was a time, not all that long ago, that few understood its potential to revolutionize every aspect of human life and still fewer who envisioned a time when such powerful, life altering technology would be found in devices around everyone’s wrist or in everyone’s pocket.

Here we go again?

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