3D Printing News

A note of caution to our viewers: many of these products are only available for pre-ordering and have yet to be manufactured. Others are only hopes/dreams. Hyperbole is the language of choice, so be careful!

Additionally, be forewarned that some of the materials you intend to work with, as well as particles and fumes from the printer itself, may be toxic. You may want to read this article for a further discussion of the potential problems. Additionally, here is a later review of some of the known health hazards.

One of the major problems with human space travel is healing wounds and curing illnesses. These conditions arise from the close quarters that astronauts live in, the increased stress, the lower immunity created in this environment, and delayed healing of wounds in a microgravity world. A portable device called Bioprint FirstAid has just been sent to the International Space Station as one of the 6500 science experiments to be carried out. The device is meant to use previously readied bioinks made from the patient's own cells. These bioinks are designed to form a band-aid patch in case of injury. The device was made by OHB Systems, a German Space Company, along with researchers at the Technical University of Dresden. It requires no batteries, is handheld, and consists of a dosing mechanism in the handle, print head. support wheels, and 2 bioink cartridges. The initial experiments in space will use fluorescent microparticles instead of real human cells. These components, using fast-curing gels. are meant to output a plaster-like covering for wounds and then be printed onto an astronaut's leg or arm which itself is covered with foil. The results are to be sent back to earth for testing and comparison with results obtained on earth. At issue is that space samples lack the pressure of different layers containing cells as well as the potential sedimentation effect of living cell simulants. Initial results indicate that it takes about 10 minutes for the bioinks to produce the plaster and develop new skin. Scientists will be looking at tissue generation, regeneration, and longevity.

Scientists at Iowa State University have received a grant to 3D print an entire neighborhood in Hamburg, Iowa, a small town that was badly impacted by flooding in 2019. The university said that its giant 3D printer can print a complete home in just a few days.

A bioprinting startup called Brinter is partnering with LED Tailor to introduce a disinfecting blu-light into its multi-material 3D bioprinter. The disinfecting light is meant to produce tissue samples and drugs safely and thus eliminate the necessity for separate cleanrooms. Their printer can output both soft and hard materials, including metal with binder materials, biopaste, liquids and hydrogels with living cells. According to its Finnish manufacturer, Turku, the printer can be set up in minutes. The blue-light spectrum used, while safe for humans, is toxic to bacteria, yeast and mold. It can clean both inside and outside the printer. Brinters are currently being used in 10 countries.

Doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School have developed a process to allow 3D printed biotissue to be stored in the freezer. Formerly a major deterrent to study and use 3D printers has been the brief shelf-life of the printed biotissues, ranging from just a few hours to a few days. This means that a bioprinted tissue or organ for transplant has to be moved quickly to its intended location or lose its viability. The new method creates tissue that can be frozen at -196 degrees Centigrade and then thawed within minutes. There appears to be no limit to how long the tissue or organ can be frozen and stored. An additional benefit is that the frozen material maintains its shape, whereas using standard bioinks requires a viscous material to maintain shape. Under current experiments, the new biotissue can last for at least 3 months before being thawed.

Human muscle cells were recently sent into space to see how they age in a low-gravity environment. Once in space, the cells will be electrically zapped to cause contractions, with the experiments repeated over time. The results will be frozen and sent back to earth for further study. Hopefully scientists will be able to develop ways to treat musculoskeletal diseases and figure out how to lessen degeneration over time.

A new filament called a PEEK cranioplasty implant has been 3D printed and implanted on site for the first time. Skane University Hospital in Malmo, Sweden, performed the printing and implantation in the same location. Doctors used CT images to perfect the biocompatible plastic material, which was first sterilized on site before being surgically placed in the patient. The patient was a 40-year-old female who had suffered an accident. Injuries, accidents and tumors are currently the main reason for needing a cranioplasty

Researchers at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, along with Sheba Medical Center, have engineered a 3D print scaffolding as a step toward making a replacement ear. A small percentage of babies are born with deformed ears, resulting in possible hearing loss as well as psychological problems. Currently surgeons have to wait until the child is 10 years old. At that point, they take cartilage from the child's chest and use it to reconfigure the deformed ear. The new process starts with a CT scan of the youngster's ear and can be performed at 6 years of age. The scaffolding is composed of biodegradable material with varied sizes of pores, allowing for a stable cartilage. So far the method has only been tested on lab rats. The scientists are hoping to expand the technology into ares like nasal reconstruction and orthopedic implants.

Researchers at UNSW in Sydney, Australia, have found a method to create a plastic that heals itself at room temperature using lights. They added "special powder" to the liquid resin used, resulting in an ability to make simple and fast repairs if the material breaks. Standard LED lights were aimed onto the 3D printed plastic for roughly one hour, resulting in a fusion of the broken pieces. The repaired material appears to be even stronger than the original. The scientists describe the powder they utilized as "a trithiocarbonate, known as a reversible addition fragmentation chain transfer (RAFT) agent which was originally developed by CSIRO. The RAFT agent enables rearrangement of the nanoscopic network of elements that make up the material and allows the broken pieces to be fused." The fusion begins at about 1/2 hour after shining the UV LED lights on the plastic, while full repair takes about one hour. Experiments were also performed on a 3D printed violin. Other processes currently used for repair tend to take about 24 hours and several healing cycles to achieve the same result.

An Innovation by Design Award was given to 2 MIT researchers for creating what they call an Illusory Material. Jiani Zeng and Honghao Deng noticed that the surface of most architecture is static, whereas nature is dynamic. Think of a flower petal which is malleable and changes color in different light environments. The solution is to use multi-material 3D printing to create an illusion of texture and depth of color. Essentially the transformation is done without using digital screens or electronics - i.e. the material "can be displayed by itself". One of the two scientists developed software that allowed 3D modeling of layers of color in composite. The other dealt with possible applications of the process, including what those layers would look like in real life. Together the two are working on uses in high fashion, luxury packaging, and consumer products. Another award winner created a fitness app called "Supernatural", which allows the person exercising to put on an Oculus Quest headset that takes her/him/them to remote places around the globe. Using background music as well, the user can experience the energy derived from exercising outdoors.

Engineers at Stanford University have created a robotic hand with a grip inspired by geckos. Callled farmHand, the new grip uses a gecko-adhesive with microscopic flaps. When in full touch with a surface, the adhesives grip with strength but without requiring excessive force. The adhesives however are called "fussy", meaning they have to connect to the surface in a particular way. Under the adhesive, farmHand has finger pads made of a collapsible rib structure. No matter what the angle of contact, the ribs buckle in a consistent way so that equal force is exerted onto the pads. Another innovation comes from the hand's tendons, which exert what is called a hyperextended pinch. Unlike other robotic hands which pinch in a "C" shape, farmHand pinches with the tips of its fingers pressed pad to pad. It seems that this method affords more suface area for the adhesives to work.

ETH Zurich is experimenting with the use of foam 3D printing in the field of construction. Intricate foam shapes using mineral foam have been developed from recycled waste. It appears that the foam-based material can result in as much as 70% less concrete being used as well as being considerably lighter and with better insulation.

Another method for replacing or reducing the amount of concrete is being tried in France. Engineers there are using bricks made of hemp rather than concrete, and using the hemp mixed with water and lime instead of foam insulation. Hemp is known to be one of the fastest growing plants on planet Earth - it can grow up to 13 feet in just months. Its cultivation takes only 90 to 120 days, unlike oak trees with their long growth period. It was used in 200 BCE to seal Chinese boats and later to reinforce bridges in Gaul before it became France. Hemp is also lighter and cheaper than wood, and apparently it can capture carbon twice as much as trees in a forest. Since standard building materials emit 11% of the carbon found around the planet, hemp is now joining other natural materials like algae and coffee husks in an attempt to lessen carbon output. In the U. S. , unfortunately, substantial red tape has to be overcome in order to get permission to use hemp. France, on the other hand, has just completed its first public building made of hemp. Called the Pierre Chevet Sports Center, the facility includes walls infilled with hemp blocks, which were grown and made within 310 miles of the construction site. The hemp is resistant to fire, although at current prices it is more expensive than concrete. That factor is offset by savings in energy bills since the hemp is a good insulator. China is currently the world's largest producer of hemp. Interestingly Henry Ford used hemp fiber composites in his first Model T car.

We review many hundreds of articles each month, culling the most significant for you. We also welcome suggestions from our viewers for products and processes that we may have missed.

c.Corinne Whitaker 2022