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This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, June 2017
3D printing (or three-dimensional printing) is a process where physical objects are built with layers of paper, one on top of another. The technology began in the mid-1980s, and was patented by Charles Hull who called it stereolithography -- a way to create prototypes quickly. The SLA-250 "stereolithography apparatus" was the first 3D printer available. It used a type of additive process of adding paper layers to form different shapes. 3D printing (aka. additive manufacturing) is considered a distinct process from traditional machining techniques (which are subtractive processes such as cutting, embossing or drilling). Some experts call these printable 3D objects "physibles". Various industries already believe in 3D printing so the the question is how long it will take before 3D printers are as common as desktop computers. One of the challenges for librarians is to contextualize 3D printing within their communities, and "maker" participatory cultures.
"3D Printing and Medical Libraries" explains new technologies used in medical libraries for printing polymers, ceramics, metals, paper, and even living tissues! It includes a list of real-world examples of 3D printing for clinical and research applications; 3D bioprinting, assistive technology, prosthetics, tissue engineering, biofabrication, emerging technologies.
National Academies Press 3D Printing in Space
Authors: Committee on Space-Based Additive Manufacturing; Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board; National Materials and Manufacturing Board; Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences; National Research Council
Description: Additive manufacturing has the potential to positively affect human spaceflight operations by enabling the in-orbit manufacture of replacement parts and tools, which could reduce existing logistics requirements for the International Space Station and future long-duration human space missions. The benefits of in-space additive manufacturing for robotic spacecraft are far less clear, although this rapidly advancing technology can also potentially enable space-based construction of large structures and, perhaps someday, substantially in the future, entire spacecraft. Additive manufacturing can also help to reimagine a new space architecture that is not constrained by the design and manufacturing confines of gravity, current manufacturing processes, and launch-related structural stresses.
Applications in medicine
According to Hoy (2013), "...medical librarians will want to be familiar with this technology, as it is sure to have wide-reaching effects on the practice of medicine.". Of course, there are many practical applications for 3D printing from architecture and automotive engineering to prosthetic devices and other medical uses. 3D printing enables rapid prototyping of design concepts and functional, working models; it can be used for low-volume, custom or on-demand manufacturing. The application of 3D printing to medicine is called "bioprinting" and includes the production of human organs for transplant. For an indication of how this field is evolving, see Organovo.
3D printing technology will have a major role in medicine, if the reports in Nature and Globe & Mail are any indication. Note that the National Institutes of Health 3D Print Exchange maintains a website on the new printing technology, and its application in biomedicine. Three-D printing (3DP) is said to be useful in modelling replacement tissues and organs by printing three-dimensional structures. Replacement body parts could be used in organ transplantation where an organ recipient's own genetic could be replaced exactly as they are in situ. Think about what this means for human health: skin, windpipes, bladders, and more complex structures like hearts, waiting to be printed on demand with the click of a computer mouse. Since the printed organs are made from the patient's own cells rather than a donated heart or liver, for example - there's little risk of an immune response, which lessens the need for debilitating immunosuppressive drugs.
3D printing technology continues to push the boundaries of cost efficiency, convenience, and customization in medicine. It has transformed aspects of medical device production but expectations of 3D technology are often exaggerated in the media. According to Hoy (2013), "...3D printers are being developed for medical applications, including printed bone, skin, and even complete organs. Although medical printing lags behind other uses for 3D printing, it has the potential to radically change the practice of medicine over the next decade. Falling costs for hardware have made 3D printers an inexpensive technology that libraries can offer their patrons. Medical librarians will want to be familiar with this technology, as it is sure to have wide-reaching effects on the practice of medicine..."
Types of 3D Printers
The following sites maintain collections of downloadable objects that can be printed or ordered preprinted:
Key websites & multimedia