Five Reasons to Pay Attention to 3-D Printing

An Arizona company called Local Motors plans to open a 45,000 square-foot 3-D car printing location at the National Harbor in Maryland, reports the Washington Post’s Jonathan O'Connell and Arelis R. Hernández. Local Motors hopes their new plant will lure inventors, engineers, and consumers in hopes of designing a personalized vehicle.

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An Arizona company called Local Motors plans to open a 45,000 square-foot 3-D car printing location at the National Harbor in Maryland, reports the Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell and Arelis R. Hernández. Local Motors hopes their new plant will lure inventors, engineers, and consumers in hopes of designing a personalized vehicle.

The ability to ‘print’ anything from a human heart to a space shuttle engine to a car is redefining what manufacturing means. Here are five ways the government is getting involved in 3-D printing:

Healthcare
3-D printing has already made a splash in the healthcare industry. The 3D Print Exchange is an initiative of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), launched in an effort to advance the availability of printable health related models including biomedical 3D print files, modeling tutorials, and educational material. Designing pathogens and bacteria gives researchers new perspectives on diseases and opens the door for discovering more cures.

“We have seen an incredible return on investment; pennies’ worth of plastic have helped investigators address important scientific questions while saving time and money,” NIH Director Francis Collins said in a statement released by NIH.

Last week 3D Systems partnered with the NIH in the 2015 Science in 3D Festival, which explored aspects of 3-D modeling, printing, simulation, and visualization of technologies.

Military
Modern warfare will be more manufactured warfare. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James plans to cut spending by investing in new technologies like 3-D printing, reports the Post’s Amrita Jayakumar.

3-D printing’s biggest innovation isn’t about what you can make as much as where you can take it. Being able to take printers to a warzone promises a radical shake-up of combat and the defense industry, future warfare expert Peter W. Singer told Agence France reporter Eric Randolph.

Troop rations may be 3-D printed in the future. The technology, through the Internet of Things, would detect a soldier’s nutrient levels and print food personalized for their current condition.

A DoD contractor recently asked the University of Virginia to create an easily modifiable drone with readily available parts, reports Wired’s Jordan Golson. The university developed a cheap, disposable drone that the military hopes to deploy on the battlefield.

Guns
3-D printers have added to the country’s long-running gun debate. Guns remain highly accessible, and 3-D printers can also make them easily produced.

Congress extended the Undetectable Firearms Act in December 2013, hoping to stifle illegal gun manufacturing. But some, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, feel the ban is ill-suited to restrict 3-D gun production, which can go undetected and unregulated. While the government may attempt to regulate 3-D gun production, the Department of Homeland Security has warned that the inevitable proliferation of 3-D printers into homes could make it impossible to regulate.

The moral debate aside, 3-D printers allow for easy, on-demand gun production. People also are working hard to develop 3-D bullets, and a man in Pennsylvania told Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff that he’s figured how to do so.

NASA
Since the 1990s, NASA has used 3-D printing to test parts, experimental prototypes, and telescope optics. Engineers and designers are exploring 3-D printers to create plastics and metals – such as titanium, aluminum and nickel – to produce aerospace materials.

The International Space Station has become a testing ground for this new technology as they famously created and transmitted a ratchet wrench to the space station electronically, reports CNN’s Sarah LeTrent.

Education
The Smithsonian Institute makes treasured artifacts available to the public online, from Civil War remnants to ancient fossils. While 30 million people visit the museum on-site, anyone with an Internet connection can view the artifacts through museum scans.

The Smithsonian uses 3-D technology to improve research and support public access. Currently, less than one percent of the Smithsonian’s 137 million items are on public display at any given moment. Vincent Rossi, 3-D Program Officer at the Smithsonian, plans to change that, reports CNET’s Daniel Terdiman.
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