“So… What is 3D printing actually used for? – Who even uses it?”

Good questions. I faced a lot of these questions when I worked with 3D printers in college. Regardless of the amount of awesome phone cases or accessories I would show to people, it always turned out that sorority girls didn’t find manufacturing as cool as I did.

Something I learned about this kind of technology is it is a very broad technology – meaning, it can be used for a nearly limitless amount of applications. Unfortunately, the human brain doesn’t tend to think in those terms. We like to put things in a metaphorical box and say “OK, I get this, this thing does this task, and I now understand this thing.” With 3D Printing (3DP), this simply is not the case.

Off the same machine, you can make a part for your car, a keychain, a bottle-opener, a keychain that is a bottle-opener – like I said… limitless.

With the help of mainstream printer manufacturers like MakerBot and XYZprinting, there are now thousands of people using this technology. Users range from high-end, large volume manufacturers, like Nestle Nespresso (coffee) and Sheppard Air Force Base (military UAVs), to the starry-eyed would-be Iron Man working out of his garage.

In addition to the industrial giants out there, there has been a surge of 3DP popularity for new companies, using the technology in applications unheard of elsewhere. Here are a few of my favorite uses of 3DP in game changing industries.

Sols is a company that uses your smartphone and rubber-like materials to create orthotic insoles for us flat-footed folk.

The company actually teaches you about orthotics and allows you not only to solve your foot pain, but understand it. After a quick scan on your smartphone, you can receive a completely customized, perfectly ergonomic 3DP insole. Great for distance runners, chefs, or anyone else that stands more than they sit.

If your feet are fine, but you have a liver that has seen better days, worry not, because the friendly folks at Organovo are printing usable, implantable human tissue. However, they are not alone in the new field of “bio-printing.” These companies are quite literally pioneering the process of growing and printing custom organs for people.

NASA has been heavily invested in the technology, through prototyping and ideation techniques. They recently judged a 3DP Star Trek themed student challenge, where they asked for designs and models of generating food in space. The winner created a Fungarium (mushroom farm) to “help astronauts ‘live long and prosper.'” Mr. Spock would be proud.

If you’re not much of a scientist, and more into pop culture and fashion, the heavy hitting singer/songwriter Bjork is even incorporating 3DP into her performances. She worked with the jaw-droppingly talented designer/bio-architect Neri Oxman creating the mask, dubbed “Rottlace” (derived from the Icelandic word for “skinless”).

You can see other designers from around the world partaking in this 3DP printed fashion at super fancy shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The 3DP wave has hit local colleges as well. Rochester Institute of Technology is creating an entire 3DP Center to perform research for established companies and startups alike. Even though construction has not been completed, they already have organizations forming a line.

For more information on what’s going on in the world of 3D printing, look to other CADimensions blogsStratasys.com3DPrint.comTechCrunch, the 3D Printing Podcast, and any other tech-based news outlets you can find – they are all sure to be reporting on this technology for years to come.

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