The 3D Printing Revolution: Furniture and Prosthetics Eyes

bigrep_1As always, it seems that additive manufacturing (aka. 3D printing) is on the grow. On an almost daily basis now, the range of applications grows with the addition of yet another product or necessity. With each and every addition, the accessibility, affordability, and convenience factor associated with these objects grows accordingly. And with these latest stories, it now seems that things like household furniture and prosthetic eyes are now printable!

Consider the BigRep One, a new design of 3D printer that allows users to manufacture full-scale objects. This has been a problem with previous models of printers, where the print beds have been too small to accommodate anything bigger than utensils, toys, models and small parts. Anything larger requires multiple components, which would then be assembled once they are fully printed. However, the BigRep One allows for a build volume of 1.14 by 1 by 1.2 meters (45 x 39 x 47 inches) – large enough to print full-scale objects.

bigrep_2Developed by Berlin-based artist Lukas Oehmigen and Marcel Tasler, the printer is has an aluminum frame, a print resolution of 100 microns (0.1 millimetres), and can print in a variety of materials. These include the usual plastics and nylons as well as Laywood – a mix of wood fibres and polymers for a wood finish – and Laybrick, a sandstone-like filament. It is even capable of being upgraded with Computer Numerical Control (CNC) so that it can carry out milling tasks.

One of the most obvious is the production of furniture and building materials, as the picture above demonstrates. This finely detailed sideboard was created as part of the printers debut at the 3D PrintShow in New York. The printer itself and will start shipping to customers in March/April, with the suggested price is US $39,000 per unit. However, prospective buyers are encouraged to contact BigRep through its website in order to get an accurate quote.

3D_eyesNext up, there’s the exciting news that 3D printing may be able to fabricate another type of prosthetic that has been missing from its catalog so far – prosthetic replacement eyes. Traditionally, glass eyes are time consuming to produce and can cost a person who has lost one (due to accident or illness) a pretty penny. However, UK-based Fripp Design, in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University, has developed a new process that offers greater affordability and production.

Compared to the hand-crafted and meticulously painted eyes, which are made to order, this version of replacement eyes are much cheaper and far less time-consuming to produce. And unlike traditional versions that are made from special glass or acrylic, these ones are printed in full color on a Spectrum Z-Corp 510 (a professional industrial printer) and then encased in resin. Each has a slightly different hue, allowing for matching with existing eyes, as well as a network of veins.

3D_nose_earWhile prosthetic eyes can cost as much as much as 3000 pounds ($4,880) and take up to 10 weeks to make and receive after ordering, Fripp Design’s method can print 150 units in a single hour. However, finishing them is much slower because iris customization remains a time-consuming job. As Fripp Design founder Tom Fripp said in a recent interview with Dezeen:

The 3D-printed prosthetic eyes may be ready for market within a year and could be especially popular in developing countries. In addition to eyes, Fripp Design is known for its 3D printed replacement noses, ears, and skin patches; all of the replacement parts that are in high-demand  but have previously been expensive and difficult to produce. But thanks to 3D printing, the coming years will see people who have been forced to live with disfigurements or disabilities living far more happy, healthy lives.

Click on the following links to see more of BigRep‘s design catalog, as well as Fripp Design‘s applications for skin and soft tissue replacements. And be sure to check out this video of the BigRep One demonstration at the 3D PrintShow in New York:


Sources:
cnet.com, cnet.com.au, bigrep.com, frippdesign.co.uk

Biotech News: Artificial Ears and Bionic Eyes!

3d_earLast week was quite the exciting time for the field of biotechnology! Thanks to improvements in 3D printing and cybernetics – the one seeking to use living cells to print organic tissues and the other seeking to merge the synthetic with the organic – the line between artificial and real is becoming blurrier all the time. And as it turns out, two more major developments were announced just last week which have blurred it even further.

The first came from Cornell University, where a team of biotech researchers demonstrated that it was possible to print a replacement ear ear using a 3D printer and an injection of living cells. Using a process the team refers to as “high-fidelity tissue engineering”,  they used the cartilage from a cow for the ears interior and overlaid it with artificially generated skin cells to produce a fully-organic replacement.

3dstemcellsThis process builds on a number of breakthroughs in recent years involving 3D printers, stem cells, and the ability to create living tissue by arranging these cells in prearranged fashions. Naturally, the process is still in its infancy; but once refined, it will allow biomedical engineers to print customized ears for children born with malformed ones, or people who have lost theirs to accident or disease.

What’s more, the Cornell research team also envision a day in the near future when it’ll be possible to cultivate enough of a person’s own tissue so that the growth and implantation can happen all within the lab. And given recent the breakthrough at Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine- where researchers were able to create printed cartilage – it won’t be long before all the bio-materials can be created on-site as well.

Eye-cameraThe second breakthrough, which also occurred during this past week, took place in Germany, where researchers unveiled the world’s first high-resolution, user-configurable bionic eye. Known officially as the “Alpha IMS retinal prosthesis”, the device comes to us from the University of of Tübingen, where scientists have been working for some time to build and improve upon existing retinal prosthetics, such as Argus II – a retinal prosthesis developed by California-based company Second Sight.

Much like its predecessor, the Alpha IMS helps to restore vision by imitating the functions of a normal eye, where light is converted into electrical signals your retina and then transmitted to the brain via the optic nerve. In an eye that’s been afflicted by macular generation or diabetic retinophathy, these signals aren’t generated. Thus, the prosthetic works by essentially replacing the damaged piece of your retina with a computer chip that generates electrical signals that can be understood by your brain.

biotech_retinal-implantBut of course, the Alpha IMS improves upon previous prosthetics in a number of ways. First, it is connected to your brain via 1,500 electrodes (as opposed to the Argus II’s 60 electrodes) providing unparalleled visual acuity and resolution. Second, whereas the Argus II relies on an external camera to relay data to the implant embedded in your retina, the Alpha IMS is completely self-contained. This allows users to swivel the eye around as they would a normal eye, whereas the Argus II and others like it require the user to turn their head to change their angle of sight.

Here too the technology is still in its infancy and has a long way to go before it can outdo the real thing. For the most part, bionic eyes are still rely heavily on the user’s brain to make sense of the alien signals being pumped into it. However, thanks to the addition of configurable settings, patients have a degree of control over their perceived environment that most cannot begin to enjoy. So really, its not likely to be too long before these bionic implants improve upon the fleshy ones we come equipped with.

biotech_dnaWow, what a week! It seems that these days, one has barely has to wait at all to find that the next big thing is happening right under their very nose. I can foresee a future where people no longer fear getting into accidents, suffering burns, or losing their right eye (or left, I don’t discriminate). With the ability to regrow flesh and cartilage, and replace organic tissues with bionic ones, there may yet come a time when a human can have a close-shave with death and be entirely rebuilt.

I foresee death sports becoming a hell of a lot more popular in this future… Well, crap on me! And while we’re waiting for this future to occur, feel free to check out this animated video of the Alpha IMS being installed and how it works:


Sources:
IO9.com, Extremetech.com