Build It From Scratch: How “Printing” Can Make a New Pair of Shoes

September 1st, 2015 by

From the production of the polio vaccine to the invention of the smartphone, science has made colossal strides in the past fifty years. Just this year, there have been numerous incredible innovations. Among the strides are some of the most unbelievable developments, which include work with the human genome and the introduction of additive and distributive manufacturing.

Digital DNA

dnaScientists have been studying the human genome since the discovery of the double helix in the 1950s. Now, science has advanced so much that sequencing the genome has almost become a thing of the past. People can now have their own personal genomes sequenced and digitized. This is particularly relevant to personalized healthcare because it means that doctors could potentially tailor medical treatments to individual patients. While this may not seem like ground-breaking news (after all, we are all familiar with the primary care doctor and how he or she is supposed to be in tune with our own personal health needs), it is vital to understanding and treating genetic diseases, particularly the most widely known genetically-linked disease, cancer. The digitization of an individual’s genome can help doctors diagnose and treat the patient in a timely and efficient manner. It could even initiate preventative treatments for genetic diseases. However, while there are certainly substantial benefits to the early diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases, there is one unfortunate complication.

Some insurance companies or employers may misuse a person’s information and cite existing conditions or possible future conditions as reasons for excess charges for medical care or even limited medical care.

3D Printing and Subtractive Manufacturing

“Extry, Extry! Read all about it!” While comparing 3D printing to news printing may be a stretch, it certainly is becoming as popular as physical newspapers once were3d_printer. 3D printing, otherwise known as additive manufacturing, is unique because of its differentiation from subtractive manufacturing methods (traditional manufacturing). Subtractive or reductive manufacturing is named so because of how the method employs the reduction of physical materials to make a product.

Additive Manufacturing

3d_printer2At the other side of the spectrum is additive manufacturing. It involves what could be called “building something from scratch.” 3D printing takes a digital template and builds an item layer by layer from liquid or powder materials and ultimately makes a 3-dimensional object. The printers can vary in size and are currently being used commercially and, in fewer instances, at-home.

What’s mind-blowing, though, is how 3D printing has been applied to the medical field. Human cells have been used to make layers of living skin and bone in what has been nicknamed “bioprinting.” It is also already in use for customized “invisible” braces like Invisalign.

However, additive manufacturing is most widely used for personal and educational purposes with regional inorganic materials. It also works in conjunction with distributed manufacturing because it allows for more localized manufacturing. Distributed manufacturing is essentially the dissemination of large manufacturing operations. The use of distributed manufacturing would produce more local factories where buyers could order products made in or near their own areas.

In this type of production, the resources needed to make the personalized products that consumers order are sent to manufacturing plants near to them. This would cut down on shipping and storage costs, it could reduce waste, and it could lessen th3d_printinge industry’s environmental impact. For example, a person could order a customized pair of shoes from a nearby additive manufacturing center and the center wouldn’t have to be concerned with expensive shipping costs and producing an excess of products and paying for storage costs. So, ultimately, commercial-use 3D printing centers could scale down on storage and shipping, which would even potentially reduce the impact on the environment.

Potential Drawbacks

One problem that could arise with the start of additive manufacturing plants is the problem of regulating the many centers that will likely open. Because 3D printing can be used for a wide array of products and can be used with a large range of materials, regulating the safety of such products and their component materials would be a difficult task. The same concept applies to at-home 3D printing. Consumers could face some safety issues if they don’t use proper procedures or materials with their printers. Not to mention that if people have the power to create just about anything they want, they could create illegal items.

Despite some of the issues that could arise with both 3D printing and a digitized personal genome, both are expected to continue to grow during the next decade.