Saturday, December 07, 2013

3D printing: Talk of Violins, Ships, Bugs & Bones.

Looking at what 3D printing can and cannot do. Many of the presentations I see at festivals make bits of jewellry, which although quite nice, are more about nice to have than must have. Reminds me of the Mattel ThingMaker which I had as a child. You heated plastic goo to make bugs. Fun gifts for all your friends.  Not really.

At the recent TEDx in Amsterdam there were interesting music sequences. One where concert violinist, Joanna Wronko was asked to compare her wooden violin with one that that be printed in a 3D printer. There was a clear difference sitting at the front - I found the wooden violin sounded much richer. But the 3D printed version wasn't bad at all. Sander Smit from the 3D company that printed the violin is clearly rather nervous on stage. But we do learn that this 3D printed violin is a proof of concept showing what may be achievable in a few years for a much lower price. 

The violin being demonstrated here was made using a 1 million dollar printer (used for printing medical grade parts) and the high grade plastic is also extremely expensive - the violin costs about 15,000 dollars to manufacturer.

Also discovered a video showing how a printer from Objet Connex was able to print a ship in a bottle. The Objet Connex system is able to jet two distinct materials (clear transparent and flexible black) during the same print session and then selectively place each material according to the 3D CAD design. No word on the price. But the technique is very clever.

Still, all these developments are simply nice to have and perhaps nice to know. Until you look at what a team of Australian scientists have developed.
The BioPen, developed by researchers from the UOW-headquartered Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, will give surgeons greater control over where the materials are deposited while also reducing the time the patient is in surgery by delivering live cells and growth factors directly to the site of injury, accelerating the regeneration of functional bone and cartilage.
The BioPen works similar to 3D printing methods by delivering cell material inside a biopolymer such as alginate, a seaweed extract, protected by a second, outer layer of gel material. The two layers of gel are combined in the pen head as it is extruded onto the bone surface and the surgeon ‘draws’ with the ink to fill in the damaged bone section.
A low powered ultra-violet light source is fixed to the device that solidifies the inks during dispensing, providing protection for the embedded cells while they are built up layer-by-layer to construct a 3D scaffold in the wound site.
Once the cells are ‘drawn’ onto the surgery site they will multiply, become differentiated into nerve cells, muscle cells or bone cells and will eventually turn from individual cells into a thriving community of cells in the form of a functioning a tissue, such as nerves, or a muscle.
The device can also be seeded with growth factors or other drugs to assist regrowth and recovery, while the hand-held design allows for precision in theatre and ease of transportation.
Now that really is clever.
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