Years ago, I remember buying a toy cowboy gun for my son while in Texas.  This was long before 9/11, so I was annoyed (being several months pregnant with my second child) when I had to waddle a great distance back to check my bag to avoid having it confiscated. 

Nowadays, while we may resent the added security, we don't question its necessity.  Last week reinforced the idea that longer airport security lines are not always a bad thing as Reno TSA screeeners found a 3D printed gun.  Printed from a plastic resin, the replica was not a functional gun as it lacked a trigger.  But for some unknown reason, the passenger also had five live .22-caliber bullets in his possession.

Of the reported 68 guns confiscated by TSA officials last week, the 3D printed copy is speculated to be the first uncovered to date.


Recognizing that animal testing for drugs, cosmetics and other products is cruel, expensive and inefficient, firms are moving increasingly toward 3D printed alternatives.  L'Oreal, for example, has begun 3D printing human skin cells to test its cosmetics.

Now n3D is collaborating with L C Sciences and AstraZeneca to create a way to evaluate drug effectiveness on blood vessel constriction and dilation using 3D printed tissue cultures.  According to the 3D Printing Industry article, initial results are promising...

n3D President and CSO Dr. Glauco Souza added: ‘The speed and throughput of our vasoactivity assay sets us apart from other 3D cell culturing and 3D bioprinting techniques, such as the ones from Insphero and Organovo. We are looking forward to this assay becoming the standard in compound toxicity testing and in the development of new vasoactive drugs.’

While this particular technique appears to be focused specifically on "vasoactivity studies," it moves companies one step closer to eliminating animal testing altogether.

Many people may not know that the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) is headquartered in Pittsburgh, so it is fitting that one of my alma maters, the University of Pittsburgh, just received a $503,000 grant to research how aluminum alloys behave during Metal Laser Sintering.  Benedict of explains...

3D printing with metals is a fascinating business, one which involves powders, large machines, and laser beams. Metal additive manufacturing processes such as selective laser melting (SLM), selective laser sintering (SLS), and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) each use laser beams to fuse metal powders into 3D shapes. SLS and DMLS 3D printers heat the metal powders to a sufficient level so that they can fuse together at a molecular level, while SLM 3D printers go one step further, completely melting the metal powder before letting it solidify into the desired shape. All of these methods have been developed into highly effective additive manufacturing techniques, but a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh wants to better understand how exactly metals behave during the SLM process and in similar laser-melting processes.

Dr. Jörg M.K. Wiezorek, the project's P.I., plans to evaluate how "microstructures form in metals and alloys during the solidification process which follows laser beam melting." Their research is important because metal printing processes can be very temperamental, sometimes failing to adequately bond which causes part fractures.

Hail Pitt!

 Click image to read case study.

Click image to read case study.

One of the juicier projects we've had involved 3D scanning real 10-lb crabs to recreate life-like replicas for Bering Sea Crab Fisherman's Tour.  The captain and his crew take tourists out on the high seas in the summer to watch them work.  Unfortunately, they were losing much of their inventory recreating their catches - this was both costly and unsustainable.

Once we 3D scanned the real thing, we 3D printed a master pattern which was used to create a mold.  The mold allowed RapidMade to cast the crab look alikes in urethane rubber.  See the results here.

RapidMade's founders were recently interviewed by U.S. News and World for an article explaining how 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, has helped entrepreneurs innovate.

Here's an excerpt from the story which was published on line this week:

Renee and Mark Eaton, with their son Micah Chaban, founded RapidMade, a 3-D printing, manufacturing and engineering company, based in Portland, Oregon, in 2011. About to graduate from the University of Oregon, Chaban told his parents he was contemplating job searching in Germany. Living in England at the time, the Eatons had read an article in “The Economist” on 3-D printing and the idea for RapidMade was born.

’We had both worked in manufacturing for years and were disheartened that so many kids were gravitating to lower-paying service jobs because high-tech manufacturing jobs either weren’t well known or readily available,’ Renee Eaton, chief executive officer of RapidMade, wrote in an email.

’During our careers, we had both been forced to close or downsize plants and relocate production, so we wanted very much to bring back manufacturing. We thought Additive Manufacturing (3D printing) was a great local and sustainable way to do that.’

She explained that entrepreneurs can develop and evaluate a design in little time with rapid prototyping and that by using 3-D printing to create tools, they can decrease lead times and cost. Most of RapidMade’s customers are new to 3-D printing, and the company’s engineers can help determine the best technology to create a product from a design, she wrote.

Many Additive Manufacturing experts argue that the big gains - and money - are in the creation and application of new materials. 

The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate-level university based in Abu Dhabi, has just filed a patent for 3D-printed ultra lightweight materials developed by their researchers. By manipulating the chemical and internal geometric structure of metals and plastics, engineers are now able to optimize conductivity, weight, stiffness and other factors. The Masdar Institute, which focuses on development of advanced energy and sustainable technologies, intends to apply its methods of material design to target the specific products that makers want developed. This technology greatly expands the possibilities for how products are developed and optimized.

In yet another example of surgeons using 3D printing to plan complex surgeries, Chinese researchers have begun creating personalized models of patients' hearts. These models are based off of ultrasound scans of the organs which are then rendered precisely so that doctors can see exactly the size and detail of each unique heart. This helps in the planning and execution of surgeries, which can be prolonged and risky without apt preparation. These medical models will be helpful not just to doctors but also to medical students.

Given the resulting health and cost benefits, this application of additive manufacturing is expected to see explosive growth.