You’ve surely heard about 3D Printing, but chances are that you might not be entirely familiar with how it works and the scope of its applications.
To familiarize yourself a bit more with the concept and learn more about how it is advancing the biotech industry, keep on reading.
3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects adding material layer by layer. These physical objects are created using digital model data from a 3D model or other data source, like an AMF* file.
3D Printing makes it possible to create objects of almost any shape and form. This technology currently allows us to turn a concept into a prototype and specialized parts for aerospace, military, biomedical engineering, etc.
With 3D computer-aided design and a 3D printer, you have the necessary fabrication tools to create a wide variety of 3D printed products, from figurines and kitchen supplies to vehicles and houses. The possibilities are virtually limitless.
3D Printing provides numerous benefits both for individuals and businesses alike. Here are some of the key benefits of 3D Printing:
- 3D printing lets create complex shapes and parts – many of which cannot be produced by conventional manufacturing methods.
- Complex geometries can be made easily, and it allows for a large amount of design freedom.
- Complex models can be made as a single piece on the spot in a relatively short time, and there is no need to produce smaller parts and assemble them.
- It allows for easy customization.
- Compared to traditional manufacturing, 3D Printing doesn’t require any special new tooling to produce a model, or it’s parts.
- No additional costs or lead times are needed between making an object complex or simple.
- 3D Printing reduces the risk of danger associated with some manual prototyping processes.
Seeing how 3D Printing is used in so many spheres of our life, it should come as no surprise that we find it in the biotech industry. Here are just some examples of how 3D Printing is transforming the biotech industry.
Fixing broken equipment
An everyday use of 3D printing technology in the biotech industry, just like in many other industries, is creating missing pieces of equipment or fixing something that is broken. There will always be accidents that destroy or damage a critical piece of the lab equipment necessary for running tests and experiments.
While replacing these pieces can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, 3D Printing can contribute new pieces that perfectly fit the equipment for only a fraction of the price. Plenty of designs are available online so, by having a 3D printer, replacing these pieces can be very inexpensive.
Creating gel combs and molds
Other than simply replacing what is broken, 3D Printing allows researchers to create their equipment. For example, purchasing combs and molds can be quite expensive.
On the other hand, making those same items means that companies and individuals can save plenty of money and customize them according to their own needs. Thanks to open-source designs, one doesn’t have to be a CAD expert in producing these.
Sectoring Petri dishes
Dividing Petri dishes with a pen can often be hard as not everyone can draw lines equally, which is why 3D printed plates that can be snapped onto a Petri dish are so useful. Christof Osman designed the “Petristencillator” – seven master plates with hollowed-out groves that can divide the Petri dish into sections. These are reusable and help standardize the process.
Making a centrifuge
In addition to making gel combs and molds and sectoring Petri dishes, laboratories can also print their centrifuges. Commercially available centrifuges can be quite expensive and cost hundreds of dollars. Printing one with a 3D printer is much more affordable, seeing as how Chris Takahashi, a contestant in Tekla Labs’ PrintMyLab, developed one for less than $10.
Printing a microscope mount for an iPhone
While this use is oddly specific, more and more people are moving away from digital cameras when it comes to taking quality photos. Their needs are now more than satisfied with an iPhone camera or any other similar high-end device. However, even though there is a way to mount a camera to a microscope, mounts for iPhones are not yet widely available. Fortunately, 3D Printing makes it easy to make these at an affordable rate.
On the other hand, 3D Printing is not just used for fixing and creating lab equipment. It can also help synthesize molecules from scratch. For instance, certain chemicals are very rare or very expensive. Nowadays, there is a chance to synthesize different molecules from only a few starting chemicals. This means that humans have a chance to create and examine some chemicals that were never seen before.
Combining it with nanotechnology
Even though combining 3D Printing with nanotechnology is still in its early stages, it opens the door to countless new possibilities. The life science industry has been stirred by technology such as DNA origami. Seeing as how the potential of 3D Printing can only boost it, we can only assume the effect it would have on advancing medical treatments.
Performing robotic surgery
While robotic surgery can often be more precise, people are usually not comforted by the fact that a machine will be performing surgery on them. This is where 3D Printing can make a huge difference. For example, squishy 3D printed robots might be able to soothe and comfort patients during surgery. Plus, they could be very affordable thanks to their manufacturing process.
Finally, continued innovation in the field of 3D Printing means that scientists can also produce biocompatible materials. For instance, tissue scaffolds for various body parts can be printed and covered with cells. These can later grow into bones, noses, ears, and so on.
It’s important to note that researchers and medical engineers have only started to scratch the surface of what this incredible technology brings to our modern society. We can expect so much more from 3D Printing, not only in the biotech industry but in all spheres of life going forward.