Seemed like it was just yesterday when 3D printers were the talk of the town, hyped to the maximum, the next big thing, a technological wonder that was poised to revolutionize our world like never before. However, the fire seems to have burned out pretty quickly as most now think that these 3D printers are only suitable for printing miniature action figures for geeks.

Yes, its is known that these machines can do a lot more than just print action figures, but do their boons far outweigh their bane. Here are some talking points on potential harmful consequences of using 3D printers:

1) Energy-Hogging – They consume about 100 times more energy to melt plastic and mold it than injection molding.

2) Air Emission – The emission of unhealthy toxins from burning of plastics resulting in environmental issues and health risks.

3) Plastic Reliance – When the world is moving towards a plastic free age, ironically, the devices is centered around the usage of plastic for printing purposes.

4) Manufacturing Impact – Introduction of these printers in the car or aviation manufacturing industries to replace the human element will result in loss of jobs for manual labor.
For every bad thing that can be said about anything, there can definitely be a good thing that can be said about it too. Let us see how 3D printers can help change the world for the better.

Changing the way rhinos are being poached:-
A San Francisco-based startup has come up with an interesting concept to curb the poaching of rhino horns. Coupling the usage of 3D printers and the advancements in biotechnology, they are attempting to fabricate rhino horns from not synthetic materials but organic matter, metals, minerals, proteins and in cases even actual rhino DNA. The idea is to sell these artificial rhino horns to the said poachers ( to cover the cost of printing it ) who then go on to sell them in various international markets to make money and feed their families. This way, the rhinos are left unharmed and the market eventually dies out.

Tracking poachers using turtle egg shells:-
Not as big as a rhino but just as endangered, turtles have a huge market for their goods. Turtle eggs are stolen and sold for huge money with one egg going for a whopping $150. Paso Pacifico, an environmental conservation organization has taken the initiative to safeguard these turtle eggs from being poached and sold. They proposed to use 3D printers to print fake eggs, equip them with GSM and mixing them with the real eggs so as to enable the authorities to track their movement and uncover the sellers and their markets.

Medicine and health care:-
While we are on the topic of turtles and their safety, here’s another usage of the 3D printer, that is soon to be adopted by almost all veterinary hospitals around the world.

The image displayed below is of Akut-3 a loggerhead sea turtle that got struck on the jaw by a boat’s propeller. It was rescued by an organization called Dekamer.
A CT Scan of his skull showed what needed to be done, and BTech Innovations a company that specializes in custom implants created this printed beak and jaw made out of titanium for the wounded turtle. Now, Akut-3 is swimming freely deep in the ocean with his almost perfect printed jaw.

Self Service Dentistry:-
From turtles onto humans, we go on to the case of one Mr. Amos Dudley, a digital design student from New Jersey who decided to implement all that he learned about his own treatment. Choosing not to wear braces as a child left Amos with a crooked smile. Being broke but having unlimited access to all the high-end equipment from his lab at college, Amos decided to take things into his own hands.

Some cheap alginate powder that gave him a mold of his teeth along with a 3D laser scan that could translate imagery into existence which finally was fed into a 3D printer, he was able to print a model of his braces. At the cost of $60, he now has a fully functional set of bracers that are doing wonders for him. This is clearly an indication that 3D printing can be widely used in dentistry for treating the untreatable.

3D printers capable of outputting in colour and multiple materials already exist and will continue to improve to a point where functional products will be able to be output. With effects on energy use, waste reduction, customization, product availability, medicine, art, construction and sciences, 3D printing will change the manufacturing world as we know it.

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