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10 cool things you can do with 3D printers

10 cool things you can do with 3D printers

You’ve heard the expression, “the shape of things to come.” Where could it be more appropriately applied than to 3D printers? This fascinating technology is poised to hit the mainstream, but it’s already being used commercially and by design-savvy enthusiasts to build a mind-boggling array of products.

Read on for a brief tour of what’s possible now and in the future. And check out what our lab testers thought of three affordable desktop 3D printers.

1. Print a car: Solidoodle user Ivan Sentch is designing and piecing together a life-size replica of a 1961 Aston Martin DB4. It will serve as a mold for the body of the car, and with added engine parts, will actually be drivable. Check Sentch’s blog for updates. 

2. Save a baby’s life: Researchers at the University of Michigan 3D-printed a custom-designed “tracheal splint” to help an infant with a collapsed bronchus to breathe freely. The splint is made of a biopolymer material that will eventually be absorbed into the child’s body.

3. Make beautiful music: Will a guitar made with a 3D printer sound as good as one made with natural materials? Olaf Diegal thinks so; he sells some great-looking custom-made 3D-printed guitars at Cubify. (To be fair to natural materials, the necks and fretboards are made with sustainable wood.)

4. Replace appliance and car parts: If your dishwasher or your aged car needs a part that’s no longer made, why not just print out a replacement? You can find many car- and appliance-part designs online at sites such as Cubify and Thingiverse—or if you’re skilled at CAD (computer-aided design), design them yourself. (Jay Leno is a 3D printing fan!)

5. Print precious-metal jewelry: Today’s home 3D printers are limited to plastic, but at Shapeways, an online service that does the 3D printing for you, various other materials are available. To honor the introduction of new jewelry-grade metals, the site is holding a design competition: Be creative and create the pendant of your dreams, and you could have it printed out in sterling silver or gold-plated brass.

6. Dish up dinner: NASA gave a contract to an organization called Systems and Materials Research Consultancy to study the feasibility of using 3D printing for creating food—in space. OK, this one is years away from being a reality, but imagine the possibilities of dining on demand! It sure beats takeout.

7. Go bionic: Princeton University scientists reported that 3D printing may lead the way to the future of tissue engineering, not only lab-building new organs but also integrating electronic circuits into them that could give people extra abilities: for example, a bionic ear that could detect frequencies a million times higher than the normal range of hearing.

8. Print your own head: Not a replacement for your actual head, but a replica—for posterity and all. Makezine.com has step-by-step instructions on how you can manufacturer a 3D version of your noggin: You take 30 or 40 digital photos of it and go from there.

9. Build a house: DUS, a Dutch architectural firm, wants to be the first to build a 3D-printed house. Each component is first printed in 1:20 scale and then full-size; DUS expects to have finished the house’s front facade and lobby by the end of this year.

10. Design high fashion: Paris Fashion Week in January saw the debut of the Voltage 3D collection: an 11-piece collaboration, including a skirt and a form-fitting dress, fabricated entirely on 3D printers. Check designer Iris van Herpen’s website for more visuals. 

What would you want to make with a 3D printer? Get creative and tell us on our Facebook page!  

Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

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