The Potential for 3D Printing to Transform the World

Last month, I met Juan. Juan works for the NYC justice department investigating traffic accidents. Fascinating stuff but this is not what I found so intriguing about him. Juan is on a quest to develop the best way to print the ideal prosthetic leg brace. For Juan, its personal. Juan shared with me that some 10 years ago, his wife, an elementary school teacher in Queens was hit by a stray bullet in the back in a random incident. The doctors told her that she would never walk again. But Juan's wife persevered and today with the help of a leg brace she can walk and is back in the classroom. But the leg brace is big, bulky, heavy, and expensive. It does not fit very well to begin with and if Juan's wife loses or gains a few pounds then it really doesn't fit at all.

I met Juan at the Inside 3D Printing Conference which I attended at the recommendation of my good friend and fellow edtech enthusiast, Rabbi Marc Spivak. Juan was walking around with his wife's  prosthetic leg brace going to every booth, talking to every vendor about 3D scanning and different methods of 3D printing. Juan told me that with scanning technology and filament based 3D printing, called additive manufacturing in the industry since one adds material layer by layer, he could print a leg brace that is customized to fit his wife at a fraction of the cost, $2000 with today's prices vs. $8000 or more for the traditional prosthetic leg brace. And this price will only continue to drop dramatically as the technology develops.

The potential of 3D printing is truly fascinating. It not only can revolutionize the world of prosthetics. It ALREADY IS. For example, watch Robert Downey Jr. AKA "Iron Man" giving a genuine iron man 3D printed prothetic arm to a 7 year boy.

I experienced a more playful example of this technology at the conference when I got a full body scan at a booth run by a company called Shapify. They produced a 3D scan of me which I can purchase in different sizes for around $200. Who would want to buy a statue of me? But I did it so I could see the result. You can view it for yourself by clicking on this image of my scan.

Body scan of TechRav, manipulate it here.

Below is a video that I posted on Instagram of my body rendering in 3 dimensions. Cool but a bit scary.

Imagine the applications not only for prosthetics but all types of medical devices. Doctors could operate on an exact replica of YOUR heart before performing open heart surgery. Stints and other small medical devices could be made to order. A brain surgeon can 3D print operating tools designed to fit her hand like a glove because they come from her hand.

3D printing will not only transform the medical field but manufacturing as well. Right now, designers no longer need to send prototypes to be printed overseas costing weeks of time and a great deal of money. They can 3D print a model of their prototype in hours. And imagine a future where instead of large factories in China producing most of our consumer goods there are 3D warehouses outside every major metropolitan area where the consumer goods are printed to order. You would buy a household item on Amazon, it could even be personalized for you at little extra cost, and in hours a drone would land on your doorstep with the item that was printed for you.

Smaller versions of these industrial printers are becoming affordable for almost any school. Imagine an engineering product where students custom design a gear with interlocking moving parts that moves a walker up the stairs so an elderly or handicapped person can have a walk that walks up the stairs besides them. This is a project that I watched amazing high school engineering students at my school Frisch design this week. Every engineering project included 3D printed parts designed to order. No more duct tape and ugly prototypes. Students were able to combine circuits, arduino boards, and other items into their projects with the help of custom parts printed for their project. So how can we incorporate this technology which will soon transform the world into education as well? This is a thought that I continue to ponder and hopefully will try to address in future blog posts.

Please post your ideas in the comments to this posting below.