3d printers

Are 3D printers Santa Claus machines?

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Full disclosure: title not mine. At least, not everything. The three B-words in the front came from the mind of Australian writer Rich Haridy of New Atlas, a science and technology newsletter that covers interesting topics such as tiny houses, quantum computing, drones and robotics.

And, yes, 3D printing comes back from time to time. Subscriptions are free, but I shelled out the $19 for a premium subscription. (No ads.)

Haridy brings up a few topics that I’ve covered before in The additive report. One is about 3D printed food and the other is about additively manufactured human body parts.

Haridy suggests that these and many other natural products will one day be grown in laboratories, using devices some call “Santa Claus machines” or star trek– inspired “replicators”. He even goes so far as to suggest that we will grow our tables, chairs and other furniture out of wood. (Sorry, IKEA.)

It got me thinking. Earth is the ultimate 3D printer. Almost everything discussed in his article – meat, dairy, diamonds, antlers, blood, organs – are created by natural processes, which means Mother Nature or God (whichever of her 9 billion names you prefer) produced them additively. The one item on Haridy’s list that doesn’t naturally occur is the automobile, though he ends by saying that some ambitious people at Mercedes-Benz are working to one day “grow” cars from genetically modified seeds. Crazy, right?

Admittedly, we are far from Santa’s Machines. For starters, all 3D printers today require a raw material that doesn’t occur naturally, whether it’s powder, resin, bonded metal rods, or plastic fishing line. Each of these are made by humans using far less elegant processes than those employed by Mother Earth or the lab scientists who are apparently making significant advances in bio-printing.

Additionally, no 3D printer currently has the resolution, precision, and delicate touch needed to cause cellular materials to form advanced, potentially living structures. Not yet.

Either way, check out the article. Whatever your thoughts on cultured meat, pluripotent stem cells, and bio-engineered skim milk, you’ll find some of the really cool stuff going on there.