Tuesday, June 23, 2015

3D printing

Last Sunday, the University of Sheffield (with the help of Sheffield Hallam University) held an event to mark National Women in Engineering Day (which is today).  In the city's Winter Gardens, students and staff, most (but not all) of them women, helped my son and I build tetrahedrons (tetrahedra?) out of sticks and elastic bands, and a rocket out of balsa wood.  We met robots, saw how candy floss is made, and extracted DNA from strawberries.  The balsa wood rocket was supposed to be a plane, but the students on the stand were very adaptable to my son's wishes to build a rocket, which he has since taken to school to tell his teacher all about what he did at the event.  I don't think it has occurred to him that some people think some jobs are for men and others for women, but if it ever does, taking him to events like this will help him realise the folly of such thoughts.

And they had a 3D printer.  I'd heard about these, but not seen one, and it was an ideal opportunity to find out more.

NASA have used them to print components for spacecraft.  This one had produced cogs and other items, and a model dinosaur.  They can be used to produce bone for bone grafting, and the possibilities for their use in medicine go further than that.  

A search of PubMed for 3d printing turns up over a thousand items, and reveals the existence of a MeSH term Printing, Three-Dimensional, which has so far been applied to 120 items (thus possibly demonstrating the need for searching using free text and controlled vocabulary!).

A review from the end of 2014 by Mahiben Maruthappu and Bruce Keogh in the BMJ (1) is a good introduction to its uses.  Blueprints can be downloaded from the internet for things like replacement heart valves, 3D printing can be combined with medical imaging to produce personalised prostheses and grafts, and there are possibilities for producing tissue.  The article also discusses regulation.

The Guardian is collecting its articles about 3D printing here and the New Scientist here (login or subscription may be needed to see the full articles).    The Museum of Science and Industry  in Manchester currently has an exhibition and the exhibition website has links to more information.   The Science Museum in London also has information.


1. Maruthappu M, Keogh B. How might 3D printing affect clinical practice? 
BMJ. 2014 Dec 30;349:g7709. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g7709. PubMed PMID: 25550064.

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