human eye

3D Printed Bionic Eye: No Longer Science Fiction

The Eye of the Future

We have always been fascinated with popular lores of humans with robotic or bionic parts manifesting super powers. It’s the stuff that science fiction is made of. However, seriously, a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota has made the first step toward creating a “bionic eye” that could someday help blind people see or sighted people see better. They were able to fully 3D-print an array of light receptors on a hemispherical surface.

With a hemispherical glass dome, the researchers used their custom-built 3D printer, starting with a base ink of silver particles to dispense ink that stayed in place and dried uniformly instead of running down the curved surface. Using semiconducting polymer materials to print photodiodes, these convert light into electricity. The entire process takes about an hour and surprisingly, there was 25 percent efficiency in converting the light into electricity which they achieved with the fully 3D-printed semiconductors.

The team is proud to say that their 3D-printed semiconductors are now starting to show that they could potentially rival the efficiency of semiconducting devices fabricated in microfabrication facilities. Besides, they also proved that unlike those facilities, they can easily print a semiconducting device on a curved surface.

The University of Minnesota team are known for integrating 3D printing, electronics, and biology on a single platform. They received international attention a few years ago for printing a “bionic ear.” They have 3D-printed life-like artificial organs for surgical practice, electronic fabric that could serve as “bionic skin,” electronics directly on a moving hand, and cells and scaffolds that could help people living with spinal cord injuries regain some function.

For the bionic eye, the next steps are to create a prototype with more light receptors that are even more efficient. They might also find a way to print on a soft hemispherical material that can be implanted into a real eye. The research is published in Advanced Materials, a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering materials science.

Looking to the Future in Seattle

The future of 3D printing is towards amazing possibilities in many field applications, especially in medicine. While we might not be printing bionic eyes yet, for your other medical- related needs, see us at 3D Composites in Seattle for a sit-down on your next bright idea.


metal sheet

The Coming of Metal 3D Printing

The Dawning of Metal

We know plastics have predominantly been the material of choice when it comes to 3D printing. Commercially, other materials have been tried – concrete, bio-ink and dough – were proven successful. There’s one material, though, that presents some degree of challenge. Metal. Industrial printers are up to the task, but we’ve yet to see a commercial 3D printer that can create objects out of metal with the same ease others print with plastic.

Researchers from Yale University think they’ve found a way to make 3D printing metal objects easier than ever before. They published their study in the journal Materials Today recently. Actual metals, being not in a printable state – meaning they can’t easily be soft enough to form into different shapes – were not used in this study, but instead bulk metallic glasses or BMGs.

What is a BMG? It’s a metallic material that doesn’t exhibit the same rigid atomic structure as most metal alloys. They can soften more easily than most other metals, but they are still strong with high elastic limits, fracture toughness, and corrosion resistance, which are qualities typically associated with metals.

The researchers focused on a readily available BMG containing zirconium, titanium, copper, nickel, and beryllium. They used the same conditions to 3D print with plastics by forcing rods of their BMG through a feeding system heated to 460°C to soften the material. As a result, they found they could print a number of different shapes out of the high-strength metal material. They have also used other types of BMGs. The next step is making the process more practical and commercially usable.

The applications for 3D printed metal parts are limitless. The automotive industry could use them, and so can aeronautics and space, engineering, medical and dental fields, housing, and many more. What this research proved is that commercial 3D printing is not too far off from the era of plastics to that of metal.

Anticipating the Metal Era in Seattle

It certainly is going to look rosy (or gray, if you will) when metal becomes the new printing material of choice in 3D printing. Until that time, there are other dependable materials we can use for 3D printing. So when you’ve got an idea for a project of yours, come consult us at 3D Composites in Seattle.


World’s Largest Concrete Barracks: Built in 40 Hours

3D Printed Barracks: Fast and Safer Option

At the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Champaign, Illinois, you will find the largest barracks room ever built. It was constructed in early August this year, 2018 by the US Marines Corps, helped by the Army and Navy Seabees.

This development isn’t what is amazing about it, but that the 500-square foot barracks room was built using a specialized 3D concrete printer, the world’s largest, in just 40 hours. It is the world’s first continuous 3D-printed concrete barracks.

The Additive Manufacturing officer of the Marine Corps team said that the endeavor had never been done before. While buildings, homes and other large structures have been 3D-printed before, none have been done onsite and all at once. This is the first-in-the-world, onsite continuous concrete print.

The team used Computer Aided Design software on a 10-year-old computer. The concrete was pushed through a print head and layered repeatedly to build the barracks room walls. The Marines were carefully monitoring the project and continually filling the printer with concrete so the structure took 40 hours to build.If they had used a robot to do the mixing and pumping, the building could be built in 24 hours only.

There are several advantages of 3D-printed concrete. One is that it takes much less concrete to use compared to the traditional technique of filling a mold with concrete. The printer deposits only the concrete where it is needed, which decreases the use of cement. It is also a safer option as this reduces CO2 emissions, because cement production has a very high carbon footprint.

Where it takes ten Marines five days to construct a barracks hut out of wood, this technology saves time and additionally helps keep U.S. military personnel safe. In active or simulated combat environments, Marines are exposed unnecessarily in the open, plus fatigued out building the structure. Having a concrete printer that can make buildings on demand is a huge advantage. More testing will now be done on the Marines’ new barracks-building technology.

3D Printing Ideas Becoming Reality in Seattle

If there’s an idea brewing in your head and you just need to actualize it, drop by 3D Composites Seattle. Let’s talk possibilities and realities. Most things are possible with 3D printing.

street road

3D Printed Parts in A Luxury Supercar

Even a Bugatti Can use 3D Printing

The “Divo” is the latest in a short line of modern supercars unraveled by the French luxury car maker, Bugatti. The reveal was made in an exclusive event in Monterey, California recently, the first of a limited production run of just 40 units. Matter-of-factly, all units were sold out in a matter of hours to the tune of $5.72 million each. The car featured some show-stopping features, part of its elegance were its rear grille and brake lights. They’re 3D-printed!

While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, the partially 3D printed rear grill centerpiece added to the stunning aesthetics of the new Bugatti model. It’s an example of the car maker’s design philosophy – form follows performance – the engineers and designers aimed to create a vehicle focusing on cornering speeds and lateral dynamics.

The Divo claims to be not as fast as the Chiron, a previous production release, but makes its marks on the tracks nonetheless. It boast of superior cornering thanks to significant weight savings and an increase in downforce. It is the most agile car yet. It was developed to look different from the Chiron, but still recognizable as a Bugatti.

In the Divo’s rear, there’s a cascade of fins, 3D printed elements, forty-four pieces of which light up when the brake lights come on. It’s another step on an increasingly trodden path to additive manufacturing (AM) use in the automotive sector. Since the production for the car is small, only 40, 3D printing seems natural for the highly exclusive run. It is emphasizing design alongside the car’s performance.

Bugatti has used additive manufacturing before – on the Chiron supercar – with its 3D printing of a Titanium brake caliper. The piece was the largest and first 3D printed brake caliper, in addition to being the first use of Titanium in automotive production. The real value comes in the learnings it generates. With Bugatti serving as the Volkswagen Group’s R&D lab, it’s just a matter of time before results trickle down to everyday drives.

Partnering with Automotives in Seattle

Thinking of accessorizing your car, or seriously considering a parts replacement? Be that a prototype model or for a short run production, consider 3D Composites in Seattle. We’ve been partners with the industry for many trusting years.

ink water

On Demand: 3D Printing in Different Colors

New Ways to 3D Print in Color

3D printing has come a long way since the 1980s and has left footprints in almost every major manufacturing industry. It’s in space science, aircraft, automotive, medical, education, even in food, jewelry and apparel. You can 3D print most anything – from basic designs to a wide range of highly-customizable objects. There is an issue here, though. Because, you see, once you have 3D printed an object, it is the final product. If you have to change it, you’ve got to reprint. For example, if you need to have an object available in different colors, you will have to start from scratch as many times as the colors you’ll need.

Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) in Cambridge, have come up with a method to address this issue. “ColorFab,” a method for repeatedly changing the colors of 3D printed objects after fabrication came out in a new paper. They used their own 3D printable ink that changes color when exposed to ultraviolet light. They claimed they can recolor an object in under 20 minutes using plastics and other common printing materials.

By changing an object’s color, to provide variety and satisfy personal preferences, this method can be widely used in the apparel industry, jewelry, electronics, among others. You don’t have to create a whole new object every time. You will also eliminate a lot of wastage using this method.

To go beyond single-color systems, the researchers developed a simple hardware/software workflow. With the ColorFab interface, they upload their 3D model, pick the desired color patterns, and print a fully colored object. To produce the object in different colors they only need to activate the UV light for a particular desired color, and use visible light to deactivate others. Once the object is placed on the printing platform, the desired color is selected from the interface. The ink is made of a base dye, a photo-initiator, and light-adaptable dyes. The light-adaptable dyes bring out the color in the base dye, and the photo-initiator lets the base dye harden during 3D printing.

A full recoloring process took 23 minutes, though the process can still speed up by using a more powerful light or adding more light-adaptable dye to the ink. The colors, though, came out a bit grainy so this area could still use improvement. This is the first 3D printable photochromic system that has a complete printing and recoloring process. This can be user-friendly, as well as a big step in cost-effective fabrication.

Great Color Ideas in Seattle

This is hoping that 3D color printing on demand soon become a reality. And in the mean me, over in Seattle, if you’ve got a colored idea, contact 3D Composites.