Human heart graphic illustration

3D-Printed Human Organs: For Study and Testing

Lifelike Human Organs

Can you imagine a 3D bioprinting technique that works with natural materials to produce lifelike organ tissue models? Bioengineers at the University of California San Diego have developed such a technique that is easy to use, allowing researchers to study human organs or use them in a pharmaceutical trial setup. The goal isn’t to make artificial organs that can be implanted in the body. The work was published recently in Advanced Healthcare Materials.

The researchers want to make it easier for everyday scientists, who are not specialized in other 3D printing techniques, to make 3D models of whatever human tissues they’re studying. The models would be more advanced than standard 2D or 3D cell cultures, and more relevant to humans when it comes to testing new drugs, which is currently done on animal models. It doesn’t need a complicated laboratory.

The method is also simple. For example, to make a living blood vessel network, researchers first digitally design a scaffold using Autodesk. A commercial 3D printer printed the scaffold out of a water soluble material called polyvinyl alcohol. A thick coating of natural materials is poured over the scaffold, letting it cure and solidify. Then the scaffold material inside is flushed out to create hollow blood vessel channels, their insides coated with endothelial cells. To keep the cells alive and growing, the last step is to flow cell culture media through the vessels. The vessels are made of natural materials found in the body such as fibrinogen, a compound found in blood clots, and Matrigel, a commercially available form of actual mammalian extracellular matrix.

Using the right materials is important, yet challenging. They should be natural rather than synthetic, so that it’s close to natural body tissues and that they can be sustained for very long periods of time outside the body. They should be biologically derived materials to make ex vivo tissues that are vascularized.

In one of their experiments, the researchers used the printed blood vessels to keep breast cancer tumor tissues (extracted from mice) alive outside the body. Tumor cells stayed alive after 3 weeks, encapsulated in the blood vessel prints. This system can be used to test anti-cancer drugs outside the body, Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers and huge research is dedicated to its study.

In another experiment, they created a vascularized gut model. It consisted of 2 channels. One was a straight tube lined with intestinal epithelial cells to mimic the gut. The other was a blood vessel channel (lined with endothelial cells) that spiraled around the gut channel. Each channel was then fed with media optimized for its cells. Within two weeks, the channels has started taking on more lifelike. Moving forward, the team is working on extending and refining this technique.

Prototyping Bio-Related Ideas in Seattle

If you’ve got an idea that’s going to advance medical-biological science, contact us.



3D Printed Lithium-Ion Batteries: The Future of Batteries

The Beginnings of Customized Batteries

What are lithium-ion batteries? Lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable batteries with high energy output and low maintenance and can handle hundreds of charge/discharge cycles. You can find them in laptop computers, PDAs, cell phones and iPods and other electronic devices. They are also used in electric vehicles. However, manufacturers have had to design their devices around the size and shape of commercially available batteries. But researchers have developed a new method to 3D print lithium-ion batteries in any shape.

Lithium-ion Batteries

Currently, most lithium-ion batteries are available in cylindrical or rectangular shapes. So when designing a product, like a cell phone, manufacturers must dedicate a certain size and shape to the battery. One of the challenges in creating smaller and smaller devices today, such as wearables and phones, is that the batteries can take up a lot of room. Cases are often designed around standard battery sizes, and it often creates wasted space. Hence, the disadvantage is not only space-consuming and but also limits design options. However, theoretically, 3D-printing technology can fabricate an entire device, including battery and structural and electronic components, in almost any shape.

From the American Chemical Society comes this report recently published in the ACS Applied Energy Materials. It concludes that it’s possible to 3D-print lithium-ion batteries into whatever shape is needed.

The problem in 3D-printing lithium-ion batteries is that the polymers or poly lactic acids (PLA) traditionally used in this kind of printing are not ionic conductors. The goal for researchers was to develop a process to print custom-sized lithium-ion batteries in a cost-effective way using a regular, inexpensive and widely available 3D printer.

The researchers increased the ionic conductivity of PLA by infusing it with an electrolyte solution, boosted the battery’s electrical conductivity by incorporating graphene or multi-walled carbon nanotubes into the anode or cathode, respectively. To demonstrate the battery’s potential, the team 3D printed an LED bangle bracelet with an integrated lithium-ion battery. The bangle battery could power a green LED for about 60 seconds only. The capacity is lower than that of commercial standards, not suitable for practical use. But they have ideas for how to improve capacity, with a lot of promise for the future of small gadgets.

Looking Into the Future of Batteries in Seattle

According to your favorite 3D printing company in Seattle, 3D Composites, it’s exciting to anticipate the day when any small tech gadget can be powered by the littlest of lithium-ion batteries. Thanks to 3D printing.

Original Article

origami boat

Origami: Ancient Art Meets 21st Century Technology

The Future of Engineering

Origami is a terminology that pertains to folding practices. However, it is closely associated with the Japanese culture, its origins going back to the late 17th century during the Edo period. Today, it is still an interesting art form using origami paper, but principles of origami are also used in packaging and other engineering applications.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have merged the art of origami with 3D printing technology, creating a one-step approach to fabricating complex origami structures that are lightweight, expandable, and strong with applications in everything from biomedical devices to space exploration equipment. Creating such structures has involved multiple steps, using more than one material, and assembling together smaller parts.

Digital Light Processing

An integrated system for manufacturing complex origami has tremendous potential applications, like in self-assembling robots, mirrors and solar panels in space, heart stents, retinal implants and more. In fact, the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta became the first university in the country to offer a course on origami engineering. The researchers used a relatively new kind of 3D printing called Digital Light Processing (DLP) to create groundbreaking origami structures that are not only capable of holding significant weight but can also be folded and refolded repeatedly. The structures are made of zippered tubes, composed of one plastic material (a polymer) and do not have to be assembled.

The researchers first developed a new resin that is very strong when cured. It is not only soft but can also be folded hundreds of times without breaking. There were tiny hinges, vital to the structure, which are along the creases where the origami folds. They are made of a thinner layer of resin than the larger panels of which they are part, and that makes them foldable.

The team created several origami structures ranging from individual origami cells of zippered tubes to a complex bridge composed of many zippered tubes. All were tested and showed they can carry about 100 times the weight of the origami structure and don’t break with repeated folding.

After this development, among other things, the research team is working to make the printing even easier while also exploring ways to print materials with different properties.

Working Towards Better Engineering in Seattle

Your 3D printing company in Seattle is also working to keep abreast of the developments in 3D printing technology. In no time, will we see the technology applied in many facets of engineering.

Original Article

3D printed objects

When Two 3D Printers Are Better Than One

Making Concrete Structures Faster and Stronger

From Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, scientists there have developed a technology where two robots can work in unison to 3D-print a structure out of concrete. When two printers work concurrently, it’s called ‘swarm printing’, and this approach can lead the way to multiple mobile printers able to construct larger structures in the future.

At present, when large concrete structures are to be 3D printed the printers used are usually larger than the object to be printed. This presents problems at construction sites that have space limitations. When multiple mobile robots print in sync, it can allow other large pieces like architectural features and special facades to be printed wherever space is available for both object and printer.

The NTU project uses a specially formulated cement mix which will allow for unique concrete designs that conventional casting can’t do. Also, structures can be produced on demand and in a much shorter time. The robots 3D-printed a concrete structure measuring 1.86m x 0.46m x 0.13m in eight minutes. Two days later it harden and achieved full strength in a week before installation.

It was a challenge to print concrete structures concurrently with two mobile robots as both printers have to move into place and start printing their parts without colliding. Printing by segments is also not feasible because if two parts should meet at a joint they will not bond properly if they do not overlap during printing. Hence, using precise positioning, the robots will move into place and print the parts in alignment. To ensure consistency, the mixing and pumping of the special concrete mix have to be blended evenly and synchronized.

Conventional manufacturing and traditional construction methods can be improved with this new technology. Using multiple robot printing is interdisciplinary, enabling roboticists to interface with materials scientists to come up with printable concrete. And to make durable concrete, it is essential to also work with mechanical and civil engineering experts.

It is possible, that in the near future, conventional building can be augmented with the influx of new technologies.

Helping Conventional Building in Seattle

3D Composites in Seattle is your go-to place when thinking about new technologies. We are not into replacing traditions, but with 3D printing, we’re able to realize ideas faster and at less cost.

cars on roads

Testing 3D Printed Asphalt for Road Repairs

The Future of Asphalt

You surely have traveled asphalt roads and that’s no surprise. Asphalt is the most common material used to surface roads and has several advantages. It creates a safe, quiet surface for driving, it can be laid down quickly and without complex machinery, and it is tough and can be easily repaired. It is a mixture of dark bituminous pitch with sand or gravel. While it can be strong, asphalt is known to degrade over time – opening as cracks at first and quickly expands. They can turn into potholes, the very commonly seen cavities on asphalted roads, dreaded by motorists.

Pothole Repairs

While potholes can be repaired, it is not readily easy to have road repairmen sent to every crack or hole to make repairs every so often. It mostly takes time to get it done and when it does, the holes will surely reappear in especially busy roads time and again. A solution presents itself in the form of autonomous drones or other vehicles that are equipped with robots capable of 3D printing asphalt. These drones can be sent to repair cracks in their early stages.

In a paper entitled “3D Printing of Asphalt and its effect on Mechanical Properties,” a group of researchers develop an asphalt 3D printer. They constructed the 3D printer using a frame and control system from another 3D printer, the RepRap Mendel 90 built from flat sheets at 90 degree angles. Also printed was the extrusion nozzle, the extrusion nozzle assembly, the stepper motor housing, PCB and serial port clip.

Asphalt pellets were created using a hard grade of bitumen, cast in a machined mold at different low temperatures, from 100° to 140°C. Multiple different shapes of pellets were made, including standard test bars, their strengths compared to cast asphalt samples. The mechanical properties of the 3D printed and cast asphalt samples were very different. The cast samples showed the property of being directionally dependent, which implies showing different properties if stretched in different directions. The 3D printed specimens have 9x the ability to be stretched compared to the cast samples. This property is due to microstructural changes in the asphalt which result in crack-bridging fibres that increase toughness.

This research shows that a 3D printer attached to a drone could be used not only to repair roads, but also hard-to-reach areas such as rooftops. These machines could fix minor damage before it turns into a major concern. It will save municipalities’ time and money and likewise, avoid accidents and damage to vehicles.

All Roads Lead to 3D Printing in Seattle

Your 3D printing company in Seattle looks forward to a brighter future for 3D printing in light of the many advancements in the technology. While road repair with 3D printing drones may be an area still under investigation, we still got a lot of great ideas for printing.