Where water pollution is concerned, the statistics are staggering.
Each year, eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans. There are estimated to be 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in those bodies of water, comprising between 60 and 90 percent of the pollution found there. By 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Plastic kills marine animals — about 100 million of them perish each year from such waste — and it’s killing humans too. The chemicals contained in it, which are ingested by fish and in turn by humans, are known carcinogens. They also affect hormonal function. Not to be forgotten, either, is the fact that we depend on the oceans for drinking water and oxygen; if those bodies of water are compromised, so are we.
It will take various means, not to mention international cooperation, to solve a problem of such colossal proportions. But 3D printing may prove to be a part of the solution, especially since it attacks the problem from the standpoint of both sustainability and recycling.
Consider, for example, the 3D printer known as Ekocycle, which is made by 3D Systems, one of the leaders in the field. It is capable of extruding recycled bottles like those collected by various organizations (and various devices, such as the Ocean Cleanup Array, invented by Dutch teenager Boyan Slat).
The machine, which is not yet available to the public, transforms those bottles into raw materials for new products.
Also gaining traction, especially among manufacturers seeking greater cost-effectiveness, is the concept of sustainability through 3D printing. The Bio-Shelters Project aims to explore recycling in 3D printing using various alternative materials including wood, clay, sugar, cellulose fiber, recycled paper and concrete.
Team members of the Bio-Shelters Project are challenged to build seawalls out of sustainable materials. Both the United States and Europe have thousands of miles of natural coastlines in which about half have been modified with artificial structures including seawalls. These structures provide protection to shorelines and enhancement of fisheries. They also help with water filtering.
But the Bio-Shelters Project takes seawall building to a new, sustainable level. By taking into account the ecological conditions where the seawalls and bio-shelter attachments are to be installed, they can create the structures from materials that are uniquely appropriate for each location. Some of the materials added to a standard concrete mix included crushed oyster shells from Sydney vendors, vermiculite, crushed rock and sand.
The end products from 3D printers for the project are silicone molds of 200 x 200 x 50 mm tiles, which are currently used in the ocean for testing. Researchers want to learn about the structural quality of materials underwater and how they affect marine life.
One of the key issues about 3D printers for ocean use centers around which recycled materials are most suitable for sustainability and performance. The old saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has renewed meaning in the age of sustainability, as scrap materials and other rejected materials have taken on huge recycling value.
The advent of the 3D printer will play an exciting and crucial role in cleaning up plastic pollution in oceans around the world. It may not be enough to eradicate the tons of plastic debris dumped into our oceans each year, but it is one small and meaningful step in the right direction.
As 3D printing technology advances, more industries will adopt it to further their efforts. This is especially true for medicine and healthcare, where strong nanomaterials have the ability to create more effective treatments. 3D printing represents a huge opportunity for pharmaceutical, medical device, and other healthcare-related companies to design groundbreaking drugs, rapidly produce medical implants, and streamline the way doctors and surgeons provide care to patients.
3D printing technologies have already been used in a number of applications, including cardiothoracic surgery, cardiology, gastroenterology, neurosurgery, and many more specific fields. So far, however, we’ve barely tapped the technology’s potential in healthcare-related applications. There are high expectations for what we can expect from this technology going forward. The most probable and most talked-about developments include:
Implantable Organs and Tissue
3D-printed organs will likely become available soon, which would be a game changer for patients in need of organs. Manufactured organs would reduce waiting time (and waiting lists), allowing surgeons to treat more people in need of life-saving operations. This also includes tissues and synthetic skins for transplanting and/or for pharmaceutical and cosmetics testing.
Custom-designed 3D-printed anatomical models are becoming useful new tools for personalized patient treatments. By integrating clinical and imaging information, surgeons will have the ability to perform individualized preoperative planning, resulting in less time spent in the operating room and fewer complications. Doctors can create 3D models of an individual patient’s anatomy, which aids in planning one’s surgical approach and allows doctors to fit prosthetics in advance.
Customized Surgical Tools and Prostheses
3D printing can be used to produce patient-specific implants or surgical guides and instruments. Customized tools and prostheses equate to better outcomes and lower costs.
Customized Pharmaceuticals and Devices
These technologies have the ability to provide unprecedented benefits to the industry, which is under increasing pressure to reduce costs and improve care. 3D drug printing can customize a drug’s outer layer to control absorption time in a patient’s system, and also allows for dosage personalization. We’ll also see faster production of new device designs and/or improvements to existing ones. Everything from hearing aids to dental implants to eyeglasses could be designed to fit and operate more effectively and be produced more quickly.
3-D printed, patient-specific models can speed student learning and make it possible to present students will a range of different physiologic and pathologic anatomy, which better prepares them for future practice and enables all schools, regardless of resources/budget, to provide such instruction. It also allows the introduction of rare pathologies to medical students that wouldn’t otherwise have exposure in such training. Likewise, 3D printing can assist doctors with educating patients on their own conditions since it’s much easier to understand 3D representations of anatomy rather than asking patients to examine 2D images from CT or MRI scans.
Clearly, 3D printing has the potential to significantly alter and improve the clinical field, making huge advancements to our medicine and healthcare. As printers evolve and safety regulations are instituted, this technology offers more and more promise for our future.