3D printing is one of the most underrated technologies when it comes to the innovation involved in creating it. In the most literal sense, it creates the objects we can merely visualize. While the IT industry is known for numerous other techs being deemed as the future, 3D printing has carved a niche of its own.
This niche is the scientific space; to be more specific, it’s the laboratories. Science labs are pretty notorious for how much expenditure goes into them. From accomplishing the appropriate condition to acquiring the best quality or state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, it all costs an astronomical amount of money.
However, if you’re a part of this space or know someone who is, you’ll also know that getting funds for all this is a tedious process. The money is never really enough, and this becomes a hurdle that comes in the way of impeccable experiments and true innovation.
3D printing technology can solve a majority of these problems. In fact, it is a widely adopted solution for the challenge mentioned above. If you’ve come across this subject and want to have a deeper understanding of the tech and its uses, let’s jump right in.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing is the process of transforming an entire design that exists on your system into an actual, physical 3D model. For this, people need the hardware (3D printing machine) and the software as well.
Any design is sliced into multiple layers. These layers are fed into the hardware, and we see it print them one after the other. This is pretty much why you see any 3D printer print layer-wise.
When we look at this tech in the context of science labs, it becomes immensely valuable. People working in science labs use it for multiple purposes, and here’s how they do it.
3D Printing Use Cases in Science Lab
The use cases can be categorized into processes and actual products themselves. While one use case is a process and a mechanism, the products are a result of the said mechanism. Let’s look at a few most significant ones.
In simple terms, prototyping is the process of creating a working model of any product to check if the design, structure, functionalities, features, and more are viable or not. Furthermore, it also gives an idea of how good or bad the actual product would be. So, in a way, prototyping is like creating a preliminary version of the product.
Now, as the name suggests, rapid prototyping means doing the entire process at a much faster pace. 3D printing eliminates the need to spend too much time (say months or weeks) on prototyping. Instead, designs can be created much faster on the computer system with specific software, and 3D printed almost immediately to see how good or bad it is.
Specific labs are built just for this purpose and are known as Rapid Prototyping Labs (RPL). However, it is important to note that these are for different industries and sectors other than science and healthcare as well.
If we look at the kind of medical and science-oriented 3D printing has created, there are quite a few as follows:
This is how it all began. Then, the necessity to solve the challenge scientists and people in the lab face, 3D printing was leveraged. From the time we’ve begun using the RP method, we’ve come a long way.
According to a ACS Publications, 3D printed parts take part in chemical reactions for processes such as catalysis. Besides this, they are also used for energy storage, holders, lab appliances, reactions, and so much more.
In fact, we’ve progressed so much that individual branches such as analytical sciences have their own custom-made 3D printed modules, parts, and more. These are used for highly-specific functions and processes.
Life-like Human Organs
In 2020, a group of people came together to create something truly pathbreaking – a 3D bioprinted human heart model. While the details of the making in itself are fascinating, what’s truly intriguing is its significance for the medical industry.
Usually, hospitals have 3D modeling and printing facilities to give patients a run-through of their surgeries, enabling doctors to virtually go through the process before actually conducting it.
This human heart model’s properties were similar to a real one. This is in terms of the material used, the properties the material exhibits, the way it can contract and expand, and more. So, hospitals and doctors can start using these kinds of life-like human organs to better help the patients and better train the doctors.
However, the people behind this see this only as a start. Just like how 3D printed lab equipment can actually be used for various purposes, they hope to use organs that way as well.
Other Healthcare and Dental Products
Hearing aids, molds for aligners, implants, etc., are some of the other products that are 3D modeled, printed, and used in real-time. In fact, we’re looking at this tech to solve numerous issues regarding the budget. However, besides this, the process has numerous benefits.
Benefits of 3D Printing in Science Labs
- It saves a lot of time on conceptualizing, designing, and creating equipment.
- The process can be iterative, which paves the way for a better final product.
- With budgets not being a constraint, innovations and experiments will no longer be hindered like they were before.
Overall, this is how 3D printing can become pathbreaking for laboratories, as they are essentially the hub for creating something novel.