One of the highlights of the 600 3D-printed objects on display at a new London Science Museum exhibit is a Terminator-lookalike 3D-printed functionalised prosthetic arm illustrating how the technology could evolve to print customised prosthetics with electronic moving parts and nerve endings.
Image credit: the University of Nottingham
This prototype prosthetic hand is a prime example of how 3D-printed innovations could potential transform the way we make and buy things, and save more time, costs and materials. "At the moment 3D printing uses single materials, a polymer or a metal, which are fused together with a laser," said Professor Richard Hague, Professor of Innovative Manufacturing and leader of 3D Printing Research Group (3DPRG). "You can create interwoven geometries but they're still passive. What we're looking to do is activate those and make them functionalise. So rather than make a component you make the whole system — an example might be rather than print a case for a mobile phone you make the whole phone — all the electronics, the case, the structural aspects, all in one print."
A prosthetic arm concept made specially for the exhibition by the University of Nottingham. Image credit: Science Museum
3D printing has already brought prosthetics to people who need them but previously could not afford. Robohand, an engineering project created by South African woodworker Richard Van As, along with prop designer Ivan Owen, focuses on developing open-source designs for mechanical finger prosthetics using 3D printing. Van As and Owen placed the Robohand's design files online so anyone with access to a 3D printer can download the files and create their own Robohand.
The 3D printed Terminator arm designed by Professor Hague and his students is a step up in complexity from Robohand. Professor Hague said additive manufacturing would help transform the industrial landscape, with more emphasis on smaller, localised manufacturing. He added Nottingham is currently leading research into the next phase of Additive Manufacturing: the 3D printing of mixed materials in multifunctional devices.
Another exciting development is new research into the direct 3D printing of metal. "That will be globally unique — nobody else will be working on that," said Professor Hague. "We are working with an industrial partner to develop a system that jets metal. At the moment you can only jet nano flakes of metal in a polymer ink."
Posted in 3D Printing Applications
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