Sep 13, 2016 | By Alec

Planning for a 3D printing convention is always difficult. For some reason, you never have enough time for every single stand and event, so you have to carefully choose your targets. However, visitors of the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), which will be open in Chicago for the rest of the week, can easily put one target at the top of their list: The Association For Manufacturing Technology (AMT). In fact, AMT will have been at the top of most visitors' lists for about a decade, since it nearly always unveils spectacular stuff at IMTS. This year, visitors will be treated to three proof-of-concepts: the ‘additive bionic human’ presentation, which showcases the state of 3D printed implant development, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's (ORNL) groundbreaking AMIE energy platform, and two 3D printed cars, also from ORNL.

As regular visitors will know, IMTS has been hosting AMT’s Emerging Technology Center (ETC) since 2004, and its goal has always been to provide a special venue for educating, informing, and exciting the manufacturing industry about the latest groundbreaking innovations. Back in 2014, for example, the ETC hosted the now famous Strati car by Local Motors, the world’s first road-ready 3D printed vehicleworld’s first road-ready 3D printed vehicle, which visitors will actually be able to test-drive at this year's event. “The ETC is world-renowned for showcasing projects and disruptive technologies that were previously known to only a few. We want the ETC to challenge pre-conceived notions of how manufacturing performs at its best,” AMT’s Peter R. Eelman said of this year’s edition.

The ETC also tends to highlight various breakthroughs that are about to make a huge impact, so in that respect we were very happy to hear of their interactive ‘additive bionic human’ presentation. Developed in collaboration with EOS North America, it is essentially an interactive image of the human body that highlights existing and forthcoming options for 3D printed medical implants and prostheses. Using a touchscreen, participants can explore the medical world and see 3D printing opportunities from the perspectives of patient, doctor, and 3D printing specialist.

While some 3D printed implants and prostheses have been available to patients for some time now—think 3D printed legs, ribs, joints and hands—there have also been more recent breakthroughs such as cranial implants, tracheal implants, and dental implants. Many prosthetic options have also been made open source through organizations like E-NABLE. “Designing, fabricating and providing free prosthesis-like hands demonstrates how companies, people and technology converge to enrich humanity,” Eelman commented.

Some in the medical field believe that 3D bioprinting solutions have the greatest potential of all medical 3D printing applications due to their ability to fight illnesses at a cellular level. This sector, if the interactive presentation is anything to go by, will grow spectacularly: “Tissue engineering is a growing science,” said Eelman. “The implications of printing living tissue structures in the medical industry are astounding, and we want to show people some of the possibilities.”

The AMIE project (short for Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy) is no less interesting, as it transcends other 3D printing sectors such as 3D printed homes and vehicles. Developed by ORNL, part of the Department of Energy, it is essentially a 3D printing platform that embeds hybrid electric systems in cars and homes, creating a symbiotic relationship that produces, consumes, and stores renewable energy. “The premise of the AMIE project is to merge the energy streams of our homes and vehicles. It changes the way we think about generating, consuming, and storing power,” said Dr. Craig Blue of ORNL. “From concept to reality in just 12 months, the project provides a preview of the potential of energy efficiency and sustainability.”

Since ORNL first unveiled its 3D printed home and car symbiosis about a year ago, this project will not seem groundbreaking to all readers—though that makes it no less impressive. In a nutshell, photovoltaic panels are integrated into the roof of a 3D printed home, from which it can gather and store solar energy. Through a wireless charging pad in the driveway, bio-directional wireless energy flows to and from the car’s battery, depending on which battery holds more energy. What’s more, excess energy can also be transferred back into the grid for consumption elsewhere.

It’s a specular concept that is supported by a completely 3D printed car, a 1952 Willys Army Jeep reproduction that was 3D printed on ORNL’s groundbreaking BAAM technology (Big Area Additive Manufacturing). Both the house and car used over 25,000 lbs of printed material. That same 3D printing platform was also used for a gorgeous Shelby Cobra replica, that is also on display at IMTS. That Shelby Cobra, first unveiled back in early 2015, was 3D printed in only 24 hours.

Luckily, there is even more on offer, since AMT will also unveil something that all manufacturers can directly benefit from: an app that tracks the latest 3D printing innovations, and keeps readers up-to-date on the latest technology advancements. “This app goes beyond a traditional RSS feed. It’s a true aggregator of manufacturing research from multiple sources that custom-compiles research as defined by the user,” says Eelman. “The app debuts as an information piece in AMT’s ETC, and visitors can test some of the beta-versions in the AMT Experience.” All in all, the ETC is a must-see at IMTS, and you can find it just off the Grand Concourse in the North Building.



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