3D Printed Values
By Erin Lee | English Columnist
It is close to seven in the evening. Like many other nights, I pack my backpack and make my way back to school, tightening the strings on my hoodie as I walk against the piercing Jeju wind. I recognize the familiar desks, computers, and 3D printers as I walk into one of my favorite places at school. In the corner of the design technology lab, I open my sketchbook to start designing. The ideas on the tip of my pen stretch their wings and carefully thought-out concept maps freely embroider the blank pages. The marker in my hand adds life to the simple, shapeless drawings that emerge into definite forms. When the sketched designs on paper shift into pixels on the computer, shapes that had existed only in my imagination get ready to materialize into the world.
In high school, my fascination in design technology pushed me to design feasible, innovative solutions for real-life problems using 3D printers. With the recent rise in popularity of technological aid in art and design, 3D printing, defined as an additive process of making solid three dimensional objects from a digital file, has been in the midst of interest of designers. Ever since they became commercially available in January 2009, 3D printers have been significantly assisting many industries around the world, making the efficient, quick and precise production of complex, functional objects possible. When I first started learning about 3D printing, my design technology class focused mostly on designing practical objects that assisted simple, everyday tasks. My classmates and I designed and 3D printed products that increased the convenience of our own lives such as ergonomic door handles, blade handles, and cup holders.
Yet, my perception of design completely changed when I stumbled upon a story about the “UFO plate” in a book titled Eco Creator Design one day. Although regular paper plates are meant to be recyclable and sustainable, they actually use up a lot of energy and materials in the long term process of being recycled. Meanwhile, “UFO plates” made of 100 percent biodegradable polycaprolactone can be tossed into nature rather than into recycling bins after use. Because polycaprolactone is completely edible, birds and squirrels living in the area eat and gain nutrition from the plates thrown on the ground. This not only reduces waste and energy used during the recycling process, but also supports the coexistence of humans, animals, and the nature in the area. Many designers pursue designs like the UFO plate – functional, sustainable, and beneficial to everyone affected by the design. From this story I learned that design should not always be centered on my own needs, but also consider the needs of my surroundings and community, and that efficient physical production of such designs is possible using the assistance of technology such as 3D printers.
For instance, 3D printing assists the design and reconstruction of body parts in clinical pathology. In a leading example, a man named Steven Power had his facial bones reconstructed using 3D prints in 2012. Power severely injured his maxilla, cheekbones, and nose, and even fractured his skull after getting into a motorcycle accident. Power’s surgeons decided that 3D printing was the most technologically-advanced option available for the reconstruction of his face. A CT scan of Power’s facial features was done and the features that needed to be reconstructed were carefully mapped out. In the end, custom models, guides, plates, and implants were 3D printed using medical-grade titanium at a firm in Germany. Power was quite satisfied with the overall outcome, stating that he felt much more confident with his face looking almost exactly like it did prior to the injury, and that he is happy to not shy away from people anymore. As the first patient to use 3D printing in every aspect of the reconstruction of his face, Power described the operation as “life changing,” and encouraged more widespread use of 3D printing for surgical processes.
3D printing and design also plays a meaningful role in forensics. During crime scene investigations, pictures of footprints are taken using advanced photogrammetry software such as PhotoModeler Scanner or 3DReality. Unlike regular cameras, these programs accurately capture even the three dimensional features of the footprint. This three-dimensional digital model such as the one shown in Figure 3, which is an exact replica of the footprint and not like “negative” cast traditionally used in crime scene investigations, is 3D printed after being converted into a compatible format. The precision of 3D printing creates models that allow accurate comparison and analysis of footprints, and thus contributes substantially to crime scene investigations.
Figure 2 Figure 3
Another significant application of 3D printing is one I have personally been involved in – social services. Prosthetic hand and arms for disabled individuals can now be created simply using CAD software and 3D printers. Enabling the Future is a network that connects children who have deformed hands and arms with individuals around the world who have access to 3D printers and modeling software. This international community shares the ultimate goal of 3D printing and assembling prosthetic hands and arms to children around the world who lost their fingers or their entire hands due to war, disease or natural disaster. In high school, a friend and I reached out to Enabling the Future during our senior year, and initiated a service club that became involved in this meaningful network of children helping children, creating many pairs of 3D-printed prosthetic hands and donating them to children in Ghana at the end of every semester. Children including ourselves around the world continue to use their 3D modeling techniques and access to 3D printers to give children in other parts of the world in need a “helping hand”.
While 3D printed products definitely do assist simple everyday tasks, design technology goes beyond just the needs of an individual and offers sustainable solutions for the surrounding community of the designer. My initial experience with 3D printing was limited to designs considering my own personal needs. Yet the applications of 3D printing in pathology, forensics, and social service opened my eyes up to the to various ways that design, with the assistance of technology, contributes to the entirety of the human community. I now recall the polycaprolactone plates landing on forest grounds and transforming into a food source for hungry birds and squirrels, hoping that all UFO’s launched by designers into the world will benefit the community they land in.