How to Apply Artistic Touches and Personalization with 3D Printing
The ability of 3D Printing to create customized one-off designs or low-volume production runs with minor variations helps to create designs customized to individual characteristics and preferences. This can include manufacturing details such as logos and serial numbers directly fashioned into the object itself, or can include custom complex material forms not possible through traditional molding, casting, or forging manufacture.
Perhaps the most variable, personalized, and specialized application of manufacturing is the creation of medical implants, which must fulfill a function while performing in harmony with the organic structures of the body.
3D printing is only limited by the overall size of an object. Thus the object's interior geometry can be solid like that of a traditional cast object — or can be hollow or more complex. The result is a quicker way to create an object with optimum balance between strength and weight — or to minimize materials cost and waste.
In medical implants, metals are often used because they are not reactive to the body's natural processes. Metals such as titanium are popular, but have such a high melting temperature that most designs are traditionally cast as solid models. This approach is not only costly for the subject, it also raises the possibility of post-operative damage from vibration and movement of the implant against biological materials like bone.
WITHIN Labs used selective laser sintering (SLS) to create a titanium artificial hip implant in a 3D printer. This implant has a highly complex metal geometry that allows bone to grow into the implant itself, forming an improved bond with much greater mechanical strength than is possible with traditional screws and adhesives.
Personalization is not restricted to iPhone cases and other material objects. Another, far more specialized application is biological prosthetics for reconstructive purposes or for replacement of missing limbs.
After massive injury to a body, 3D printing allows the re-creation of a subject's features from old photographs or through modeling based on remaining body elements. This technique can return the ability to eat and drink normally to individuals who have suffered injuries or diseases affecting the facial tissue, or provide a completely new ear for people born with microtia (a functional inner ear but no external ear).
Researchers using 3D bioprinters are testing bioengineered ears using collagen and living cells to form a new cartilage structure that can be implanted to restore proper functioning.
External prosthetics for limb replacement have traditionally been little more than solid forms with as much articulation as their designers could provide. A company called Bespoke has started creating custom coverings, called fairings, designed by creating a 3D model from a scan of the remaining limb.
By mirroring the existing limb, Bespoke's design integrates artistic designs with a balanced appearance created by an artist working with the recipient. Fairings can be created in plastic, or even chromed metal, using 3D printing to create a look that fits the recipient's unique personalized preference.
Clothing and textiles
Going beyond appliances to whole-body coverings, artists are developing new materials such as 3D-printed artificial leather and flexible lattices that can be worn in personalized clothing or footwear fitted to the recipient's exact form.
Designer Michael Schmidt and architect Francis Bitonti teamed up to create a stunning 3D-printable gown custom-fitted to the specific proportions of fashion model Dita von Teese. This dress was created using a curved latticework design based on the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical relation that defines many of nature's most beautiful shapes.
Applying the lattice to a scan of the model's body allowed the creation of a 3D-printed mesh complete with interlocking flexible joints that wraps her perfectly.
At the current state of the art, the artist added Swarovski crystals to enhance its appeal on the catwalk, but advances in multi-material printers may make that treatment unnecessary in the near future. If this technology becomes more common, you will soon simply step into a scanner and then select the desired material to create a custom-fabricated 3D-printed pair of pants that won't bunch at the waist.