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Design Your Own Meal: Printing Just Got Real

Exciting recent technological developments have led to the incredible ability to print solid three dimensional objects with the use of 3D printers. Objects can be designed and then printed using new digital technology which has been developed by manufacturing companies across the globe.

So how exactly does it work? Firstly, the printer processes a 3D digital representation of an object created by a design programme. It then reads the object in 2D slices. The chosen material of the object is put into the printer, to then be built up layer by layer. After a few hours, when the layers have been bonded through the melting or depositing of the material, the product will be fully formed and ready to use.

This new technology means that almost any 3D object could potentially be printed as it allows for extremely intricate designs to be created. Printable objects include toys, clothes, jewellery or incredibly, even your own dinner.

3D-printed food by Janne Kytannen

Lucy, a third year Product Design and Engineering student from Nottingham, outlines the pros of the new technology: ‘As a product designer, it gives you almost complete design freedom as there is no need to remove parts created from moulds, as there is in traditional methods. This means that overhangs, undercuts and whole assemblies can be printed in one step. We already use 3D printers to build prototypes of our designs.’

She goes on to explain the future applications of the technology, ‘The possibilities are so, so vast. It could mean that any material that can be extruded or turned into powder could be created into any shape. Research is already looking into food, human tissue and metals for use in aerospace. Although some of these are still a way off yet.’

Despite 3D printers, in their various forms, being around for decades and the term “3D Printing” first emerging in 1996, they do not seem to be well known in the public domain. It is only in this decade that 3D printers have become widely available.

Lucy also added that, ‘Home 3D printers are now on the market for less than £1000. I really don’t see it being more than a few years until everyone has experience with 3D printed parts.’

The price of 3D printers has considerably dropped since the first commercial model was released and prices are predicted to fall even further, making 3D printers more widely available to purchase.

The 3D printers, already at use in industrial processes, have been under scrutiny as to whether they belong or have a potential use within the home. Designers have indicated that they could be particularly useful for the printing of replacement parts for domestic appliances, such as vacuum cleaners.

There are, however, causes for concern about what a popularisation of 3D printers will mean for the income of businesses and also online sites such as Amazon and Ebay, as an increasing amount of people might have the option to design and print their own products from the comfort of their own home.

Despite these concerns, 3D printing has already led to many practical advances in medical technology. Hearing aids, for example can be printed so that they fit the user’s ear perfectly. The medical world has also been involved in the latest developments in the possibilities of 3D printing to include the ability to print the tissue of vital organs, such as hearts. The use of 3D “Bio-Printing” technology could play a crucial role in organ tissue replacement and the creation of prosthetic limbs, for example, in the future. This again has led to inevitable ethical and moral questions, as how far this leading technology can go in this area, is yet to be fully debated.

In more recent news, in March of this year, a motorcyclist who was seriously injured in a road accident was able to have parts of his face rebuilt through 3D printed parts.

Most media attention surrounding the 3D printing hype has, however, been focused on the possibility of printing your own meal. Printed food, which surprisingly looks exactly like normal food and is created with different food inks, have been tried, and even more surprisingly enjoyed, by several curious reviewers. More specifically, NASA have also been experimenting with the possibilities of printing food, such as pizza, to liven up the dinner menu for astronauts.

Although this, like many advances brought about by 3D printing, is still in the developmental stages and new possibilities are evolving all the time it seems that 3D printing will play a significant role in the future of modern society whether we like it or not.  

With the possibility of 3D printers revolutionising our world in so many different areas, watch out for those pop-out products coming soon to a 3D printer near you.


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Edited by Caroline Chan 

Katy is a final year English Student. She loves writing, attempting to learn to Ballroom dance and all things Disney. She hopes to work in an advertising agency after Graduation as a copywriter.
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