For a few years now we've been wondering at all the possibilities that lay in store for 3D printing. Most of what's come out of this brilliant marriage of CAD software and mechanical extruders so far has been lots of small plastic chess pieces and other plastic trinkets, but lately we're starting to see 3D printing pushed to new heights, with some pretty remarkable results. Here's our brief list of some of the coolest items to come out of a 3D printer so far.
The iPhone Phone
The iPhone phone can be found on Thingiverse, a community of 3D printable objects and source designs, and is one of the coolest examples I've seen of a very simple printed object - functional, hip and kind of funny. Designed for "The Absurd iPhone Accessory Contest," it's an example of form over function with its creator saying he's unsure how how much sound will be picked up and make it through the case, which covers the speaker and microphone. Although he's added a chamber below the speaker/mic and holes up to the mouth piece so he imagines "something will come out."
A wearable bikini
Who says 3D printer fans don't spend much time at the beach? This printed swimwear works just as well as a bikini produced by more traditional means - in fact its designers say it actually becomes more comfortable to wear in the water. It's not cheap though - a full outfit will set you back a few hundred dollars.
The Smithsonian Institution turned to 3D printing as a means of taking some its priceless historical articles out on the road. The Smithsonian has begun the process of digitizing some of its extensive collections for replication using systems like RedEye on Demand. Funding is scarce for the project, but so far they say they've managed to create a replica of a statue of Thomas Jefferson that is the largest such 3D printed historical copy of its kind.
A working clock
An old analog clock with tons of gears is a pretty complicated device that relies on precision we once thought required hand-crafting. Today, 3D printing offers such precision it was just a matter of time until someone used this newest of technologies to create a functional object that is truly old school. There's several clock designs out there for 3D printers, but the most intricate seems to be this one from syvwlch in the Thingiverse community.
Prosthetics are an obvious and ideal application for 3D printing, and in one of the most dramatic examples a printed lower jaw implant restored one elderly patient's bite. Replacement hands, limbs and other body parts have also been designed and printed.
PL1Q Vampire quadcopter
If a clock and all its requisite gears can be printed, it's not much of a leap to print a working quadcopter with all the needed rotors. The Swedish designer that created the Vampire printed the entire frame, but the electronics and some of the moving parts came separately.
Urbee hybrid car
This rather strange looking disc of a car was the first that we'd ever heard of that used the 3D printing process to create the frames of its prototypes. 3D printing pioneer Stratasys printed out the chassis using a process called fused deposition modeling. While you won't be able to whip this up with a consumer desktop 3D printer, it's an reminder of the industrial origins of 3D printing.
Once the 3D printing revolution began it was only a matter of time until we arrived at this point - inventor Enrico Dini's D-shape "3D building system." Essentially, it's a huge 3D printer that uses a combination of extruded liquid adhesive compound on a bed of sand with a solid catalyst mixed in. The huge printer makes a couple of passes to create a solid structure. The whole process takes only a quarter the time of traditional building techniques. Here's a trailer for a documentary about the inventor and invention:
That's just some of the 3D printed items that provide a glimpse at what is possible using this technology that is still in it's relative infancy. If you have some notable examples of items we may have missed or some suggestions for items you'd like to see extruded from a 3D printer we'd love to hear them in the comments.