NPR Interview: 3D Printing Without Limits, Body Parts, Sharing Culture

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NPR Science Friday 3D Printing

NPR held a special radio feature on 3D printing during their Science Friday program. Ira Flatow interviewed industry consultant Terry Wohlers, MakerBot CEO Bre Pettis, and Cornell Associate Professor Hod Lipson.

What if you needed a new toothbrush and all you had to do was hit print? What if doctors could print out transplantable organs and pastry chefs turned to a printer, not a kitchen, for their next creation? Ira Flatow and a panel of guests discuss 3D printing technology, how far it’s come and what a 3D-printed-future could look like.

Topics ranged from basic background information to detailed questions. Read the highlights below and then listen to the full radio program.

What is 3D printing? What is the MakerBot?

Terry Wohlers and Bre Pettis gave a nice overview of what 3D printing is. Here is Bre’s explanation of what the MakerBot does.

The MakerBot replicator uses one of two plastics. You can either make things in ABS plastic, which is what LEGO is made out of, or you can use PLA, which is the plastic that’s made from corn. And then you get your plastic on spools, and it kind of looks like a big spool of spaghetti.

And the spaghetti goes into the machine, and it draws a picture in plastic, and then it goes up a little bit, and layer after layer, it creates your model, and you can really create anything.

All the tools for designing things are becoming democratized. So 3D printing is getting democratized, the tools that make things are getting easier. You can use things like Tinkercad, which is free and online, and you’re off to the races and making things.

Will everyone have a 3D printer?

Comparisons were made to inkjets and microwaves. When first introduced into the market, these products were expensive and unfamiliar, but now they are common home appliances.

Even if, in the future, everyone does not have a 3D printer in the home, the experts suggested that people will have access to a 3D printer and will buy parts manufactured locally by a nearby 3D printer.

Can body parts be 3D printed?

It will happen in our lifetime. We are already 3D printing a replacement knee meniscus and have prototyped bone and organs.

Are there any limits to 3D printing?

For the first time in human history, making something complex with details that cannot be manufacturing through traditional processes is as simple as making a paperweight.

Current consumer machines are limited in size. MakerBot can print objects up to the size of a loaf of bread. But there are professional printers that can make much larger objects.

Hod Lipson’s team has a goal to print a robot, batteries included, that can walk off the printer.

The experts agreed that 3D printing will let us think about new breakthroughs in product design.

Culture of Sharing

The 3D printing community is very collaborative and are building off of each other’s successes. This allows for continuous innovation through a culture of sharing.


Via NPR.

Science museum photo by chooyutshing used under Creative Commons license.

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2 Responses to NPR Interview: 3D Printing Without Limits, Body Parts, Sharing Culture

  1. bruce klassen says:

    “can body parts be printed” look up the company Organovo Holdings ltd (ONVO), and you’ll see it’s not soon, but NOW.

  2. [...] is the latest report from NPR. Back in June, they also discussed 3D [...]

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