Recap: 3D Printing Innovations for December 31, 2023 – Surgical Implants, Probiotics, Drones and More


We’re initiating this New Year’s Eve edition with a focus on research in metal 3D printing. Our journey then extends to the realm of a 3D printed surgical model and probiotics research. We conclude with an insight into space education via 3D printing and Ukraine’s 3D printed military drones.

Investigative Approach to Evaluate Protective Capabilities of 3D Printed Metal Constructs

A group of scientists from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and IMDEA Materials Institute have developed an inventive experimental technique for fragmentation tests. This method is designed to analyze the protective features of 3D printed metal constructs. The novel technique provides a quicker and adaptable way of testing these materials’ mechanical performance, specifically their energy absorption capacity during impact. Its applications can be seen in fields like civil and aerospace engineering and aeronautics. In their published research, the scientists delineate their fragmentation tests on a 3D printed circular, conical-nosed projectile at impact speeds that reach up to 400 meters per second. They derived the optimal distribution regarding size and shape of the pores from the printing method, their effect on crack formation, and its propagation. The team affirms that their technique entails lesser operational costs compared with systems utilizing electromagnetic techniques or explosives. Given its in-situ experimentation capability, it might assist in offshoring the production of protective constructs.

José Antonio Rodríguez Martínez, a Senior Lecturer at UC3M and a Visiting Researcher at IMDEA Materials, developed this research within the framework of PURPOSE, a European Union ERC Starting Grant (GA 758056) project. He explained, “This technique will ultimately tell us whether metal 3D printing is a viable technique for building protective structures. In the US there are already specific programmes promoted by the Department of Defence and the Department of Energy to fund this line of research, so we hope that the European Union and the Government of Spain will also develop a long-term vision that will allow us to bring the fundamental research we are carrying out into engineering practice.”

3D Printed Infection-Resistant Metals for Surgical Implants

Washington State University (WSU) researchers developed a novel surgical implant that was 3D printed out of an infection-resistant metal, which could lead to better infection control in common surgeries like knee and hip replacements. One of the top causes of failure and bad outcomes for these surgeries is bacterial colonization of the implants, as the commonly used titanium materials aren’t great at overcoming infections. While doctors can try to treat this with systemic antibiotics, surgical implant infections can also result in a revision surgery where the implant is removed and a new one put in. The WSU team added 3% copper and 10% corrosion-resistant tantalum to the typical titanium alloy, and found that it was able to kill 87% of the bacteria that cause staph infections in laboratory tests, while also remaining strong and compatible with the surrounding tissue and implant.

“Infection is a problem for which we do not have a solution. In most cases, the implant has no defensive power from the infection. We need to find something where the device material itself offers some inherent resistance — more than just providing drug-based infection control,” explained Amit Bandyopadhyay, corresponding author on the team’s research paper and Boeing Distinguished Professor in WSU’s School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “Here we’re saying, why not change the material itself and have inherent antibacterial response from the material itself?”

3D Printed Model Helps During Life-Saving Facial Reconstruction

Speaking of surgery, what Alison Hough from Staffordshire first thought was a sinus infection was eventually confirmed to be a cancerous tumor in her nose and brain cavity, and she was given just two weeks to live. But specialists at Royal Stoke University Hospital had access to 3D printing, which surgeon Daya Gahir said “made all the difference to treatment.” They 3D printed a model to better understand, and plan the removal of, the tumor, as well as to help reconstruct some of her features. The facial reconstruction surgery was challenging, but the level of planning the 3D printed model allowed the surgeons meant it was a success. Hough had a lot of support after the surgery, and she is now cancer-free, with only a minor operation on her lip needed to complete her treatment. She wanted to share her story to raise money for the UHNM charity, which helps fund hospital equipment.

“In a lot of hospitals units, this would most certainly have been written off as inoperable, and she would likely have been subject to palliative care,” Gahir stated, thereby demonstrating how 3D printing can indeed save lives.

Enhancing the Efficacy of Probiotics on Gut Health with the Help of a 3D Food Printer

Probiotics, which are living microorganisms, are beneficial to gut health and can provide protection against chronic diseases. Unfortunately, environmental factors like stomach acids can sometimes hamper the transport of the active microorganisms in some probiotics to the gastrointestinal tract. A study funded by a USDA-NIFA grant and conducted by food science and nutrition researchers at the University of Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, is utilizing 3D food printers to enhance the benefits that probiotics can deliver to gut health. The aim is to safeguard probiotics during food processing, transportation, storage, and consumption. The researchers are utilizing 3D food printing to envelop probiotics within pH-sensitive microgel beads made of alginate pectin that can withstand highly acidic conditions but will dissolve in the lower-acid environments present in the colon. These beads are made from probiotics blended with corn-based starchy material to create a gel-like ink, which is then incorporated into cookies and yogurt for viability assessment.

“During almost all the processing steps, the probiotics are exposed to external pressures like temperature, so we are trying to make them stable during food processing,” explained Ali Ubeyitogullari, assistant professor of food engineering in the food science and biological and agricultural engineering departments. “With 3D printing, we can precisely locate and encapsulate them at the same time. And this can be infused directly into the product, where you deal with the right amount and position.”

Space Foundation Discovery Center Remodel Includes 3D Printing Lab

The Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs recently closed to undergo a $3 million renovation and expansion, which is meant to increase interest in space—one of the world’s fastest growing economic sectors—and help students consider careers in the field. The foundation wants to increase in-person visits from 300,000 total over the last ten years to about 100,000 people annually within five years after reopening. With what it has planned for the center, this shouldn’t be too difficult. In addition to a new drone zone and upgrades to its Mars Robotics Laboratory and Science on a Sphere, the renovation will also add 3D printers to a dedicated lab focused on interactive learning about additive manufacturing, which is used often now to build durable, reliable parts and rocket engines for space.

Visitors to the new drone zone can experience flying NASA’s Ingenuity drone in Mars’ low-atmosphere through virtual opportunities and various learning resources. A new console, illustrating piloting satellites from Earth, underscores the key tasks of the U.S. Space Force. Witnessing a high concentration of Space Force guardians in Colorado Springs, the center is frequently patronized by the children of these servicemen. Donations for the center’s renovation have been made by its military community volunteers, as well as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrup Grumman. The grand reopening is scheduled for this upcoming April.

Long-Range 3D Printed Drones Tested by Ukrainian Army

An American-Ukrainian NGO commissioned the donation of 3D printed long-range Titan Falcon drones to the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) from Germany’s Donaustahl GmbH. Two out of three drones are undergoing testing in operational environments by the Ukrainian military for adaptability in diverse terrains. The drone, designed by Titan Dynamics, aims to maximize efficacy, increase range, reduce production costs, and improve 3D printed UAVs.

This 3D printed drone, with a flight range of 400 kilometers and a flight time of six hours, features a real-time surveillance FPV camera. It further strengthens its recon capacity with a 2.5″ lens camera. Germany is not the first in aiding Ukraine with 3D printed military support. In 2023, under a secretive program, the U.K. developed and introduced a variety of 3D printed drones for Ukraine’s military use. Consequently, the U.S. Department of Defense provided Ukraine with seven large SPEE3D printers, useful for the rapid construction of critical fixtures such as hinges and brackets for optional military machinery.

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