Brain Food: The Future is Here in the Form of 3D Printing

Feb 20, 2014

Suppose you need a wrench, or a knee replacement, or a hamburger. David Winslow Van Ness says, not a problem. In the not-too-distant future, just print one out.

A 3D printer-created sculpture by David Winslow Van Ness
Credit Photo courtesy of David Winslow Van Ness

“I think this year’s going to be the year of the 3D printer, in a lot of ways. You look at companies like MakerBot, you look at some of their competitions on Kickstarter. You’re going to see, this is going to be the year of the 3D printer because I think finally there’s consumer-level products that are under $1,000 that are a very low entry point into the game,” Van Ness says.

Van Ness is a sculptor, lecturer and coordinator of foundations in the School of Arts at Northern Arizona University. The 3D printer is as much a part of his classroom as a sculpting tool. Art students can take pictures of all sides of an object and ask the printer to build it.

“The stuff that we can do now, at least at the consumer level, is what we call fused film fabrication. And that basically means we’re extruding almost like a hot glue gun on a plate that slowly recedes away from a printer head,” he says.

But, says Van Ness, our 3D printer cartridges of the future could be loaded with a number of malleable materials like plastics, clay, concrete, amino acids and other organic substances.

“You can print in titanium, you can print in food, even now — they’ve got pizza makers,” Van Ness says.

From art and food, to jewelry and body parts, Van Ness believes the 3D printer will transform our lives.

“It’s finally at a level consumers can purchase these machines … and it’s a new toy. Let’s not deny that — it’s a new sort of fun thing that you can make objects from nothing. It makes you think of those replicators from ‘Star Trek’ or something. You can’t deny that sort of fun factor of just seeing something arise out of nowhere,” he says.

So maybe the replicator isn’t such a far off dream after all.