3D Printing Makes Dreams (and Fastballs) Come True: Plus the case for 2000-year-old concrete and more

Plus, the case for 2000-year-old concrete and a vision for the future of Additive Mfg

 Hailey Dawson prepares to pitch with her 3D-printed hand

Hailey Dawson stretches before her pitch. Source: Screen shot

What’s trending in product design this week? A new vision for additive manufacturing, science answers new questions with old materials, and how a 3D-printed hand helping a little girl make her baseball fantasies come true.

Yes, 3D is really all that—but can it be even more?

It’s true that 3D printing helps the manufacturing value chain, but are current solutions meeting speed, cost, and quality standards necessary for broad adoption? According to this piece in Industry Week, 3D could be doing better. They suggest this “dream scenario” (we love dream scenarios):

An open, online market where users can pick among numerous materials from multiple name-brand material manufacturers, who are competing on quality, price, and service, rather than the traditional environment where the manufacturer has selected a 3-D printer and it is bound to material supply defined and managed by the 3-D printer supplier.

Where do we sign up?

 Raw printer plastic on rolls

ABS wire plastic for 3d printer of different colors

More materials: Ancient Rome reveals secrets of durable concrete

Many Roman structures like buildings, bridges, arches, roads, piers, and breakwaters made from concrete still exist—strong and intact for more than 2,000 years. How is this even possible?

Ask researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and the University of Utah. Led by Marie Jackson, a professor of geology and geophysics, she and her team examined thin sections of the concrete under an electron microscope to map the distribution of minerals.

 They also used X-ray microdiffraction methods to learn more about the chemistry and structure of the minerals occupying the microfractures. X-ray microdiffraction measures an average signal from many tiny mineral grains, providing high resolution and fast data collection.

 The result? Contrary to the principles of modern cement-based concrete,” says Jackson the Romans created a rock-like concrete that thrives in open chemical exchange with seawater.”

This is what 2000-year-old Roman concrete looks like. Source: Marie Jackson / Berkeley Lab

3D technology pitches in

 We all know that additive manufacturing is transforming the medical field, from low-cost prosthetics to customized protective devices. But Hailey Dawson’s story really drives home how personal the technology has become.

Engineers at UNLV fitted Dawson, who was born with three missing fingers, with a 3D-printed hand controlled by fishing line. A baseball fan, the 7-year-old soon aspired to use the prosthetic to help her throw out the first pitch at every major league baseball park in the US.

 Sure it was a big ask, but once Dawson’s message and photo went out on Twitter, they quickly found their way to all the right people. It was just a matter of time before MLB teams throughout the country stepped up to invite her to their games.  You can see how the 3D hand works (and one of her impressive throws) in this video:

 It turns out that 3D technology isn’t just about product development, prototypes, cost savings, and all those other practical benefits we so often talk about in these pages. It’s also very much about making dreams come true in ways not possible even a few years ago.

The Future of Design

With technology always changing, it can be difficult to know where product development is going next. Download PTC’s “10 Expert Insights: The Future of Product Design in the Age of Smart & Connected Devices.” Learn from industry leaders as they predict how you will be designing products in the near future to help you stay ahead in our rapidly changing industry.