The coolest 3D-printed things at the RAPID conference

Products ranged from UAVs and jet engines to human skull and knee replacements

  • From wardrobes to war machines, this year's show did not disappoint

    In each of its 26 years, the RAPID Printing & Additive Manufacturing Conference has raised the bar for the level of sophistication of things that can be created using 3D printing techniques. This year's conference in Orlando, Florida, showcased products ranging from military unmanned aerial vehicles and jet engines to human skull and knee replacements and even a full-sized, working R2D2. Here are some of the more interesting and complex objects that were on hand. Pictured: The world's first 3D-printed UAV Stratasys and Aurora Flight Sciences manufacture the world’s first 3D-printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The UAV, which has a 9-foot wingspan and weighs 33 pounds, is 80% 3D printed and was completed in half the time needed by traditional manufacturing methods. The video screen behind the aircraft shows images taken as the UAV was in flight. Stratasys used its Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process, which relies on production-grade thermoplastics extruded layer by layer on a platform. The aircraft can reach speeds in excess of 150 mph. Images and text: Lucas Mearian
  • Kayak built by one huge 3D printer This 12-foot kayak was 3D printed using carbon and glass fiber reinforced ABS plastic materials by Cincinnati Incorporated (CI) and its Big Area Additive Manufaturing (BAAM) machine. The BAAM 3D printer has a massive working area -- 5.4-foot x 11.6-foot x 2.8-foot -- and a material extrusion rate of about 38 lbs/hr. CI also makes a 3D printer with an 8-foot x 20-foot x 6-foot print area. CI claims its machine prints polymer components up to 10 times larger than most industry machines, at speeds 1,000 times faster than others.

  • A functional jet engine build with selective laser melting Amaero Engineering and Monash University created this jet turbine engine using selective laser melting (SLM), where powdered metal is laid layer by layer on a bed. As each powder layer is laid down, a laser draws out the shape of a part, melting it to the previous layer. Amaero's SLM printers have a build area roughly 25-in. x 15 3/4-in. x 19 3/40-in.

  • Custom printed porous skull implant This porous, tailored skull implant was printed by Alphaform AG using a direct metal laser sintering 3D printer from Electro Optical Systems (EOS). A porous structure was needed for a patient in Argentina who required a particularly large implant after stroke-related surgery. The implant allowed for passage of fluids, heat dissipation and the ability to fuse with bone tissue of the skull itself.

  • A working, 3D-printed R2D2 3D Fuel printed this life-size, working R2D2. The remote-controlled model took three months to build. The only parts not 3D printed were the circuit boards, the aluminum dome, and the main body cover. The R2D2 is controlled via a Playstation remote control.

  • Tetrahedral mesh This self-supporting mesh was created by Florida Polytechnic University using fused deposition modeling -- the most common form of 3D printing, where polymers are heated and extruded layer by layer to create a form. The structure is strong, yet lightweight and can be created so it's strong in some areas, softer in others.

  • Orion spacecraft crew module Lockheed Martin, FARO Technologies, Direct Dimensions, Met-L-Flo, the Florida Institute of Technology and Cincinnati Inc. used the first-ever 3D scan of the Orion crew module, and 3D-printed a small-scale replica. The module, which is still under development, is intended to carry humans into space to explore asteroids and eventually Mars. Cincinnati Inc. used its Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine to create the model.

  • 3D-printed car engines and other parts This model engine block was 3D printed using selective laser melting. While it may only be a model, car manufacturers have been early adopters of 3D printing for rapid prototying. Ford Motor Co., for example, uses more than a half dozen 3D printing technologies to churn out more then 20,000 parts annually that include everything from air intake manifold prototypes to sand castings used for injection molding.

  • Patient-specific device manufacturing The market for 3D printing is expected to grow to $16.2 billion by 2018, according to research firm Canalys. In medicine, 3D printing is being used to create synthetic heart valves, skin grafts and even to print organ tissue. Currently, tissue is being used for drug testing, not replacing body parts. Another fast advancing use for 3D printing is to create surgical cutting guides -- jigs that direct a surgeon's incisions. Here, a 3D-printed femoral cutting guide was used by matching it to a knee joint procedures to assist the surgeon in reconstructive surgery.

  • Big 3D manufacturing While the majority of 3D printers at RAPID have a build area measured in inches, this fused deposition modeling machine from BigRep GmbH had a build volume of more than one cubic meter. So what do you make with a 3D printer than can fit a human inside it? The BigRep ONE 3D printer has been used by HTW Berlin Motorsports to 3D print a mold for its race car.

  • A titanium hip This is a 3D-printed hip made from a patient's CT scan. The hip ball and socket is made of 3D-printed titanium. The specialized orthopedic 3D printer from Arcam AB uses an electron beam melting technique to bind titanium powder layer by layer into the implant's shape. The technique is similar to selective laser sintering.

  • 3D-printed clothing 3D printers have long been used to print parts of clothing -- from insignia on sports caps to Nike's 3D printing cleats and shoe soles. At RAPID 2016, Sculpteo sponsored a fashion show featuring whole clothing lines that were 3D printed -- shoes, skirts, tops and all. Here, a 3D printed dress, jacket and shoes designed by Israeli fashion designer Danit Peleg are being displayed.

  • 3D-printed electric motorized skateboard Grant Thomas-Lepore, director of products and support at Stratasys subsidiary GrabCAD, holds a 3D printed, electric-motorized skateboard. The skateboard can be controlled by a smartphone using hand gestures.

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