3D Printing Technology: DIY Drugstores and Fashion - Technology and Science


Perhaps The Jetson’s Food-a-Rac-a-Cycle is a concept that may not actually come to fruition. The thought of Jane Jetson pushing a button and having a hot meal appear seemingly out of nowhere is a bit far fetched. However, this type of mind blowing, shop-from-home technology is not an impossibility. Maybe it won’t be a 5-course dinner at the push of a button but clothing, accessories, household items and even medications are currently in development or already available instantaneously due to advances in 3D printing technology.

Last month, the University of Glasgow made headlines with their innovative concept for DIY drugstores. Essentially, anyone who owns a 3D printer could eventually have the capabilities of ordering and printing their own pharmaceuticals from home. The University published a research paper in Nature Chemistry outlining their findings.

The team, which included Professor Lee Cronin, Gardiner Chair of Chemistry at the University, was able to use a commercially available 3D printer to create medicine. Instead of using ink, they use what they refer to as “open-source computer-aided design software” and chemicals to create a chemical reaction. In the next couple of decades this breakthrough technology could be commonplace in households.

Companies like MakerBot, have paved the way in offering affordable at home 3D printing to the masses. 3D geeks and tech-nerds went nuts for the MakerBot, which sells for under $2,000.  Yet, strides have been made to reduce this already low price dramatically.

Sam Cervantes, a former COO at MakerBot, has struck out on his own and recently announced the creation of Solidoodle, a 3D printer that comes complete with a “large 6x6x6 build area.” Not only that, but more importantly, this printer’s price is a staggeringly low $499, making it possible for just about anyone to print key chains and bottle openers from the comfort of their own home and opening up a whole new industry to the retail market.

A new trend developed this year at New York Fashion Week: 3D printed fashion. Designer Asher Levin teamed up with MakerBot to create 3D printed sunglasses which were a hit on the runways. Not only that, but using MakerBot’s sister site, Thingaverse (an online forum where 3D design junkies can upload their design plans for use by other 3D enthusiasts), anyone can print their own designer sunglasses straight from the runway.

Fashion designer Iris Van Herpen (a favorite of both Bjork and Lady Gaga) is one of the pioneers of 3D couture fashion. Herpen’s Winter 2011 and Spring 2012 collections (Escapism and Micro respectively) were both done in the innovative medium. Bjork, who just wrapped up a residency in New York City in support of her album Biophilia, took the stage each night adorned in a stunning blue dress based off of the Escapism collection.

Couture 3D fashion is hitting the ground running, literally. 3D Shoes were another trend at Fashion Week this year. The sci-fi-esque designs were a big hit with those in the audience but perhaps not so loved by the models. A recent article entitled, These Shoes are Made for Printing, on the Smithsonian Magazine website, described the 3D shoe’s comfort:

Most polymers used in 3D printers are too hard and inflexible to make a comfortable shoe, although fashion students and designers have not been deterred from producing them, if only for one lap down a runway.

Naim Josefi, creator of The Melonia Shoe, which claims to be “The First 3D printed ‘couture’ shoe in the world”, envisions a world where the consumer walks into the store, has their foot scanned, picks a design and immediately has a shoe created to “exactly fit the shape of your feet.”

So, what does all of this mean for the average consumer?

Aside from products designed specifically for the consumer, they’ll be able to consume on the spot. As at home 3D printing is steadily declining in price and advancement continues in the material capabilities of these printers, instant gratification is a mouse click away. A woman getting ready for a date who can’t find the perfect pair of black stilettos in her closet, can simply log online, purchase and instantly print a pair of shoes just as the doorbell rings.