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Need to Know

New Dimensions

FYI: The Rundown

November 2014

“3-D printing will have the most dramatic growth of any industry in the world over the next 10 years,” predicts Alan Meckler, who organizes the annual Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo taking place in cities around the world.

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Indeed, 3-D printing is already sparking big business. In July 2014, General Electric announced a US$50 million facility that will print 3-D jet engine parts, and Amazon launched a new store featuring 3-D-printed products such as cell phone cases and personalized cuff links. Here are five categories that just took on a new dimension with the help of technology and imagination.

Architecture

They say a man’s home is his castle, but why not just go ahead and print a castle you can call your own? That’s what American building contractor Andrey Rudenko did, printing a backyard citadel made of a mixture of concrete and sand. OK, OK, so his test version is really only a single-level children’s playhouse, but now he’s using what he learned to print a custom two-story house. Unfortunately, there will be no battlements the second time around.

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Fashion

For a few years, designers like Iris van Herpen have been printing intricate artistic creations worn by fashion-forward stars like Lady Gaga and Bjork. But 3-D-printed clothing seems to be swiftly stepping off the runway and onto the racks. In August 2014, 3D Systems and United Nude debuted The Float. Still more concept than comfort, the shoes were printed in United Nude’s flagship New York, New York, store using 3D Systems’ US$999 Cube 3-D printers designed for home use. Now, who’s going to get to work on printing a pair of jeans that actually fit right?

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Historical Replications

Can’t make it to the Smithsonian to see staff preparing the new T. Rex? What if you could just go ahead and print your own replica at home? That’s part of what a talented team at the Washington DC museum is currently working on, hoping to give researchers and students a leg up in their learning. And historians won’t have a bone to pick with the 3-D-printed skeleton of King Richard III at a new museum in Leicester, England, dedicated to the fifteenth-century ruler. The authentic replica even details his battle wounds, including the blow that brought him down.

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Narcissistic Homages Executives looking for unique gifts for employees as the holiday season approaches can order personalized 3-D-printed bobbleheads of themselves from Mixee Labs for US$25 a pop. But why not go all in and get that full-size wax replica of yourself that you’ve always wanted for the office? China’s Qingdao Unique Products Develop Company proved it’s possible when it showcased its giant printer at the second World 3D Printing Technology Industry Conference and Exhibition in June 2014. The printer, retailing for US$98,000, can print a wax replica for anyone under 6 feet 6, meaning that Shaquille O’Neal will need to find another gift idea for this holiday season.

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Food

Here’s an idea we’re really sweet on: Students at MIT hacked a Cuisinart soft-serve machine, then modified a Solidoodle printer to use a liquid ice cream base and liquid nitrogen to print out ready-to-eat desserts in fanciful shapes. And it seems we’re just getting started with a food-replicating revolution. 3D Systems is launching a pair of ChefJet printers for the kitchen, allowing home chefs to print DIY candies and other sweet treats in mint, vanilla, chocolate, and more at a premium. To get a printer, deep-pocketed chefs will need to be prepared to pay in the thousands of dollars.

Photography by Shutterstock