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Amazing Ways People are Using 3D Printers for Good, Not Guns

Even though anyone willing to shell out $850,000 on a 3D metal printer can now produce fully functioning guns in the legal comfort of their own home, it’s not time to cry foul on the emerging technology. A lot of other people are creating some amazingly innovative and non-lethal things that won’t leave you wondering which 3D-printed guns can and can’t be detected by metal detectors.

Engineers, for example, have long enjoyed using 3D printers to pop out quick prototypes made of thin plastic filament, layered on top of itself to create solid objects. Over the years, the machines have become more advanced, now capable of providing us with other, more widely useful applications, from car parts to body parts. And printers are becoming cheaper, too, meaning it’s becoming a lot easier for people to buy them for personal use.

So let’s take a moment to appreciate some of the things 3D printing is great for — other than terrifying the whole world.

1. Prosthetics
At this year’s London 3D Printshow, design firm Fripp Design & Research unveiled eerily lifelike prostheses. By the printer method, researchers have been able to use digital cameras to capture the likeness of an injured area, along with the patient’s skin tone, to create a digital model of the needed part before sending it off to a Z Corp Z510 color 3D printer. This costs about the same as a handcrafted prosthetic, but because the parts often become damaged over time, replacements can be made quickly for only about $150.

2. Bones
Researchers at Washington State University have been able to print off replacement bones for patients needing orthopedic or dental procedures. When the structures are placed surgically next to actual bone, they act as a bridge, helping the bone repair itself and then dissolving with “no apparent ill effects.”

3. Pizza
NASA debuted a pizza printer at Austin’s SXSW Eco in September. They’re still working on getting the recipe right — the pizza they baked at the expo was made of dough topped with ketchup and cream cheese. Almost, but not quite, guys. A heated plate bakes the dish as it comes out.

4. Clothes
Back in March, Nike started printing a football cleat called the Vapor Laser Talon, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, are said to help athletes run faster. Footwear rival New Balance is also using the technology to scan customers’ feet and print out shoes made just for them in nylon polymer.

5. Guitars
Unlike violins, whose shape and sound doesn’t stray far from the classic standard, there’s a lot more freedom in guitar design and material use. It’s also possible to print acoustic guitars. Designer Scott Summit printed one last year, having spent his childhood lusting after a $3,000 model like Jerry Garcia’s. He didn’t have high expectations for the guitar’s sound quality, but apparently it works alright. Summit is already envisioning a future where musicians order custom guitars to produce unique sounds.

6. Stem cells
Animal testing could happily become obsolete with the technology Alan Faulkner-Jones demonstrated this year at London’s 3D Printshow. The Heriot-Watt University researcher says his modified MakerBot printer spits out micro-tissues and micro-organs that, in maybe five years’ time, could be used to test prescription drugs, sparing rats and bunnies while also providing more accurate results.

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