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The Wonderful World of Three-Dimensional Printing

I started work in 1975, as an apprentice communications engineer. During that wonderful autumn, I spent my time happily cruising around the local area with my supervising engineer, learning the art of installing and repairing telephones to residential addresses.

In the sleepy West Sussex town of East Grinstead (which was reasonably affluent), and the surrounding villages, many of the houses were large, and a number of our calls were to fit extension phones, extension bells or small House Exchange Systems.

House Exchange Telephone, circa 1970

Several customers worked from home, and their business needs in terms of equipment were relatively simple. Most had a second telephone line, and extension phones running from each. Some had a Telex machine, and some even had a very basic facsimile machine.

A good old fashioned Telex machine, circa 1970

No computers – all documents were created using typewriters, and I saw anything from a basic “sit up and beg” manual machine through to upmarket IBM “golf ball” typewriters.

IBM Selectric Electric Golfball Typewriter

It may appear strange to think that a home office could be so simple.

Surrounded by high tech, virtually every modern home has equipment that would make a 1975 businessman green with envy.

Inkjet printers that deliver reasonable quality may be bought in your local supermarket for under £100, and a home computer (with a massive 1 Terabyte of memory) will cost only £279.00 from PC World! Wi-Fi connectivity, and the ability to stream feature films in high definition is now commonplace.

My first printer was a Canon Bubble Jet printer, which occupied a corner of my desk. It was hard wired to my very basic desktop PC.

My latest set up is a full colour laser printer, which is attached to my home network by Wi-Fi, meaning that I can send a print request from my iPhone or iPad from anywhere in the house. It also has its own email address, so I can even send a document to be printed from anywhere in the world – not that I see much demand for this feature.

Laser printers used to cost thousands. They can now be obtained for a few hundred pounds.

Advances in software and computer processing, and a good deal of lateral thinking has enabled the development of three-dimensional printers.

In a previous article, “What do Mars and Bicycles Have in Common?” I asked whether science fact followed science fiction, or vice versa.

One of the original “Pulp Sci-Fi” magazines that my dear old Dad used to read, and give to me… 2/6d (12.5p)

It seems that in the case of three-dimensional printing, fact followed fiction.

The first documented reference to three-dimensional printing, (as far as I can prove) was made in the Sci-Fi story entitled “Tools of the Trade”, written by Raymond F Jones, and published in the November 1950 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. In the story, the author describes 3d printing as molecular spraying, but the principle was similar to what we now commonly refer to as 3D Printing.

During the early 1970s, a patent was filed by Johannes F Gottwald which described the principles and processes of 3D printing using liquid metals to form reusable structures, however, the technology and materials to develop the concept was unavailable.

It wasn’t until the 1980s, that the concept of 3D printing was seriously considered, and a number of early prototypes were under development from different designers and printer manufacturers.

As the technology was in its infancy, costs were very high – a basic 3D printer in the 80s would have cost upwards of 300,000 US$ (£217,000). In today’s money that would be in the region of 742,000 US$ (£539,000) – so not a realistic proposition for a home office.

By 1993, however, 3D printers using inkjets that sprayed liquid polymers were being manufactured, and by the 2000s, the technology was being developed and refined, and industrial applications were launched that enabled metals to be printed.

Think for a moment, about the way that many metal items are manufactured. Molten metal may be poured into a mould, and the resulting casting must be machined to create the shape of the part required. This is normally performed by using lathes, milling machines under computer control, from a computer-produced 3D design. (CAD/CAM – Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing).

This may be referred to as subtractive manufacturing, where unrequired material is machined away, leaving the part completed. Whilst the waste product may be recycled, this takes effort, and incurs cost.

On the other hand, using a 3D printer to produce a part, say an engine mounting bracket for a car, is an additive manufacturing process, where the part is created from nothing, and built up in the correct shape, layer by layer.

No waste, and incredibly flexible, the 3D printing process allows complex shapes to be created in one hit, rather than a number of different milling machine processes.

3D printing is rapidly penetrating all sorts of new markets, some of which may surprise you.

How about 3D printed food?

Sound crazy?

Maybe not – several companies have developed 3D printers that print Vegan “Steaks” using vegetable proteins. If a mass-produced artificial steak has the same texture, taste and appearance as an animal steak, then many people may switch to the alternative, which may be better for personal health in terms of eating less red meats.

From a sustainability perspective, globally, livestock produce 14.5% of climate change gases, so if meat consumption may be reduced, then there would be a proportionate reduction in intensively farmed cattle.

A 3D food printer which uses plant proteins as ink, and mimicks the texture and taste of meat….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuseppe_Scionti

Would I try one?

Yes, without a doubt, and if they truly were a realistic alternative, and didn’t taste like Linda McCartney’s sausages, then I would no doubt enjoy the experience.

What else then?

How about using a 3D printer to build a house? Already, large scale 3D printers exist that extrude concrete, and 3D house are now being built as new developments, particularly in the USA.

This is quite groundbreaking, and an exciting development. Printed homes can be simply built in a fraction of the time that a conventional house takes. 3D printers can not only build floors, and walls, but can precisely extrude integrated channels for utilities, and mould ducting for air conditioning and electrical services.

A Concrete 3D printer constructing the walls of a building. How cool is that?

They also require far less labour to construct and are considerably cheaper than a conventional home of the same size.

The medical industry is also interested in 3D printing. Imagine being able to print a tablet which contains multiple medications, custom built for each patient. Instead of taking several tablets, a single multi-purpose pill could control a variety of medical conditions.

Imagine constructing an artificial heart, made of medical proteins and stem cells to recreate an exact replica of the patient’s original?

Prosthetic limbs printed quickly that precisely match a patient’s physiology!

Severely burnt individuals treated by repairing damage using artificial skin contoured and printed using a 3D printer delivering layers of bio-ink…

Science fiction?

No – Science Now!

Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh USA) have printed a 100% accurate replica human heart, which exhibits the same levels of elasticity as human heart tissue. Only as a pilot project so far, but this technology can and will take off.

A 3D printed human heart – Pilot now, future of transplants? Photo Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University PA USA

So, from the humble inkjet printer for bashing out a letter to Great Aunt Maud, to printing a three-bedroom house, 3D printing is here to stay.

Thank goodness for technology, eh?

Go Well…

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English Culture HEALTH Interview Living Organ Donation Organ Donor Organ Transplant Science

Giving the Ultimate Gift – The Gift of Life

A few years ago, SWMBO’s sister and her husband came to stay with us in rural Hampshire. They were taking a break from their round the world travels in their motorhome.

They had made their momentous decision to spend the rest of their lives travelling around the world, sampling local cultures and cusisines, scuba diving and backpacking – and all whilst doing this in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Trudy – Marianne and Chris’s home for their global trekking TREAD the Globe! Resting in my front garden.

This article isn’t intended to tell the story of their travels. That may be done by visiting their website Tread The Globe or visiting their YouTube channel here. I can say that they are definitley achieving what they set out to do.

Marianne and Chris Fisher – Now Wandering the World in Trudy. This is not how they normally dress….

This article is actually all about Marianne, my Sister-in-Law. (Sorry Chris!)

The word awesome is really overused these days. it seems that a nice meal is awesome. A film is awesome. Is this overkill?

When I use the term to describe Marianne Fisher, it’s actually well-deserved.

Why do I say this?

Well, Marianne took the astonishingly brave decision to become a living organ-donor, and gift one of her kidneys to a very seriously ill friend.

As she was staying with us, she was a legitimate (and captive) target for me and I used the opportunity to ask her a few questions about what was involved in her decision and with her permission to share it in an article on my website.

Marianne and SWMBO. Overlooking the river in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, UK

Now, I’m no Michael Parkinson or Jay Leno, but I think I managed to do a reasonable job…

A shaft of gloden sunlight streamed through the window, illuminating the compact living area of Marianne Fisher’s Motorhome, bathing us both in a warm yellow glow. Looking round the small area, I was having trouble visualising Marianne and Chris giving up all of their possessions and travelling the world in such a small vehicle.

For goodness sake! – my postman drives a bigger van!

Leaning back into the small sofa, Marianne smiled impishly, and said: “You better crack on then!” so I duly obliged and ‘cracked on’.

The first thing that I really wanted to know was what led her to make the momentous decision to become a living organ donor?

A serious look flits across her face, as she don’t switch tenses explaining to me that her long-standing friend – let’s call her Jane, had suffered from serious health problems for almost all of the thirty years she had known her. 

In a quiet voice Marianne continued, telling me that Jane had been the recipient of a kidney and pancreas transplant some eighteen years previously, but two years ago, the transplant started failing.

This resulted in her becoming diabetic, needing permanent regular dialysis. She had been placed into a medically-induced coma to increase her chances of surviving a successful medical intervention should another replacement kidney be found.   

“That sounds very serious – what happened next?” I prompted.

Regarding me levelly over the rim of her mug, she continued, explaining that there was another important factor that needed to be considered.

Jane was dying.

She was in such a fragile state of health, that a deceased donor was no longer an option, and only an organ from a living individual could be used.

Whilst Jane had a sibling, he too was in a fragile state of health, and Jane’s parents, whilst willing, were considered too old for the procedure to conducted safely.

Jane also had a fifteenyearold daughter, who would be left an orphan if no-one could be found.

Marianne appeared to brace herself, and told me that her own Mother passed away when she was just six years old, and that she subsequently went through a dreadful period which evidently still affects her today.

“I couldn’t let her go through that,” she murmured. So, she asked the medical team at Guys Hospital whether she could offer one of her kidneys to Jane.

“How did Chris take that decision?” I asked.

“I didn’t tell him at that point,” she said. “I needed to have all of the information before I wanted to discuss it with him.”

She went on: “I did tell him once I had that knowledge, and could answer his questions and needless to say, he was very concerned – not only for my safety but also for our family’s welfare.”

“Were you worried as well?” I asked, taking another gulp of my coffee.

She laughed. “Not at that point, because I didn’t really think it would happen.”

“So, you weren’t frightened by the enormity of what you were offering to do?”

She absently pushed the opened packet of Rich Tea biscuits towards me, and I welcomed the brief distraction whilst she gathered her thoughts.

She carried on, explaining to me that the transplant team at Guys Hospital were, “absolutely fantastic”, and took the time to explain patiently every aspect of the surgery, and to reassure her continually that she was able to back out at any time.

Guys Hospital – Treating the sick since 1721. Not in this building though!

“What worried you most about the procedure?” I asked.

“My biggest fear was that I would end up having to wear a colostomy bag should the operation not go as planned, or that I would react unfavourably to the anaesthetic.” .

The sun had begun remorselessly advancing towards dusk, and the shadows were slowly moving across the small dining area, as I asked how she had prepared for the other issues, such as only having one kidney left to survive on.

Drawing her knees up under her chin, she told me that she had conducted a lot of personal research into organ donation, and had checked things including post-surgical survival rates, bacteriological infection rates, statistics for Guys Hospital, and probably most importantly, whether she be able to continue to enjoy her passion of Scuba diving.

She also discussed all of this with Chris, who, whilst worried, knew that he was dealing with an unstoppable force – so fully supported her decision, as did her sons.

“So,” she summarised, “My boys were off my hands, and living adult lives, my chances of living life as normal were very high, and Jane was dying. So, I was going to do it.”

That is what happened. Marianne underwent surgery in August 2017. After a short time recuperating in Hampshire, she was soon given the all-clear to Scuba dive, and flew to Borneo that autumn to swim with turtles.

And Jane? 

Well, Jane is off dialysis, and is now actively improving her health with physiotherapy, swimming and enjoying quality time with her daughter.

Marianne stood, as if to leave. “One last question?” I asked.

She raised an eyebrow, saying “Go on.”

“What would you say to anyone who is considering becoming a living organ donor?”

Laughing, she said: “That one is easy. Talk to someone who has done it, as it’s a huge decision, and they will need lots of love, guidance and support.”

I picked my notebook up, realising that I hadn’t written a thing in it, and shoved it back in my pocket as I stepped down from the camper van, and walked back into the early evening sunshine,

The word awesome is not one that I use often, but in this case, it sums this lovely lady up.

Marianne – You Rock!

Go Well…

You can follow Marianne and Chris’s travels by visiting treadtheglobe.com