UNIVERSITY AREA — Instead of going out to buy a new pair of jeans, how would you feel about "printing" your own fitted pair at home? In the growing third Industrial Revolution of 3-D printing, it's becoming feasible.
An exhibition showcasing the results of these ideas, "3D Printing the Future," debuts at the Museum of Science and Industry Saturday and will run until Sept. 28. The exhibition will showcase examples of 3-D printed products and some of the technology used to create them.
Visitors will be able to see functioning tools, clothing, accessories and even playable instruments, in addition to several types of 3-D printers in action creating simple items.
"People will be able see and learn what 3-D printing is, and how it works," said Tanya Vomacka, MOSI's vice president of guest experience.
In addition to the displayed 3-D printed objects, the exhibit will feature two interactive components. The first is a live demonstration area where MOSI staff can use the objects, walk visitors through 3-D printing, and explain how it works. The second component is a hands-on workshop to use the world's first 3-D printing pen, the 3Doodler.
Guests also will have a chance to learn about everything from medical "bioprinting" to what materials can be used, and how food can be produced using a 3-D printer.
"The exhibition showcases things people might not even expect could be 3-D printed," Vomacka said.
Three-dimensional printing technology has been around since the 1990s, but the applications of the technology are beginning to transition from mechanical parts to a variety of other fields.
"A small number of people are starting to adopt some of this technology in their home, but it's also in the early stage of bioprinting," said MOSI's director of education, Anthony Pelaez. "There's a company named Organovo that has created a liver fit for pharmaceutical testing. The goal is to create a functioning organ using stem cells and organic materials."
"Part of the exhibit will tell an actual story of bioprinting helping doctors save someone with a rare, life-threatening heart condition," Vomacka said. "After printing a heart based on a scan of the patient, the surgeons were able to hold a replica in their hands so they could study the organ before proceeding with the best course of action."
Other stories involve providing critically injured animals with replacement 3-D-printed body parts. In addition, there are plastic printed replicas of historic artifacts that are similar, down to microscopic details of the original items.
The concept of the printing process remains largely the same regardless of the end product. "You're re-creating an object's structure using layers of the desired materials," Pelaez said. "Whether it's chocolate, metal, plastics or wood, it can all theoretically be adapted to create a 3-D printed product."
A low-priced 3-D printer is still several thousand dollars, but industry leaders ultimately want to see 3-D printers drop to more affordable prices and become household items much as computers began to be in the 20th century.
In order to print an object, one needs the 3-D printer, the materials that the object will be composed of and a file for the printer to read. "Someone can create an object, and then share the design on the Internet, rinse and repeat," Pelaez said. "We could print a prosthetic limb in the United States, and then share the design with billions of people. If they have a printer, and some materials, they could have a prosthetic of their own."
Patrick G. Veilleux can be reached at email@example.com.