Video: Evolving 3D Printing

3D printing is causing all types of hype in the science and engineering communities, and now artists are using the 3D printing craze to create new types of art.

Using 3D printing, artists are capable of replicating famous original pieces such as busts and sculptures. 3D printing is also capable of giving artists the option of putting their own twists and changes on ancient art works.

One of the most notable artists of today creating 3D printed art forms is Cosmo Wenman. Wenman travels to museums around the world and snaps hundreds of pictures of sculptures and busts. Using these pictures, along with an Autodesk program, Wenman is able to construct a 3D file that he can then send to his MakerBot 3D printer. The result is an exact replicate of the art work, on a much smaller scale. Furthermore, Wenman also plans on making all his files openly available on Makerbot's Thingverse.

Other than replicating old art forms, many people are also creating their own original work. One of the latest is the work of Benjamin Dillenburger and Michael Hansmeyer, called Digital Grotesque. Simply put, it involves printing an entire room out of sandstone. The room was inspired by the work of H.R. Giger, a Swiss artist who helped work on the effects in the movie Alien. Using some of the designs from his work, Dillenburger and Hansmeyer are using an algorithm that divides and repeats geometrical shapes. In turn, they have ended up with a design that is completely symmetrical and has the look of a temple from an alien world.

Other news that involves natural processes and 3D printing is the coming 4D printing. Inspired by molecular self-assembly, it is a process that is very common in biological structures. The 3D-printed materials are made to change shape and self-assemble, much like molecules do in biology. In fact, researchers at MIT have been working on programmable materials. The idea is to be able to print a material and over time the material will change its structure into some meaningful shape. The change can take place due to a movement or something such as an environmental factor. In theory, the application can have a big impact on construction or design. For example, astronauts would be able to easily assemble needed structures. In areas like the ocean or the top of a skyscraper, materials could be simply created. Previously, this may have been difficult or dangerous.

Embedding a "program" into a material does not involve writing software at all. Rather, the work at MIT is being done by creating materials that react to outside stimuli. Using this technique, materials can be printed, which, given the right circumstances, will change shape into anything they wish. Although the work is still in its infancy, it shows us how rapidly 3D printing is evolving. In addition, it should not come as a surprise that these latest developments have been inspired by natural processes. I believe we still have much to learn from the world around us.

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