Imagine for one moment that you lose a button on your shirt. What do you do? If it’s a Land’s End shirt button, you’ll soon be able to print a replacement button on your 3D printer from the comfort of your own home – an exact duplicate of the button on your shirt when you bought it. Even the same color. But what if you need something a little more intricate? Like a new finger, coronary artery or an entire hand? Well, that’s not far away, either.
When dot matrix printers were invented in 1970, no one could conceive of ever needing anything more sophisticated than a crude printout of office memos. About the same time, laser printers wowed the computing world by producing slick, professional looking text and graphics by fusing powdered ink to regular copy paper. Even in color!
Fast forward to 2000, the first 3D bio-printer was invented by Thomas Boland. Bio-printers are a specific type of 3D printer designed to create and replicate human tissues and organs. Bio-printers work much the same as laser printers. However, instead of laying down a single layer of powder on paper, laser sintering printers create objects within an enclosed chamber, heated to temperatures just below the part’s melting point. A laser hits the bio-printing material, then fuses it with ultraviolet light. The entire process to create tissues depends on their complexity – from several minutes to several days.