Last week we discussed nano-medicine to address the internal body functions at the molecular level but what about the outer extremities like our limbs. We have been making plastic parts with 3-D printers for some time. Remember my article about the $300 plastic bionic arm/hand for the Syria war children? Well, soon the metal gears will also be made with 3-D printing. Using nano 3-D printing with liquid metal, we could print out a titanium knee on the spot for a patient, instead of making them wait weeks for a custom design. Using inkjet technology, it will be possible to make customized metal manufacturing affordable for even small companies.
What Israeli 3D pioneer Objet – now integrated with Minnesota-based 3D printing company Stratasys – did for plastic, Israeli start-up Xjet plans to do for metal. “The layered inkjet printing technology that is used to make medical devices, dental implants, single-run samples for manufacturing, and much more is all based on plastic,” said Xjet CEO Dror Danai. “In the same way that Objet helped create an industry for 3D printing using plastic materials, we intend to create an industry that will allow the same kind of custom printing for metal.”
Manufacturing a single, one-time item is a very drawn out and expensive proposition that makes many metal parts very expensive. Such parts are used in rockets, spaceships, military jets, and other unique items, but for everyday use like golf clubs, such customized manufacturing is far too expensive and involved. Enter Xjet, which, said Denai, “uses nanotechnology to create special metal liquids that, using its 3D metal printing technology, can create unique, one of a kind items on the fly.” This approach will completely change the way we manufacture components for almost every product on the market today and the many new products yet to be created.
While plastics and soon metals will be used for building materials of new products through 3-D printing, it is graphene (from carbon) that will really change the size, weight and strength of products in the future. Graphene has been called the miracle material and for good reason. It is the strongest material known while still being ultra light and flexible. And, it conducts electricity better than copper. When they figure out how to make lots of graphene easily, the material use will become very ‘HUGE’ in future products.
For example, a stretchy, flexible skin can be made of a synthetic rubber that has been designed, to have micron-scale pyramid like structures that would make it especially sensitive to pressure, sort of like mini internal mattress springs. The scientists would sprinkled the pressure-sensitive rubber with carbon nanotubes— microscopic cylinders of carbon that are highly conductive to electricity — so that, when the material is touched, a series of pulses is generated from the nano-sensors to the brain. That is how Cyborgs will be constructed, along with other bionic parts.
I know it sometimes seems like I am promoting Israeli technology but I don’t have to. Along with Finland and Switzerland, Israel is in the top three innovation leaders in the world. Countries like the US, China, Russia, India and many others contract with Israel for consulting services on future technologies from water desalination to moon rovers and everything in between. Since 1948, Israel has outpaced the Asian, European and American markets in new creative innovative technologies, especially in the medical industry and for good reason – survival. Israel, the David of the Economy, now has more successful start-up companies then any other country. Objet and Xjet, are two of those companies because they are lean and on point – Xjet has 50 out of 62 employees as engineers and many of them are specialists in materials, likely the reason for their leadership. That is how you get the job done.