3D & 4D Printing

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Introduction to 3D and 4D Printing

3D printer layering material[1]

3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing was initially developed in 1980 and patented by Dr. Kodama, a Japanese doctor known for his innovation in technology. [2] The process of additive manufacturing involves the printing of three-dimensional objects, designed and tailored from within a CAD (Computer Aided Design) software. In order to fully develop and create objects, 3D printing consists of layering successive layers of material down on a base, each considered to be a horizontal cross-section of the object, until all the layers of the object have been placed, concluding the creation process. [3] Over the past thirty-seven years, 3D printing has become more and more advanced and has become a common theme within multiple industries for many reasons. Common industries including applied 3D printing are the biomedical, automotive, aerospace, food, architecture, and firearm industries. 3D printing has been known to improve quality, efficiency, specific creativity and design, and also been known to create more cost-efficient processes.

As an additional component combined with the 3D printing process, 4D printing launched development just recently in 2013. While 4D printing is an identical process to 3D, it adds an additional component that induces transformation over time.


3D Printing: The action or process of making (printing) a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession. Another term for this is additive manufacturing. [4]

4D Printing: Using a 3D printer to create objects that change shape when removed from the printer. Eg. 3D printed dry pasta forming into cooked pasta upon absorbing water. [5]

History of 3D and 4D printing


General Timeline of 3D Printing [6][7]

Gartner's 3D Hype Cycle 2017

Gartner's 3D Printing Hype Cycle for 2017 [8]

Materials Used Within 3D and 4D printing

Objects created within the additive manufacturing process can be constructed out of many different materials. Choosing a material to use is mainly dependent on the use of the object created. Eg. objects utilized in high-pressure environments will be constructed out of a stronger material such as titanium.

Common materials used in additive manufacturing include:

Ceramic Ceramic is a white rigid and delicate material made out of clay and is hardened as heat is applied to it. Within 3D printing, ceramic is known to create many items such as plate ware or coffee mugs. Having a minimum wall thickness of 3mm, ceramic is first printed using 3D printing layering technology, and then the surface is glazed to allow for a smooth finish.[9]

Nylon Nylon is a very strong, flexible, and durable white plastic which can be used to print many objects which require these traits such as phone cases or accessories. Nylon, when used within 3D printing, is constructed from a powder and upon finishing has a minimum thickness of 1mm. This material can be very beneficial in many applications mainly due to its ability to contain interlocking and moving parts which can be used to develop objects such as chains.[10]

ABS ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) is a strong plastic which can be used to create plastic objects which undergoes substantial pressure, such as lego. ABS is created from a long stringy filament and has many colour options. ABS, when used in 3D printing, has a minimum thickness of approximately 1mm.[9]

Titanium Titanium is the strongest material that can be used in 3D printing. Due to being the strongest material, titanium is ideal for metal objects that undergo significant pressure or force. For example, an exhaust pipe created for a car has to withstand high temperatures as well as the operation of a car would require a strong material such as titanium. Additionally, titanium can be created with a thin minimum width of 0.2mm and is created from direct metal laser sintering.[9]

Gold and silver

Gold and silver are two very expensive materials used within 3D printing that can be used to produce common products such as jewellery. Gold and silver are made from a wax and then formed within a cast to mould the material. Gold and Silver have a minimum thickness of 0.5mm, therefore they can be used to precisely craft objects.[9]

Computer-aided-design (CAD)

Tinkercad - Free 3D CAD software that can be used for 3D Printing[1]
Computer-aided design (CAD) is a computer software used to design products in either two-dimensional or three-dimensional drawings.[2] CAD software is used for concept designs, manufacturer parts, and etc. In 3D printing, CAD is used to produce designs for the 3D printer to print. The design’s constraints, such as dimensions, highly dependent on the capabilities of the 3D printer being used. The prices also vary depending on the program. The standard version of the popular 3D CAD, SOLIDWORKS, costs around $3,995.00.[3] There are also many free CAD programs, such as Tinkercad, which provide basic CAD functionalities that are enough to produce basic 3D models.[1] The learning curve for CAD programs depends on your 3D printing purposes. Free programs are designed to create simple designs in simple ways. For more specific and complex 3D modelling, you would need a professional CAD software to truly take advantage of 3D printers.

Industries that Utilize Additive Manufacturing


The whole value of 3D printing in the biomedical industry is the ability to customize and cater to each patient’s needs. This is evident as each person has different preferences, shapes, and sizes. Given these conditions, being able to fully customize creates value.

Hearing Aids

One of the earliest applications of 3D printing in this industry is in the manufacturing of hearing aids. In the past, hearing aids followed a complex and rigorous process. The whole process took more than a week as hearing aid companies had to make cast moulds and employ artisans that make them by hand.[4]

In 2000, Phonak, a Swiss hearing aid manufacturer, collaborated with a Belgian-based 3D printing company named Materialise, to develop Rapid Shell Modeling (RSM).[5] Not long after, almost all players in the hearing aid industry follow through. This process decreases the number of steps taken to make one hearing aid from nine steps into only three steps, as each hearing aid is prototype quality. It also increases the rate to around 65 hearing aid shells made every 60 to 90 minutes.

RSM is a simple process of scanning, modelling and printing.[6] First, audiologists scan the ear of the patient using a 3D scanner. It will then pinpoint approximately 100,000 to 150,000 points of reference. These instructions are then sent to a technician who applies the templates and geometric shapes to the hearing aid. The hearing aid is then printed using a 3D printer according to the coordinates. This ensures that each hearing aid is fully customized.

Dental Implants

World's first autonomous dental surgery.[7]

In September 2017, the world’s first dental implant operation is done in China.[1] It is a one-hour surgery done by a robot arm that requires no intervention from any medical staff. The surgeons were only there in case something went wrong. This process requires the patient to do a CT scan of their head to acquire data of the skull and the jaw. After scanning all the coordinates, the robot arm will then commence with the operation.

In the end of the operation, two customized 3D printed teeth made out of ceramic were placed into the patient’s jaw. According to Zhao Yimin, professor in the Fourth Military Medical University, the robot has high precision with an error of 0.2 to 0.3 millimetres, which is much more precise than manual operation.[2]


Table showing differences in price range and benefits of insoles [3] Retrieved on 3 December 2017

In 2014, Wiivv was founded in Vancouver. The company manufactures custom insoles that cost slightly more (79-99 USD) than off the shelf insoles (20-50 USD), but way cheaper than prescribed insoles (400+ USD). They have now started making custom sandals as well. Both their Kickstarter pages were massively overfunded, with the company priding themselves the holder of the Most-Funded 3D Printed Project ever.[4]

These custom insoles are made through a very simple process.[5]. First, through Wiivv’s award-winning app, each foot is measured by taking pictures of it from several different angles. The foot is measured relative to a blank white A4 paper to ensure accuracy. The data will then be sent to Wiivv’s factory in San Diego, and the customized insole will be 3D printed and sent to the customer’s home within 10 days.

Orthopaedic Implants

The FDA classifies metal hip implants as Class III [6]

Arcam AB was founded in 1997 in Mölndal, Sweden. The company specializes in making orthopaedic implants through the use of their patented Electron Beam Melting (EBM).[7] The EBM technology allows for even greater detail as powders of titanium alloy are melted layer by layer. Patients are able to take a CT scan of their desired body part and create a fully personalized implant.[8] General Electric recently acquired Arcam’s controlling shares in November 2016, realizing the potential of this technology for the future.[9]

However, there are certain regulatory stumbling blocks that hinder the widespread use of these orthopaedic implants. Most orthopaedic implants are classified as Class III devices.[10] Jason Howard, a surgeon from Sidra Medical and Research Center’s Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, mentions that Class III devices are those that support life, can be life-threatening, or have the potential for a significant risk of injury or illness associated.[11]

Hence, each Class III device must go through a process called a pre-market approval (PMA). [12] This is a 6-month review process by FDA staff. To do this for every patient will be too costly and time-consuming. A possible solution would be to reclassify orthopaedic implants to Class II devices, which require less time to get to the consumer since they have become more reliable. Another possible solution is for General Electric to renegotiate with the US government and make their products an exception to this rule.

3D Bioprinting

The following video shows our current progress in 3D/4D bioprinting with the fourth element being time[13]

The 3D printing of cells is done in a sterile environment to prevent them from being contaminated by virus and bacteria. Living cells mixed with compatible scaffolds are used as “ink”, hence the term 3D bioprinting. As of now, the 3D printing of organs is still limited to plastic organs and living tissues. Surgeons use these plastic organs to practice surgical procedures and see organs at a more visible scale. A great example of this would be the use of 3D printing to model a donor’s kidney to a recipient’s abdomen in London.[1] This allowed surgeons to plan surgical procedures, increasing accuracy and reducing risk.

In 2014, Organovo announced the sale of its 3D printed liver model called exVive3D.[2] Even though the liver cells are too small to be considered an organ, it can be used for drug testing purposes The cells were able to react to toxins such as acetaminophen. According to researchers from Queensland University of Technology, bringing a new drug to the market costs approximately USD 2.5 billion and can take more than 10 years.[3] This is because although a drug works well on animals, its effects do not necessarily translate to humans. This discovery by Organovo has provided a breakthrough for the drug testing process, as not only can scientists now immediately see the effects of a certain drug without having to harm animals, but also pharmaceutical companies can now cut down their costs and innovate at a faster rate.

In the future, researchers are hoping to be able to 3D print artificial hearts, kidneys and other major organs.[4] The intended purpose of this is to provide organ transplants for those in need. The general idea is to get a cell from the patient’s body and let it grow. When there are enough cells, they are put in a bioprinter. This bioprinter will then make a 3D model of the organ you need. After a certain time, the organ has matured enough and is ready to be put in the patient’s body. The organ still contains the patient’s original cells, hence their body does not reject it.

Flowchart showing the potential of 3D bioprinting[5]


The automotive industry is one of the biggest industries in the world, playing a role as one of the most important economic sectors due to its high revenue. The use of 3D printing in the auto industry is a hot topic and has been gradually and continually introduced in the manufacturing process within many companies in order to provide substantial benefits to their overall business model.

Specifically, 3D printing can provide very significant advantages such as cost reduction, improved lead times, customizability, and performance efficiency within the manufacturing and assembly stages of production. Additionally, additive manufacturing can provide very beneficial performance improvements for completed vehicles, such as reduced weight leading to higher fuel range and higher acceleration rates. Aside from providing benefits in terms of parts and finished cars, 3D printing is also known to create jigs and fixtures used in production. This makes acquiring specific tools a way more enjoyable process.

Auto Parts

3D printed auto part [6]

Companies have started introducing 3D printing to create parts to be used within the production process of cars. By doing so they experience many benefits. Firstly, using a CAD software, individuals can specifically design, customize and create one-off parts to fit the exact needs. By doing this there will be no waiting or searching for exact parts that are needed for auto vehicles.

For example, if an imported car is in need of a very specific fuel pump, it can be designed and 3D printed as opposed to searching and ordering it. Secondly, by using 3D printing to create parts, there will be minimal lead times from eliminating the ordering process of the needed components, which will lead to higher efficiency. By being able to create specific components in-house without the ordering process, companies can rapid prototype by designing and creating many parts which they need, within a short period of time. Lastly, By using only the materials they need and by eliminating other production methods which emit toxins, 3D printing induces a more environmentally friendly method and lower waste.[7]


First fully functioning 3D printed car [7]

The first fully 3D printed car was created in 2014 by Local motors who used a blend of ABS and Carbon fibre. By producing fully printed cars companies can increase the performance of their cars by introducing lighter components. Including lighter components in finished vehicle models, consumers will experience higher acceleration and top speeds, as well as a higher fuel efficiency. [7]

Auto Companies Utilizing 3D Printing


In the past twenty years, Ford has introduced the use of 3D printing and created over 500,000 parts using a high tech 3D printing facility. [8] By doing so they have managed to reduce the total expenditure on labour due to eliminating manual work creating parts, as well as reducing the total amount of labour hours contributed due to a large portion of the process being performed by their 3D printing facility.


Recently Koenigsegg a Swedish Hypercar company has become involved in the use of 3D printers to produce their highest performance first mega-car called the One:1. By using additive manufacturing to create the majority of the parts and components of the car, they have managed to develop a car with a 1 to 1 power to weight ratio which accelerates from 0 to 400km/h in approximately 20 seconds. The total weight of the one:1 is 1,360kg [9] which surpasses the lightness of any car in its class such as the Bugatti Chiron which weighs 1,996kg.


While 3D printing has been used for rapid prototyping in many manufacturing processes, mass production of 3D printed parts in the aerospace industry is becoming more prominent than ever before.

General Electric (GE)

3D Printed Fuel Nozzle by GE [10]

GE began using 3D printing for their fuel nozzle production in 2014. GE worked with Morris Technologies to come up with a 3D printed fuel nozzle that was printed as a single unit instead of 20 separate parts.[10] The nozzle had 25 percent less weight while being five times more durable than previous iterations of the fuel nozzle.[10] By 3D printing the nozzle, GE was able to produce very complex designs without the need for multiple parts, which also reduced the number of suppliers.[10] GE has started to mass produce these nozzles that will be used for the LEAP engine from CFM International using 28 additive printing machines at its manufacturing plant in Auburn, Alabama.[11] The use of 3D printing in manufacturing processes can eliminate the need for production lines due to the nature of additive manufacturing. If the printing process can continue to become faster over time, 3D Print manufacturing could become more common for mass production.

GE has also developed its new Advanced Turboprop engine that includes 3D printed parts and showcased it at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh event in 2017.[12] 3D printing was used to produce 12 engine parts that would have normally been around 855 parts.[13] This has resulted in 10 percent increase in engine power and 20 percent improvement in fuel burn due to the simplistic design and reduced weight of 3D printed parts.[13] Being able to design parts with high complexity and able to produce parts on site is a huge advantage for any manufacturer. The Advanced Turboprop engine will be tested in 2018 and will be used on the Cessna Denali, Textron Aviation’s new airplane.[14]

From printing fuel nozzles to actual engine parts, GE continues to promote 3D printing in its manufacturing processes. The future of aviation and manufacturing looks promising since 3D printing allows for constant innovation in fuel efficiency and safety due to increased durability and reduced weight. The reduction in cost from less parts and suppliers could open up discussions about a potential reduction in affordable ticket prices as well.


3D food printing methods depend on 3D food printers and their purposes. Most 3D food printers will use capsule systems to extrude liquefied or puréed food into customizable shapes. The strength of 3D food printers comes from the ability to produce meals and snacks that are highly customized in terms of design. The weakness of 3D food printers comes from the fact that most people see it as a gimmick. This section will go over how the weakness is becoming smaller with the evolution of 3D food printing.

3D Food Printers

Candies printed by ChefJet Pro [15]

This section will look at two different 3D food printers that use different extrusion methods. These 3D Food Printers are on the expensive side and mostly intended for restaurants and bakeries that want to take customization to another level.

Foodini by Natural Machines [16]

ChefJet Pro

The ChefJet Pro by 3D Systems uses an inkjet system to spray water to crystallize sugar powder, adds another layer of sugar powder, and then continues the process until you end up with the desired shape.[17] The ChefJet Pro can print in color and costs around $5,000 to $1,000.[15] The ChefJet Pro offers customization by printing out complex 3D designs from the computer. This printer could be very popular among bakers who tackle the challenges of very difficult and specific customer requests.


The Foodini by Natural Machines uses a stainless capsule system to reshape food using sauce, purée, and liquefied food.[16] Unlike to the ChefJet Pro above, the Foodini is designed to extrude directly layer-by-layer without any additional inkjet or sugar powder since it mostly uses purée.The Foodini is currently priced at $4,000.[18] The Foodini allows users to reshape purée, which may look unappetizing, into articulate designs from the computer. These types of 3D Food printers could change the fine dining experience by being able to create shapes specified by chefs. The simple user interface and cleaning process could be seen as big advantages, as well.

Restaurant Applications

This section looks at two applications of 3D food printing in restaurants.

3D Printed Crouton Made From Onion Powder [19]


Josiah Citrin, two Michelin star chef and owner of Mélisse, collaborated with 3D Systems to create a 3D printed crouton, made out of onion powder, using the ChefJet Pro for a reinvented French onion soup.[19] 3D printed food is starting to be used in many restaurants and bakeries that want to put emphasis on customization and complex designs. Using 3D printing can be seen as innovation or a gimmick. However, many chefs are now not afraid to incorporate 3D printing into their works. It will be interesting to see how 3D printing evolves in the restaurant scene since Michelin star restaurants, such as Mélisse, are looking to improve fine dining using 3D printing technology.

Food Ink

Food Ink 3D Printing Restaurant in London [20]

Food Ink, founded by Antony Dobrzensky, is the world’s first 3D-Printing pop-up restaurant where everything is 3D printed from the food, utensils, and furniture.[1] In 2016, the restaurant used byFlow 3D printers to shape food from paste form and is continuing its world tour.[2] By collaborating with professional chefs, Food Ink created a very unique dining experience while promoting the capabilities of 3D printing. High customization capabilities of 3D food printers allow chefs and bakers to explore new design choices that has never been thought of before. While 3D food printers are currently too expensive for homes, it might be perfect for restaurants that want to take dining to the next level.

NASA and 3D Printed Pizza

In 2013, NASA funded a six month study on the capability and potential of 3D food printing for its space trips. NASA granted Systems and Materials Research Consultancy (SMRC) $125,000 to look at 3D printing as a potential solution to providing meals with nutrient stability, variety, long shelf-life, minimum food waste, and efficient production time.[3] The ability to customize design and nutrients using 3D food printing could be seen as a huge advantage for NASA and its long space trips to Mars. SMRC’s solution was to come up with a 3D pizza printer that uses a nozzle system to extrude pizza ingredients onto a hot plate.[4] The 3D pizza printer is different than most 3D food printers due to the addition of the hot plate, which allows for fresh pizzas instead of puréed food.


BeeHex Chef 3D Pizza Printer at Food Loves Tech 2016[5]

Systems and Materials Research Consultancy’s Anjan Contractor and others continued to develop the 3D pizza printing technology and co-founded a startup called BeeHex to target the commercial market, rather than outer space. BeeHex’s pizza printer, the Chef 3D, received $1 million in seed funding and is able to produce variety of designs by using the connected computer or the BeeHex app.[1] The printer uses liquefied dough, tomato sauce, and various cheeses to print layer-by-layer to produce the customized pizza which needs to be cooked in the oven. The strengths of the Chef 3D are food personalization and ease-of-use which means less training for employees for businesses.[2] For festivals and amusement parks, the Chef 3D could also be ideal for pizza booth since real estate is drastically reduced by having printers, instead of the usual setup required for making pizza.[2]

Concept art for BeeHex Pizza Kiosk using the Chef 3D [3]

Potential Implications in the Pizza Industry

It is not difficult to see employees being replaced with machines due to the increase in automation for many fields. 3D pizza printers could potentially disrupt the pizza industry when it becomes popular enough for mass production, instead of being seen as a novelty. This is possible if major chains such as Domino's, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesars are interested in perfecting the 3D pizza printing technology to offer highly customizable pizzas. The Chef 3D is already slated to appear at various theme parks, arenas, and malls.[1] Like with most 3D printers, the Chef 3D allows businesses to put emphasis on personalization to engage with customers. There could be a reduction in labour as well since the printer only requires one person to operate.[1] Businesses can save money, but pizza workers may lose their jobs when the technology becomes good enough to replace them. It is hard to see if major chain companies will become interested in such technology, but there could be plenty of interest outside the restaurant setting for the Chef 3D.

United States Army

The U.S. Army wants to use 3D printers to produce meals, such as protein bars, that are customized to the specific needs of each soldier.[4] It is already known that 3D printing allows various degrees of customization in food. The U.S. Army wants to take advantage of such customization by making sure its soldiers are well prepared nutritionally in an efficient manner. The information regarding each soldiers will be collected by measuring each soldier’s nutritional status using wearable devices by 2025.[4] Similar technology could be interesting for athletes as well since it makes the process eating the required nutrients simpler. However, businesses should make sure these meals must also taste good to be marketable.

Dysphagia in Nursing Homes

Dysphagia is a condition that involves difficulty with swallowing and is common in older adults.[5] This condition is an increasing concern in nursing homes due to the increase in the elderly population. 14 EU countries came together to look for a solution regarding dysphagia and came up with a way to produce food using a 3D printer without losing its taste while also looking appealing.[6] The main challenge was to produce a way so that you can purée the food to keep it soft, but also keep the original shape to make it look appetizing. Biozoon, a German food company, responded to the challenge by using 3D printers and gelling agents to support the shape of puréed food.[6] Using 3D printers in elderly homes could be very effective since it is highly customizable to your needs. 3D printing could potentially bring back the joy of eating food in nursing homes while suffering from dysphagia.

MIT Tangible Media's 4D Pasta Demonstration[7]

4D Pasta

MIT’s Tangible Media Group has come up with a way to 4D print pasta. Wen Wang and Lining Yao, former graduate students, 3D printed cellulose over gelatin layers to achieve different transformative effects when immersed in water.[1] While it uses a 3D printer to print the pasta, the use of cellulose adds the 4D element by changing the shape of pasta. With the lack of developments in 4D printing and food, the 4D pasta brings exciting potential to consumers and manufacturers. Wang states that most pasta packaging will consist of 67 percent air in its volume.[1] By being able to package flat pasta that will change shape in water, there could be potential disruption in the packaging industry. The packaging could have more pasta than before, or the packaging will become smaller, which also reduces cost for manufacturers. Customizing properties such as toughness, initial shape, and final transformation can be simple as using an online interface designed by the members of the Tangible Media Group.[1] The addition of user-created food products could be interesting for businesses since allowing customers to customize food in new ways could increase brand awareness and engagement.


WinSun's 3D-printed blocks with steel beams installed [2]
3D-printed Villa from WinSun [2]
3D-printed Office in Dubai [3]
3D-printed Concrete bridge in Netherlands [4]
The smart bridge designed by MX3D is under fabrication. [5]

Producing the world's first 3D-printed bridge with robots "is just the beginning" - Joris Laarman[6]


The use of 3D printing for modelling has introduced innovation to the techniques in architectural design. These new techniques are helping designers to communicate their ideas more effectively by turning architectural renderings into self-descriptive physical mock-ups.

Currently, CAD software has empowered architectural renderings to better deliver designers’ ideas with photorealistic images and animations in a digital 3D space. In the traditional process, these renderings are shown to clients via paper or on a computer screen. This posed a problem for clients who lacked understanding in the designs or could not visually picture the design in their head. This physical 3D printed representations can help convey a better understanding of the designs to people that are not well-versed designs. Before 3D printing was introduced to architectural design, the architects would create these models by hand, which took a lot of effort and a vast amount of time. This meant that architects had to leave out detail to ensure creating the hand-model would not waste valuable time since it would just be a mockup.

In addition to 3D printing shortens the time of producing the models, the 3D printing process can free up an architect's’ hands while saves materials from wastes and scraps. With 3D printing, designers are able to include much more details into the model, print out multiple models in the same time period and print the models in different scales. Since the 3D-printed models are printed with durable materials as a whole, they are able to sustain longer than the handmade models.

3D Printing in Construction

The application of 3D printing is nothing new when discussing the construction industry. However, using this technique effectively was not achieved until recent years. The use of 3D printing now takes a significant role in the construction industry. These 3D printing techniques can provide cost, effort, and manual labour reduction while simplifying and shortening construction processes. Since the traditional methods of construction were not used, the quality of 3D printing buildings can raise some concerns. The following will discuss the two major areas in 3D printing construction is housing and bridges.


A notable milestone was achieved within the 3D printing construction world by WinSun, a Chinese construction company. They were known for being able to produce ten small houses in a single day through 3D printing. In 2015, the company successfully printed out larger buildings, which consisted of a villa and a 6-storey apartment. In 2016, the first 3D-printed office that was built by Dubai Future Foundation opened in Dubai. In February 2017, Apis Cor. built a residential house on site in Russia.

The process in which WinSun and Dubai Future Foundation incorporate 3D printing into construction is almost the same. The two companies print the buildings, layer by layer, into different components with a giant 3D printer in a factory and then assembles the parts together into a building at the designated location. Referring to the villa and the six-story apartments created by WinSun, structures beam columns and steel rebars were installed in the printed walls to enhance the support. To be able to successfully 3D print out the building components, WinSun applies a special concrete, which is one of their core products. The special quick-drying concrete is mainly made up of construction waste materials like concrete, fibreglass, and sand. Utilizing this special concrete cannot only effectively reduce material costs, but also a good way to recycle the construction waste.[1].

Apis Cor. uses a mobile printer, a significantly smaller device when comparing the other two companies, to print out the residential house as a whole on-site. The mobile printer revolves around at 360 degrees and well operated at the temperature as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius. [2] This mobile printer has made a big improvement with the small change in 3D printing construction from offsite printing to onsite fabricating. It eliminates the cost of transporting the cumbersome components and reduce human effort in transportation. The mobile printer’s outstanding operation capability under frigid environment allows engineers to proceed the construction under various weather conditions. However, it leads to another problem that the size of 3D printing buildings would be limited because of the size of the onsite mobile printer.


In December 2016, the world's first 3D-printed concrete bridge opened in Madrid, Spain. [3]. In October 2017, another 3D-printed concrete bridge was introduced to the Netherlands, which was constructed by BAM Infra and Eindhoven University of Technology. The construction process of building this bridge is much similar to 3D-printed buildings. BAM Infra printed concrete blocks off-site and combined the blocks into an 8-metre-long bridge of 800 layers. [4].

In 2015, an Amsterdam-based startup company, MX3D, started to work on their discovery of 3D printing in construction with metals as a new type of materials. The company initiated a project to 3D print the world’s first steel bridge. [5]. MX3D refitted a standard industrial robot that is usually used for frontline assembling into an agile mobile 3D printer. The printer adds small amounts of molten metals each time in mid-air along the six-axis printing lines. [6]. This technology adds much more flexibility of 3D printing in construction and improves its functionality. Even though previous 3D construction printers have high mobility, the printers were moving along two axes and additively building up the components or the house on the ground. The addition of the printing trajectory grants architects the ability to more architectural design which was not viable, as well as the feasibility of printing construction. Moreover, because moldable metals such as steel, aluminium, and copper would immediately curdle and form a shape after being extruded, they bring in a lot more flexibility as well.

Comparing with 3D-printed concrete buildings and bridges, the 3D-printed metal bridge seems to be more beneficial. While structural steel has great ductility and elasticity, concrete has the best compressive strength. [7]. Solely using one of these two materials in 3D printing construction instead of the other one may not be a good choice.


As people expected, one of the biggest advantages of incorporating 3D printing in construction is cost reduction. Incorporating 3D printing into architectural construction replaces or aids manpower with robotic automation and simplifies the construction process. It, therefore, cuts down much the amount human effort and the length of the project schedule. Allowing robots to accurately creating architecture or parts of it, construction companies can save materials though developing fewer scraps and waste. It is reported that these techniques helped WinSun save 60% of the materials, reduce 80% of the labour, and shorten 70% of the time span. [1] The total cost of construction and finishing for Apis Cor.’s 3D-printed house cost $275 per square meters ($26 per square feet), which is about 5 times lower than current average cost, $150 per square feet, to build a house. [8]


However, the quality of these 3D-printed structures is under concern. Since layers of the concrete and metals are bonded to each other after drying, the strength of contraction between molecules could be reduced, which will probably result in weaker strength of walls and foundation. The concern on the resistance of the 3D-printed structures to extreme weathering and natural disaster remains is genuine since all these structures have been built for only a short time or are under production. Further research and observations are needed to address these concerns.

4D Printing in Construction

When Skylar Tibbits introduced 4D printing, he raised potential future application of 4D printing in construction, automatic construction, and adaptive infrastructure. [9] Printing infrastructures in a smaller size, later to be stimulated, would help save space. A 4D-printed structure is expected to shape itself as designated without manpower intervene after being printed out. Compared to the current 3D printing, the current techniques still use manpower. The construction with 4D printing is expected to occur automatically. If so, construction under extreme environment will be much easier and less costly. Infrastructures, such as submarine pipeline, will contract and expand themselves based the design and material.


Defence Distributed

Vice 3D Printed Gun Documentary[10]

Defence Distributed a digital publisher who does 3D printing research and development in the area of firearms.[1] This company was started in 2013 by Cody Wilson, was popularized by producing plastic 3D printed lower receivers and creating the first fully 3D printed handgun. Vice, a media company, created a documentary that followed the progress of Defence Distributed. In this documentary, it showed Defence Distributed’s latest lower receiver being capable of firing over 600 rounds on the AR-15. The AR-15 is also known as the ‘civilian M16’; the only difference being that the M16 is fully automatic and the AR-15 is not. These blueprints were uploaded onto their website and gained large popularity. This company has stirred up the controversy on the topic of gun control in the United States.

Defence Distributed later was sued by United States Department of State to take down the blueprints for the 3D printed firearms. The case resulted in Defence Distributed removing all the firearm CAD files from their website. Defence Distributed had the right to free speech, but the result in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that national security and defence security issues trumped Defence Distributed’s right.[2] Although the files were removed, these files are already circulating on torrent sites and even the dark web. In the end, Defence Distributed assumably did not care about removing the files, since they already achieved their goal of spreading the file itself and the awareness for their cause. Once something has been on the internet, it is basically impossible to regulate it.

The following is the exact insert taken from the taken from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals documentation in the Defence Distributed v. United States Department of State case:

“Ordinarily, of course, the protection of constitutional rights would be the highest public interest at issue in a case. That is not necessarily true here, however, because the State Department has asserted a very strong public interest in national defense and national security. Indeed, the State Department’s stated interest in preventing foreign nationals—including all manner of enemies of this country—from obtaining technical data on how to produce weapons and weapon parts is not merely tangentially related to national defense and national security; it lies squarely within that interest.”

The Importance of Lower Receivers

The lower receiver is arguably the most important part of the gun, in the context of gun control, since this is the only part of the gun that is serialized and required you to have a Federal Firearms License (FFL). The only exception to this is 80% receivers, which is an incomplete lower receiver without the holes for a trigger. If a person were able to produce a 3D printed lower receiver, then they would be able to build a complete assault rifle without the FFL.[3] The other parts such as the stock, upper receiver, barrel, and magazine can be purchased without an FFL. The use of 3D printing to create a lower receiver is much easier to do compared to finishing an 80% lower receiver. The process of machining a hole into the 80% lower receiver would require a high level of skill and experience. Whereas, the 3D printer is doing most of the work after uploading a CAD file of a lower receiver. This means someone can get access a complete assault rifle if the only have the lower receiver.

The Liberator

The Liberator[4]

The Liberator was a 3D printed handgun developed by Defence Distributed. This was the first-ever fully 3D printed handgun. The entire gun can be created by plastic, but the Defence Distributed chose to create the firing pin from metal. This gun fires standard .22 or .38 LR and is a single-shot gun. The handgun has 16 parts and technically all the parts can be 3D printed.[5] This was downloaded over 100,000 times in a span of two days.

The Song Bird

The Song Bird[6]
The Song Bird Deconstructed[6]
The Song Bird Firing[6]

The Songbird is a variation of the Liberator and it was created by James R. Patrick. The model of the uses much fewer parts than the Liberator, but it also has more metal parts. The handgun vaguely resembles a Glock, a standard handgun used in many law enforcement agencies and military. The gun can be printed in ABS or PLA, which give the opportunity for a wide range of colors, as seen the image. This could potentially pose a threat because it could easily be mistaken for a fake gun. This could cause hesitation for a police officer to take action because it is similar to the orange-tipped guns to identify that they are fake. Another scenario, a child could accidentally use this gun while thinking it was just a toy.

The Washbear

The Washbear[7]

The Washbear is also a variation of the Liberator created by James R. Patrick. But in this model, the gun has a revolver-like barrel. This allows the user to fire multiple rounds in a rapid succession and allow the user to reload relatively quickly.

Implications on Public Safety

While costs in 3D printing decreases and the accuracy of the printing increases, these plastic firearms are a genuine concern for public safety. These guns are much easier to produce when comparing to traditional milling techniques and the cost of producing is much cheaper. The materials to create these guns can go as low as $30 CAD. Additionally, these 3D printed guns are practically untraceable and undetectable. This means that someone with a blemished criminal record could bypass a background check and obtain a gun. Furthermore, there have been incidences of people being caught with 3D printed guns in places where firearms are prohibited. In 2016, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confiscated a 3D printed handgun and five bullets from a passenger’s carry-on bag.[8] In 2014, two felons in were apprehended with assault rifles built with 3D printed lower receivers.

Although there are legitimate concerns about public safety, counter-arguments that address these to these worries do exist. If a person did intend on doing something horrible with a firearm, they would most likely use a firearm that is more reliable than a 3D printed gun. There have been cases showing 3D printed firearms exploding after discharging a single bullet. Also, the process of creating a 3D printed gun is iterative. Plastics such as PLA or ABS can change shape unpredictably when being melted into the 3D objects. This means that these designs will need to anticipate the unpredictable shrinkage of the plastics. This process can be time-consuming and the results are often not successful.

3D Printing Gun Regulations

A common worry is that as technology gets cheaper, more and more people will have access to 3D printers that can print precise plastic guns. Every year 3D printers get cheaper and the CAD designs get more advanced. A potential avenue is to prevent or restrict 3D printers from printing firearms, similarly to how regular paper printers will not scan and print paper currency. This introduces the idea of regulation into the mix.

North America:

In the United States, the production of 3D printed guns is not illegal if it following all the laws and regulations that would apply for any other type of firearms, such as Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) regulations and the restrictions from the National Firearms Act. This means that you would need to obtain the same licensing as if a regular firearm, which would entail a background check. A problem with 3D printed guns is that a majority of them are printed entirely out of plastic. Under the Undetectable Firearms Act, it requires that manufactured firearms contain metal parts in order to be a legal firearm, such as an inserted metal plate to trigger metal detectors.[9] From an insert taken from the ATF website, a law enforcement agency within the US Department of Justice, it states that it is illegal “for any person to manufacture, import, sell, ship, deliver, possess, transfer, or receive any firearm [if]:

1.) After removal of grips, stocks, and magazines, is not as detectable as the Security Exemplar, by walk-through metal detectors calibrated and operated to detect the Security Exemplar; or

2.) any major component of which, when subjected to inspection by the types of x-ray machines commonly used at airports, does not generate an image that accurately depicts the shape of the component. Barium sulfate or other compounds may be used in the fabrication of the component.[10]

There has also been a progression in trying to regulate these types of firearms in California. In 2014, a law was in development that required creators of homemade firearms or 3D printed guns to go through a serialization process. These gun owners would have to apply for an official serial number from the Department of Justice. This law was passed in 2016 and is expected to be put into place by 2018.[11] Nick Bolton, a lead writer for New York Times, said that “technology always moves faster than the law”, which is relevant to this serial number law.

In Canada, the 3D printed gun is also not illegal if it follows the laws and regulation that applies to any other firearm. The difference in Canada, when compared to the United States, is that handgun fall under the category of a restrictive firearm. This requires you to go through the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (CRFSC) if you were to want to use or own a 3D printed handgun.


The United Kingdom has declared that 3D printed firearms are a threat to national security. The UK Home Office, a government department that aims to keep citizens safe, has implemented strict rules and regulations on 3D printing. The creation, selling, or buying of 3D printed firearms or parts is now illegal in the UK and other places in Europe are following suit.


In Japan, it is illegal to produce 3D printed guns and to release any information on how to produce these firearms. A man in Japan was sentenced to two years in prison because he was caught producing a version of Liberator and releasing the blueprints. In Japan, firearms are banned with few exceptions such as police officers. The use of guns require you to take classes, written tests, mental health and drug tests, criminal and background check to ensure qualification.[12]

In China, the government has also taken proactive strategies in preventing the production of 3D printed firearms. In Chongqing, a major city in China, they require all companies with 3D printers to apply for special status to use these machines. In order for these companies to use the 3D printers, they must state the purpose of using the 3D printing machines, the security measure in place to prevent printing firearms, and handover information on all the employees.


In New South Wales, a state in Australia, the creation and owning of 3D printed firearm is illegal. In 2015, a law passed that prohibited the possession of digital blueprints for producing printed firearms, which could result in a maximum of 14 years in prison.[13]


3D Printing and Copyright Concepts [14]

The topic of 3D printing and copyright is a very complex issue. This section will cover some examples of how companies have handled the issue of copyright.


Disney has applied for a patent regarding anti-scanning materials to prevent reverse engineering of their character figures.[1] Disney's countless characters and figures can be tempting for fans who want to recreate their own models using 3D printing. The anti-scanning material from Disney's patent will make it harder to use 3D scanners to properly model the figures. This does not mean Disney sees 3D printing as a hindrance. In 2016, Disney filed patents for a 3D printing method using high-intensity light to print instantaneously.[2] Disney will continue to develop new 3D printing technology to improve their own manufacturing processes since it recognizes the potential capabilities of 3D printing.


Hasbro has allowed consumers to 3D scan and print their popular figures.[3] 3D model creators can also sell their creations on Shapeways, a 3D printing marketplace.[4] By allowing its consumers to produce content, Hasbro is establishing goodwill with its fan base. It also encourages creators to come up with new ideas that can improve the brand. This is one approach businesses can take to increase brand awareness and engagement with consumers.

Future of 3D and 4D Printing

Future Outlook

  1. 3D and 4D printing allows for continued innovation in the manufacturing sector.
  2. 3D and 4D printing is a way for startups to deliver high value products at a smaller scale.
  3. 3D and 4D printing can improve sustainability by reducing parts, using biodegradable materials.
  4. 3D and 4D printing can bring high value to classrooms when used for educational purposes by allowing students to experiment with their creativity. Students can use see their concepts come to life with physical models printed by 3D printers.


  1. Price of good 3D printers are still too expensive for homes.
  2. Production time needs to be continually reduced with better technology.
  3. To create something complex, there is a learning curve associated with CAD software.
  4. The stigma of 3D printing as a gimmick.


John Lam Michael Ahn Jiaqi (Nicole) Ma Daniel Maringka Daniel Champagne
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
lamjohnl@sfu.ca mbahn@sfu.ca jiaqim@sfu.ca dmaringk@sfu.ca dchampag@sfu.ca


  1. https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/disney-publishes-patent-anti-scanning-filament-3d-printing-method-115659/ Retrieved on 3 December 2017
  2. https://www.computerworld.com/article/3063786/emerging-technology/disney-files-patent-for-near-instantaneous-3d-printing.html Retrieved on 3 December 2017
  3. http://variety.com/2014/biz/news/my-little-pony-hasbro-lets-consumers-design-their-own-toys-through-3d-printing-1201265593/ Retrieved on 3 December 2017
  4. https://www.shapeways.com/superfanart/mylittlepony Retrieved on 3 December 2017
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