Science & Research

Bringing Will.i.am and Back Braces Into 3D Printing


Ekocycle Cube 3D printer

Courtesy 3D Systems

Ekocycle Cube 3D printer

Will.i.am’s influence on the technology industry is immense. The singer used to serve as Intel’s director of creative innovation, and now he’s turned up as the chief creative officer at 3D Systems (DDD). He’s creative, and you know it because his business card and haircut say so. And the company he’s working for is pumping out innovation left and right.

As an example, 3D Systems would like to present to you the Ekocycle Cube 3D printer. It’s a small, consumer 3D printer that makes things out of waste plastic. As will.i.am says in the promotional material for the product, “Waste is only waste if we waste it.”

The truth behind the Ekocycle is more complicated than will.i.am’s slogan lets on. It’s really just 3D Systems’ Cube 3 printer in a modest disguise. The main difference is that you feed the Ekocycle cartridges made out of 25 percent recycled plastic.

Will.i.amPhotograph by Anthony Harvey/Getty ImagesWill.i.am

According to 3D Systems, each cartridge has about three 20-ounce bottles’ worth of plastic that users can then print into bracelets, napkin rings, or whatever else they can dream up. As will.i.am says: “Things don’t have to end. They can begin again.”

3D Systems has been touting this reuse story on its website for a while now, but some of its other recent breakthroughs seem more impressive. This week, for instance, the company released the $499 iSense 3D Scanner. It clips onto an iPad and lets you scan objects and people, renders the data into a 3D digital image, and uses algorithms to convert the image into something printable. The device can scan objects of all sizes, ranging from a tennis ball to a car. (Good luck printing the car, though.)

Earlier this month 3D Systems also expanded its push into the medical-device market. It announced the completion of a pilot program around Bespoke Braces, a type of custom-made brace for children and young adults with scoliosis. Your average scoliosis brace is clunky and unattractive and has to be worn by children nonstop for about two to three years. 3D Systems has tried to make the idea of wearing the brace more palatable by using scanning technology to take an image of a patient’s body before using 3D printers to produce a brace that perfectly conforms to the individual’s contours. 3D Systems then lends its design aesthetic to the brace, giving patients the option of, say, floral designs. The end result should be lighter, more attractive, and better-fitting than typical braces.

Personalized 3D-printed scoliosis brace from Bespoke BracesCourtesy 3D SystemsPersonalized 3D-printed scoliosis brace from Bespoke Braces

People haven’t paid as much attention to this part of the 3D printing world, but it may be among the technology’s most exciting uses. 3D Systems has looked into braces for arthritis sufferers (who might need hand supports) as well as casts for broken arms. The technological twist with the casts: fashion them in a type of segmented, porous design that lets water get through and allows wearers to lift up a portion to scratch an itch. The technology still needs to be proven out in the field, and 3D Systems has started some of this work. Once the technology is ready for the mainstream, will.i.am will be ready with a pithy quote unless he’s been traded to another technology company by then.

Vance_190
Vance is a technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in Palo Alto, Calif. Follow him on Twitter @valleyhack.

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Companies Mentioned

  • DDD
    (3D Systems Corp)
    • $37.07 USD
    • -0.30
    • -0.81%
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