Leroy, an Auckland great dane recently received a new 3D printed bionic leg after cancer was discovered. I think this is a fantastic story and highlights the real potential of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing
Leroy’s prosthetic was printed in titanium and was an exact replica of his lost leg. Using scanning technology almost any body part can be exactly replicated. It means a more personalised medical outcome, but also massively reduces waste and cost.
The leg was printed in Tauranga by RAM at the Titanium Industry Development Association, which I’ve visited previously to learn more about their advanced work. At RAM I saw a host of companies’ products printed in the country’s most expensive 3D printer, including a replacement dog jaw bone they had created for a similar case. One of our most innovative companies, Rocket Labs, is also using 3D printing as an integral part in their rocket design.
Additive manufacturing is a huge economic opportunity for New Zealand and something I released policy on last Election. New Zealand currently suffers from a host of macro economic issues including dependence on a few commodity exports, large distances to markets and declining manufacturing activity over the long term. We’re also grappling with the emigration of graduates and skilled workers, and limited availability to raise domestic capital for new investment.
3D printing can help mitigate some of these challenges. We neither can nor should try to compete with Chinese or Indian factories for mass producing low-cost products. However, there are boundless opportunities for designing products, prototyping them on domestic 3D printers and exporting the products, designs and services online.
Our niche is coming up with the applications, services and IP. Unlike cramming cows on paddocks, or tourists in Fiordland, there’s no limit to the export of ideas.
The Economist says the technology may have as profound an impact on the world as the first factories, and a report from the Atlantic Council asserts that 3D printing “has the potential to be as disruptive as the personal computer and the Internet.” I see it not only as a smart niche to focus on but a green one. The US Department of Energy sees the potential for digital manufacturing to reduce material costs by up to 90% and cut energy usage in half.
It’s fantastic to hear the process has been a success for Leroy, and in the coming years many more people will benefit from the medical applications. I also hope we can economically benefit from greater use.