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UCLA

The Revolution Will Be Printed in 3-D

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By Dan Gordon '85

Published Apr 1, 2014 8:00 AM


Three-dimensional printing is an increasingly important tool for industry and research, and the terminology as well as the technology is creeping into the consumer market. But what is it? And how are UCLA faculty and students using it to create everything from bone splints to stunning fashion?

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Cavity Skateboard, courtesy of Jac Currie, Tas Oszkay and Mo Harmon/ UCLA Architecture & Urban Design

The digital revolution has given us 24/7 access to every conceivable piece of information we might need (and much that we don't). You say you want a new revolution? Some believe we may be on the verge of one that's analogous: the ability to print anything, any time — not on paper, but in three dimensions. Shoes. Toys. Jewelry. Prosthetics. Pizzas. Apartments.

That's right, apartments. Last fall, in the Munich-based 3M futureLAB run by Peter Ebner, visiting professor in UCLA Architecture and Urban Design (A.UD), a group that included UCLA architecture students produced what they billed as the world's first apartment using only 3-D technology — fully furnished and complete with bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living space, if a bit cramped at about 37 square feet. Ebner predicts that over the next two decades, 3-D printing will overtake construction in architecture as part of "the next industrial revolution."

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Emoto Glove, courtesy of Ryan Hong and Andrew Raffel/Solid Concepts/UCLA Architecture & Urban Design

You need something to wear for the revolution? Julia Koerner, an A.UD architect and lecturer, has broken new ground in a collaboration with Amsterdam-based fashion designer Iris Van Herpen and the Belgium-based 3-D printing company Materialise. Employing 3-D modeling to execute Van Herpen's two-dimensional designs — otherworldly creations by a woman whose pieces have been worn by Björk and Lady Gaga — Koerner has printed two dresses that have been modeled on the runways at the prestigious Paris Haute Couture show before going on display at major museums. "There are no limitations in terms of seams and cutting patterns, which gives you a lot more freedom to experiment," Koerner explains of the advantages brought by the 3-D technology, which she used to execute Van Herpen's design on a dress that gave the appearance of being created "of liquid honey," one critic observed.

Closer to home, three graduate students in A.UD used 3-D to print and then cruise around campus on a skateboard more intricately designed than traditional manufacturing could produce. The black, lightweight plastic was shaped in the complex mineral skeleton of the radiolarian organism. "The skateboarding world is very interested in variety and customization," says Jac Currie, who designed the board along with fellow students Mo Harmon and Tas Oszkay. "This would also be easily replaceable, so if in the future 3-D printing is something that's done at home, people could print their own boards every time they broke one."

It's far from clear that any of the aforementioned applications will ever become routine, or that 3-D printers will one day be as indispensable as the Internet. But as the technology advances and prices drop, it no longer seems a matter of if, but how, 3-D printing will change our world. It's already got legislators on their toes: In January, a California state senator proposed a bill requiring background checks and registration for individuals who use 3-D printers to assemble firearms. The technology may offer the promise of replacing body parts — a Belgian company having provided a hint by printing a jawbone that was implanted into a patient in 2011 — but it's already caused a stir for its ability to churn out a gun for someone who isn't supposed to own one.

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