3-D printing offers glimpse into future

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - If you think life changed after the Internet emerged, wait until you see what’s coming next.

Tech people say three-dimensional printing will create the next wave of joys and frustrations, job creation and job loss.

In five to 10 years, 3-D printers will be all around us, they predict. The printers will make food, including customized wedding cakes. They will make shoes, clothes, aircraft parts, dresses, steaks, replacement bones and eventually even replacement kidneys. If you find that bit about the kidney hard to believe, Google a company called Organovo.

The printers might make outsourcing jobs to China, India and Mexico less necessary. Few Americans will mourn.

But 3-D printers also would diminish the number of jobs here and everywhere.

What we are about to tell you is no fantasy. This is all happening now, and all around us.

John Tomblin remembers several years ago employees telling him how good 3-D printers are.

First you scan any object in three dimensions, as a hospital MRI scanner would. Or you upload any 3-D design, no matter how complex. Then hit a button.

Instead of paper, these printers are loaded with other materials, usually thin lines of plastic wrapped around a spool like fishing line. The printer shoots thin strands of heated plastic out of a tiny nozzle, creating layer after layer with microscopic accuracy until every detail of the object is reproduced.

Tomblin directs the National Institute for Aviation Research in Wichita, which tests new technology. He was used to seeing fun new things. But the 3-D printer idea had him scoffing, a little.

So they borrowed his keys.

And gave him exact copies.

At first, he thought that was “really cool.”

And then he realized how easy it was now to copy the keys to his house.

Organovo, the biotech company experimenting with ways to print human organs, plans to harvest a patient’s own cells and culture them so they multiply. The cells would then be fed into the printer, which would print tissue strips that could be used to patch a patient’s failing organs and eventually, the company hopes, create new organs.

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