The Surprising Ways 3D Printing is Impacting Construction and Healthcare

Kevin Donlon
Mar 14, 2019
Exponential Enterprise

One of the most difficult adjustments for an enterprise to make is the shift from an incremental to an exponential mindset. Incremental change is familiar to us and our businesses. It is often the byproduct of our day-to-day work and the way we are able to improve our margins or hit next month’s numbers.But let’s take a step back. We live in a time of exponential technological change, and it is critical for us to consider the implications of this accelerating pace of change. Embracing an exponential mindset impacts our business and nearly all aspects of our lives, and it is up to us to determine if we will exploit this change or be destroyed by it. At SU, we provide the mindset, toolset, and network to empower leaders to navigate the future, make a positive impact in the world, and help their organizations to thrive amid disruption and rapid change.Beyond impacting us at the individual and organizational levels, exponential technologies are also radically altering every industry. These seismic shifts have powerful implications for the business landscape, and enterprises that can adapt to these changes will be far more successful than those that cannot. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how 3D printing as an exponential technology is impacting two distinct industries: construction and healthcare. Whether you work in either of these industries or one that’s adjacent, we believe these are fascinating developments that will have far-reaching effects.

3D printed shelter

3D printed shelter

Construction technology startup ICON unveiled the first permitted 3D-printed house in 2018. The structure is 350 square feet and was completed in just 48 hours. ICON utilized its proprietary 3D printer, the Vulcan, which was specifically designed for use in the developing world. The printer, weighing in at 2,000 lbs., is mobile, prints fully on-site, and prints in a seamless fashion so that no additional assembly is required. The initial house, located in Austin, TX, was developed as a proof of concept for the company’s larger ambitions.ICON unveiled the first home in partnership with New Story, a non-profit focused on providing safe shelter for families residing in slums throughout the world. New Story states it has built more than 850 homes for families in such locations as Haiti, El Salvador, and Bolivia. ICON and New Story’s ongoing partnership aims to provide these underserved communities with higher quality homes faster and at a lower cost, in order to impact more families.ICON claims that its current printer will be able to print a single-story, 600-800 sq. ft. home in less than 24 hours and at a cost of $4,000, with nearly any 2D-printed design fit to print. The company’s plans for 2019 include bringing this technology to the field and moving the first families in after safety tests are complete. A recent $9M seed round with investors—including a prominent US homebuilder and one of the largest developers in the Middle East, amongst others—suggest it is well on the way to achieving this goal. Consider the potential scale and impact this technology will have on the construction industry.This video provides a nice overview of ICON and New Story’s partnership:

3D printed ingestibles

We first discussed putting a human in a 3D-printed structure. Now let’s put a 3D-printed structure in a human.3D printing has applications and the promise to make an impact across all industries. Let’s now look at a recent development in healthcare. Researchers at MIT, Draper, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital designed a 3D printed electronic ingestible pill that can be controlled wirelessly via Bluetooth.Implantation of biomedical electronics has the ability to enable many novel diagnostic and therapeutic functions. However, many current implantables require some form of surgical placement and can lead to complications such as foreign body immune responses and serving as a potential nidus for infection. The ingestible capsule, a gastric resident electronic, tested in this study is delivered orally and can remain in the stomach for up to 36 days, maintaining wireless communication for over two weeks during this time.After being swallowed, the pill dissolves and unfolds into a Y-shaped structure, lodging into the stomach. It resides there for about one month, at which time it breaks into smaller pieces and continues through the digestive tract. One of the key attributes of the pill is its ability to withstand the highly acidic environment of the stomach. That’s where additive manufacturing/3D printing comes into play. 3D printing allowed the incorporation of alternating layers of stiff and flexible polymers for the capsule, critical to have in the stomach environment. It also allowed for the incorporation of the many additional components needed to be carried by the capsule. Lead author Yong Lin Kong stated, “Multimaterials 3-D printing is a highly versatile manufacturing technology that can create unique multicomponent architectures and functional devices, which cannot be fabricated with conventional manufacturing techniques.”

Human hand and small capsule endoscope

There is great diagnostic and therapeutic potential for this type of resident electronic. The device carries sensors which can relay diagnostic information back to a user or physician via Bluetooth, or alternatively could communicate with other wearables, sensors, and implantable devices. One of the arms of the capsule also includes several compartments which can be loaded with drugs. Drug delivery via this method would prove particularly useful for therapeutic regimens requiring long-term delivery (currently accomplished via injection or infusion, for example) or for regimens with very strict dosing parameters that are difficult to follow or have high rates of non-compliance. Lastly, the device could combine diagnostic and therapeutic ability via a closed-loop system. Envision a scenario in which the device utilizes a sensor to diagnose the early sign of an ailment or change in clinical status and responds by releasing a preloaded medication for appropriate treatment. 3D printing is undeniably enabling significant advancements in the field.-Dr. KevSources include:, 3D-Printed Gastric Resident Electronics in Advanced Materials Technologies, MIT News