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Internet of Things

3-D printers save birds' lives

Be it an artificial beak or a prefab house: Modern 3-D printers can save disfigured birds in zoos and provide low-cost housing for low-income families. Exhibitors are showing the new horizons being opened up by 3-D printing at CeBIT 2015.

12 Nov. 2015

Grecia will soon be happy again, even though the young bird recently lost the upper part of her beak. Four companies have already volunteered their help to save the hurt bird. What happened? Grecia, a toucan in the Ave Zoo in San José, the capital of Costa Rica, was in her aviary as usual, when two young men armed with sticks began to hit the defenseless bird. During the attack, Grecia lost the upper, brightly colored part of her beak. Since the South American toucan from the Ramphastidae family primarily feeds on fruit, this is a serious problem. Fortunately, a huge wave of solidarity has come her way. Design companies have offered their help and want to create an artificial beak – using a 3-D printer. "We have already scanned in the beaks of several dead toucans and designed the first models," says Mariela Fonseca from Elementos 3-D.

Building a house in six days

3-D printers have undergone enormous development since the first patent in 1986. Users from the fields of art, industry, architecture and medicine use this technology to produce prototypes and even mass-produced objects. An impressive project has just been launched in Beijing, where a company called WinSun is printing prefabricated houses. A two-story villa with a total size of 1,100 m² was created this way in an industrial park in Suzhou in eastern China. It is the largest object to come out of a 3-D printer to date. "For a house built of real stone, the miners first have to spend a lot of time and effort digging the stone blocks out of the ground and then hauling them to the construction site," says Ma Yihe, CEO of WinSun. "With the 3-D printer, we recycle building rubble. That is quick and inexpensive." The printer is about six meters high and has a printer bed of more than 350 m². The entire process took only a day, with another five days for assembly. Because it is now possible to save so much time and material, a house built this way costs only €5,000. The model is already setting new standards: In Amsterdam, an architect's office, DUS, now wants to print out a house like the traditional ones you find along the city's canals.

The latest from 3-D printing at CeBIT

A US-American company, Formlabs , shows that this can also be done on a smaller scale: with their Form 1+, a high-resolution desktop 3-D printer. Whether it's a wristwatch, a pair of dentures or a complete chess set: this printer makes it possible to print practically anything that does not exceed a certain size within just a few hours. 12.5 x 12.5 x 16.5 cm are the dimensions. This would be no problem for Grecia’s beak, but it certainly would be for a Chinese villa. But for Formlabs, it's about more:

"Our customers are designers, researchers and startup entrepreneurs. We want to show how easy to use and reliable 3-D printing has become,"
says Sara Bonomi from Formlabs Europe.

With a starting kit that costs around €3,000, they are also one of the most inexpensive suppliers. Their printer can be found at CeBIT in Hall 12, Stand B77. But the competition certainly won't be sitting idly by. Suppliers of 3-D printing technology will be coming to CeBIT 2015 in Hannover from all over the world. And many of these products are likely to be used for everyday applications soon.