Saturday, October 12, 2013

3-D Printers for Retirees

News items and crime shows have made me aware of a wide range of products that can be fabricated with the new 3-D printers. It’s no surprise that bad guys use them to make guns. But printed pizza? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Apparently not. Guns. Architectural models. Jewelry. Clothing. And now pizza. The University of Exeter in the UK and US-based 3-D Systems are each working on printing chocolate. (There is a God!) Nike and New Balance already print custom-fit shoes for athletes. A textile company in Pakistan has printed a nylon bikini. It looks a tad like one I crocheted for myself back in the seventies. I hope it holds up in water better than the one I made.

There may be no end to the 3-D printing possibilities, but there can certainly be a beginning, and I’m here to provide it. A 3-D printer could be a retiree’s new best friend.

How about walking shoes with Velcro straps? Design them especially to fit your feet, with all their bumps and idiosyncrasies. When the Velcro wears out, you can print new straps. Have your arches fallen a tad since you made the shoes? Adjust the printer to fit your new curvature (or lack thereof) and make custom insoles. If the shoes lose their grip, make new bottoms. At the rate I’ve been (not) walking, sole wear-down would be the last of my concerns.

A helpful capability would be printing new lids for Tupperware-type containers. Doesn’t every household have an infinite supply of bottoms with missing tops? And a considerable number of tops that match none of those bottoms? This new tool could remove that find-a-match stress from retired life.

Lost a button on your shirt and can’t find one in with the right diameter and number of holes in your button box? Just print a replacement. This works great for shank buttons, too. You’ll still have to sew it on yourself, but getting the right button is half the battle. Actually, getting my husband to tell me he’s missing a button is a bigger issue. In our household, laundry day is also discovery day.

The latest 3-D printing use—pizza—opens the door to a whole new category—food. This can take the pressure off us on making a thorough shopping list. You forgot to get romaine? No problem. Simply print up a head. Better yet, print up a few leaves each time you need them. That way they’ll always be fresh and crisp. Leaves too thick for you to chew with your late-life teeth? Re-calibrate and print them thinner.

Even better: make yourself new teeth that cut more easily. At the International Dental Show in Cologne, reported on a German company’s process for producing removable partial dentures with these printers. “Data created by intraoral scanners or from scanning an impression” creates a virtual model that is sliced and then directs a “focused laser beam to fuse metal powder in successive layers until the prosthesis is complete.” Isn’t technology grand!

A truly useful option would be printing new fashion eyewear frames. I don’t know about you, but I go through several pairs of magnifiers each month. They’re not expensive, but it’s hard to find my number. The lenses are generally still OK, but the frames break. If I could print new frames, I could pop in the lenses from the old ones and I’d be in business. Maybe literally, as well as figuratively. Frames-on-demand could make me extremely popular in my retirement community.

Worried that you can’t afford a 3-D printer? Get your condo association or one of your activities clubs to buy it. When you have a group in on the purchase, you spread the cost around. There’s bound to be enough 3-D printing requests to justify the expense. For starters, you’ll be able to print the pizza for your Friday night get-togethers. Or bikinis for lounging around the club’s pool. On second thought, maybe not bikinis.

Suddenly I have one of my flashes of genius. Let’s get 3-D printers that clone themselves! Then every retiree will be able to afford his own. I hope it’s not too long before they figure out how to print a glass of wine.

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