3D printing is enough to make anyone lose their cool

“Oh My God: a chain mail glove!”

Wargamers were clearly very excited at the 3D Printshow this weekend. And who can blame them? Dressing up for an evening in would be a lot easier when the outfits were made of printed plastic.

I first wrote about 3D printing in 2000. The only example product I could get then was a weighty brick of beige plastic whose top layer vaguely resembled a mobile phone keypad. Fast-forward 12 years, and I can’t get the samples into my bulging pockets fast enough.

For the uninitiated, 3D printing is essentially a way to manufacture objects by building them out of layers of molten plastic or metal, drop by drop. The technology is essentially the same as inkjet printing onto paper. But the results are astounding.

This event, held at The Brewery on Chiswell Street, boasted exhibits from all over the world. There were toys, masks, clothes (including a 3D printed gold chain wrap), statues and – well, anything that somebody could think of. And the exhibition kept growing: a couple of trade stands captured multiple images of passers-by, rendered them in 3D on computers then reconstructed their heads in plastic.

It was all insanely cool. Of course it was: this is “the manufacturing technology that will change the world”, if the Economist is to be believed. But my biggest discovery was that you can overdose on cool.

Panicked by an overwhelming sense of Want, I found myself taking refuge in the more academic and sober confines of Louise Leakey’s stand. She had 3D printed hominid skulls, constructed from digital scans of the Kenyan fossils her father Richard discovered (also on display in a virtual musem at africanfossils.org). The skulls are not allowed to leave Nairobi’s national museum. Researchers wanting to study them for clues to our species’ history have had to travel to Africa, or work with plaster-cast reconstructions that quickly shrink and crack. Now, though, they will be able to download the digital files and print their own fossils.

There are plenty of such serious uses for 3D printers. A woman in Belgium is walking around with a 3D printed jawbone in her mouth; it replaced her original, which was destroyed by a bone infection. You can print pharmaceuticals for healthcare and weapons for the opposite: a 3D printed handgun, anyone? The US military is now dropping 3D printers into Afghanistan so that its troops can design, make and manufacture spare parts and accessories for their equipment. Car manufacturers are using them to create spare parts. And there’s the printed copy of a Stradivarius violin that has resonant qualities equivalent to the original. One of these instruments featured in the printed fashion show events, accompanied by 3D printed guitars and drums banged with 3D printed drumsticks.

Want. It. All.

You can print one out now. Photograph: Getty Images

Michael Brooks holds a PhD in quantum physics. He writes a weekly science column for the New Statesman, and his most recent book is At The Edge of Uncertainty: 11 Discoveries Taking Science By Surprise.

Photo: Getty Images/Christopher Furlong
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A dozen defeated parliamentary candidates back Caroline Flint for deputy

Supporters of all the leadership candidates have rallied around Caroline Flint's bid to be deputy leader.

Twelve former parliamentary candidates have backed Caroline Flint's bid to become deputy leader in an open letter to the New Statesman. Dubbing the Don Valley MP a "fantastic campaigner", they explain that why despite backing different candidates for the leadership, they "are united in supporting Caroline Flint to be Labour's next deputy leader", who they describe as a "brilliant communicator and creative policy maker". 

Flint welcomed the endorsement, saying: "our candidates know better than most what it takes to win the sort of seats Labour must gain in order to win a general election, so I'm delighted to have their support.". She urged Labour to rebuild "not by lookin to the past, but by learning from the past", saying that "we must rediscover Labour's voice, especially in communities wher we do not have a Labour MP:".

The Flint campaign will hope that the endorsement provides a boost as the campaign enters its final days.

The full letter is below:

There is no route to Downing Street that does not run through the seats we fought for Labour at the General Election.

"We need a new leadership team that can win back Labour's lost voters.

Although we are backing different candidates to be Leader, we are united in supporting Caroline Flint to be Labour's next deputy leader.

Not only is Caroline a fantastic campaigner, who toured the country supporting Labour's candidates, she's also a brilliant communicator and creative policy maker, which is exactly what we need in our next deputy leader.

If Labour is to win the next election, it is vital that we pick a leadership team that doesn't just appeal to Labour Party members, but is capable of winning the General Election. Caroline Flint is our best hope of beating the Tories.

We urge Labour Party members and supporters to unite behind Caroline Flint and begin the process of rebuilding to win in 2020.

Jessica Asato (Norwich North), Will Straw (Rossendale and Darween), Nick Bent (Warrington South), Mike Le Surf (South Basildon and East Thurrock), Tris Osborne (Chatham and Aylesford), Victoria Groulef (Reading West), Jamie Hanley (Pudsey), Kevin McKeever (Northampton South), Joy Squires (Worcester), Paul Clark (Gillingham and Rainham), Patrick Hall (Bedford) and Mary Wimbury (Aberconwy)

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.