We all knew that 3D printers existed long before 2013, but it wasn’t until this year that we peasantry found out just how advanced they were. The act of replicating an everyday object — or perhaps a new creation altogether — has implications that make the mind boggle, and we saw some of them come to pass this year. While consumer model 3D printing is still in its infancy, it’s here to stay and its mind-blowing functionality is downright futuristic. Looking back over the last 12 months, here are some of the developments and objects that really stood out.

The Liberator

The world’s first firing 3D print pistol made its YouTube debut earlier in the year. While it wasn’t that impressive in terms of firing capability and longevity — it came apart rather easily — it was a pioneer in the field of creating a deadly weapon from nothing. (And as you are about to see, it was a sign of things to come.)

Defense Distributed’s founder, Cody Wilson, made the rather accurate assessment that his creation demonstrated governments’ inability to enforce gun control. We agreed in our coverage of one of the Liberator’s many descendants, which we’ll get to in a moment.

The great thing about the Liberator was not its functionality, but its ability to place more power back in the hands of the people. As a first step toward fireable weapons, it showed that protection for the home and freedom from potential tyranny are tilting in favor of the consumer. Now as for that descendant…

Solid Concepts’ 1911 45ACP Firearm

This is the one to really be excited about if you’re a gun collector concerned about future gun control legislation. It’s a complete reproduction, via 3D printer, of a 1911 45ACP firearm. SC chose the model because it was in the public domain, and their craftsmanship of it came through with flying colors. Last we heard, it had fired more than 50 shots with a high degree of accuracy. Looks and functionality make it absolutely indistinguishable from its 1911 ancestor (when said ancestor was new).

This is the gun that we speculated had just popped a cap into the gun control lobby. While the technology used to fashion it isn’t available to the average person just yet — the machine costs around $750,000 — we all know that costs eventually come down, and that gun collectors aren’t afraid to throw cash at their hobby. Considering the industrial quality 3D printer can produce a minimum of one fully functioning weapon each day, it’s not farfetched to see collectors pooling their resources and printing up an arsenal.

NRG3 3D Printable Roller Wrench Tool

Not every great addition to the 3D print jobs file was capable of killing you. The machines demonstrated their use in the creation of tools with the NRG3 standing out as an example. With the NRG3, when you rotate the handle, the rollers squeeze between spindle and head.  This action locks the clutch in a uniform and circular pattern and applies a uber-torque to the attached socket. There is also a patented reverse mechanism that features a thumb lever on top of the ratchet head. Just rotate the lever right or left to engage in the direction of your choice.


Strength, function, durability — this wrench tool proved you won’t have to rely on Walmart much longer for the purchase of new tools. Cost: $140.

Made In Space 3D Printer

Firearms, check. Tools for the workshop, check. Okay, we’ve got the obvious ones out of the way. Now for the not-so-obvious. NASA announced in September that it would be sending a 3D printer into space in 2014. In comments regarding the upcoming launch, Made In Space CEO Aaron Kemmer was understandably excited about the project his company is spearheading: “Imagine an astronaut needing to make a life-or-death repair … Rather than hoping that the necessary parts and tools are on the station already, what if the parts could be 3D printed when they needed them?” Made In Space is still developing the lifesaver. No firm date just yet on when it will launch.

3D Printing Prosthetics

While the gun control doomsayers may find themselves really hating the three dimensional printers at the present, this cutting edge technology has something that goes beyond bullets and firing pins. The ingenuity that this tech has awakened in average citizens is truly inspiring. Perhaps no better example can be seen in what a father did for his son. 

Paul McCarthy’s 12-year-old boy Leon was born without several fingers on one hand. So after hearing about a 3D printer hand design called the RoboHand, McCarthy decided to take the design and create one himself. The results: truly inspiring.

“I was able to take the design and print it locally, and make it like you’d make a model airplane,” McCarthy said. With the hand, Leon can pick up everyday objects like a backpack or pencil. And rather than kids looking at him as “that boy born with a deformity,” they see him as a bit of a superhero. Furthermore, when Leon outgrows a hand, his dad is able to make him a new one with just $5 to $10 worth of materials vs. a $20,000 prosthetic. Want to know just how functional it is? Here, have a look (and keep the hankies ready):

Invisibility Cloaking

Don’t get too excited. None of us are going to be turning in to invisible men any time soon, but scientists did use the 3D printer to make advancements in invisibility cloaking this year. Researchers from Duke University created a polymer plastic disk capable of deflecting microwave beams. The lead researcher on the project said he was confident that in the “not-so-distant future,” the creation would lead to an invisible cloak that could ward off higher wavelengths (including visible light).

“We believe this approach is a way towards optical cloaking, including visible and infrared … And nanotechnology is available to make these cloaks from transparent polymers or glass. The properties of transparent polymers and glasses are not that different from what we have in our polymer at microwave frequencies.”

More here:


It’s been a crazily productive year for 3D print jobs and the technology that supports them. With so much happening in a brief little 365-day period, it will be interesting to see where the year ahead takes us. One thing is certain: the old phrase, “the future is what you make it,” has taken on a whole new meaning.

[Featured Image via Flickr Creative Commons]

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