Earlier this year, a hapless penguin at the Warsaw Zoo lost his lower beak, either in a fall or a fight, and there were concerns that the bird might starve to death because the damage left him unable to eat. Omni3D, a Polish 3D-printer firm, came to the rescue, offering to produce a new beak -- based on a dead penguin's, to get an idea of the dimensions -- from materials including nylon.
According to Rozi Mikołajczak, a spokesperson for the Poznan-based firm, this is the first time in Europe (and only the second time in the world) that a bird's beak has been reconstructed using 3D technology. Unsure which material would be best for the penguin, they created three for the zoo to find a match. Modelling the beaks was time-consuming: it took two weeks to complete them. As luck would have it, the penguin's beak started to grow back so there was no need for the manufactured one, but this inspirational exercise illustrates how 3D printing is crossing frontiers all the time, opening up new possibilities.
Mikołajczak, for one, believes it will become a mainstream technology in the long term. "Twenty years ago, if you heard the internet would be in each house, it would have been incredible, but now we can't live without Wi-Fi," she says. "In 10 years' time, 3D printing will be everywhere; it will be our everyday reality."
Here's a roundup of 3D objects being printed in the world of arts, fashion, cars, travel, even food.
Barcelona-based firm Natural Machines' Foodini 'Food Printer'
Might we one day have a 3D food printer in each home instead of a microwave? A Barcelona-based firm's Foodini 'Food Printer' helps with time-consuming tasks such as forming dough into breadsticks and making ravioli. The 'cook' prepares the fresh ingredients using a blender, food processor or by hand, loads them into the printer's 'food capsules' and watches as it prints the chosen recipe. It is even possible to make quiche layers with this machine, which is due to be launched in 2015. €1000 ($1439) (expected) naturalmachines.com
Aston Martin DB5 Propshop Modelmakers
An Aston Martin DB5 is rare enough that it would be a shame to blow it to pieces for a film. That's why the producers of the James Bond film Skyfall turned to 3D printing to do the trick. British firm Propshop used Voxeljet's 3D printers to create one-third-scale models of the highly coveted automobile. Assembled like real cars, each of the three models required roughly 200 different parts to be created and to allow the doors and hoods to open and close. Could this be the car enthusiast's collector's item of the future? Voxeljet AG
Worried about being over the luggage weight limit as you set off on your summer break? Finnish artist Janne Kyttanen, creative director of 3D Systems, has created clothes that can be sent as digital information, to be printed at your destination. The idea of printing all your holiday outfits may still be at the artistic stage but the reality is definitely on the horizon, and the first of Kyttanen's 'lost luggage' designs are available: $US1999 ($2147) for a 'drape dress' at cubify.com, where you'll also find his Mashup printed shoes ($US1479). cubify.com
Milliner Gabriela Ligenza's hat for those going to Royal Ascot
Going to the races? Then bring your own 3D-printed hat. 3D technology and fashion can blend together well too. Earlier this summer, milliner Gabriela Ligenza created a hat for those going to Royal Ascot. Wrapped around the crown and the base, the hat features the lines of a poem by British poet and racing enthusiast Henry Birtles. From £1700 (3,086); gabrielaligenza.com
Doodle in the air
T-shirt made with Lix 3D-printing pen
Now there is a clever little hand-held device that will let you doodle objects in thin air. The Lix 3D printing pen melts, then cools a thin stream of opaque plastic, allowing the user to build free-standing structures. Simply attach the power cable to the pen, insert a filament of the plastic material, wait a minute while the nozzle heats up -- then doodle away. This is a handy tool for creating fashion prototypes, such as T-shirts, artistic jewelry, sculpture or whatever your imagination can conceive. £85 ($154); lixpen.com