Additive manufacturing (commonly known as 3D printing or rapid prototyping) refers to processes used to produce parts in an additive manner by means of computer-aided design (CAD). While additive manufacturing is a technology that can be used in many different application areas, this project focuses on future trends in additive manufacturing (AM) aimed at improving biological functionality (bio-AM) and on its opportunities, barriers and challenges. The big advantage of this technique is that small batches can be produced more economically than with any other manufacturing process. Virtually any structure can be customized, which is particularly important in the healthcare sector. Possible applications include biological implants such as organs and tissues, nutrients, drugs and their transport mechanisms, equipment such as surgical knives and drilling guides, tissues for research, development and training, and personalized prostheses, supports and exoskeletons. Besides exploring such applications, the project will also systematically analyze potential "human enhancement" uses of AM technology and developments in the emerging do-it-yourself (DIY) cultures ("bio/body-hacking"; cyborgism; open source 3D printing movement).
In the first phase of the project, the technological state of the art will be analyzed, as will a wide variety of non-technical aspects, regulatory issues and future trends, also with a special focus on sociotechnical imaginaries (e.g., in science fiction), human enhancement and DIY cultures. This horizon scanning will be accomplished partly by means of expert and stakeholder interviews.
In the second phase, the project will use a variety of foresight and technology assessment methods and will carry out a 360° envisioning exercise with contributions by external experts, entailing an in-depth analysis of selected applications of bio-AM.
The project work will end with a scenario development phase in which the focus will be on likely outcomes of already emerging developments, though further-reaching future perspectives will be taken into account to a certain extent. Taken together, these scenarios will allow for both a broader understanding of the wide range of potential impacts of AM applications and a clearer picture of potential policy challenges relevant to the Members of the European Parliament.