A Finger on the Pulse

by Thomas Masuch — 2019/05/30

Column »Outside the Box«

The human heart is generally viewed as a symbol of energy, vitality, and joie de vivre. It’s the motor that keeps not only homo sapiens going, but all higher forms of life. As long as anyone can remember, the heart has also served a somewhat secondary role as the dwelling of the soul and profound emotion – including, of course, love. An almost mystical aura surrounds it across many different cultures.

When Israeli researchers announced some weeks ago that they had 3D-printed a human heart, it was like hearing about not just a medical breakthrough, but something akin to a modern version of the creation story. The future of biomedicine resembled a scene from the movie The Fifth Element, which also features a bioprinter – one that turns the burned remains of an alien into Milla Jovovich, who goes on to save the world (right after she finds some clothes). It thus came as no surprise that members of the TV, radio, print, and online media picked up the story of the 3D-printed heart and, in some cases, included it in the day’s headlines.

If you discuss the project with independent scientists, however, the prospect of printing a functional heart is currently about as realistic as North Korean being introduced as the first foreign language at schools in the United States.

Without wanting to discredit the work of those researchers, it’s important to mention that media coverage is probably just as important as winning over start-up investors when it comes to one’s reputation and ability to secure funding in the realm of science.

»cool« and cutting-edge

As one of the most advanced and influential technologies out there right now, 3D printing is sometimes even employed – successfully, in most cases – as a marketing tool. Indeed, as soon as something less ground-breaking is created in a 3D printer, it’s seen as »cool« and cutting-edge.

The AM industry, meanwhile, left all the hype behind years ago. The level of knowledge in additive manufacturing has increased tremendously, and despite all the euphoria, opportunities, risks, and business cases are being assessed more realistically without stifling visions of the future.

Even funding rounds in the millions can’t hide the fact that investors also appear to have grown more discerning than several years ago, when investment-financed startups were springing up out of the ground and New York became the world’s 3D-printing metropolis. Over the long term, the trend toward the realistic can only be a positive thing; there are more than enough exciting practical applications, after all. And let’s not forget the less spectacular projects that nevertheless make just as important a contribution to products and manufacturing processes – and perhaps to changing part of our lives, as well. With the growth of the industry and the propagation of AM applications proceeding at a seemingly unstoppable rate, additive manufacturing is more exhilarating than ever. And even if it sounds a bit … heartless, AM isn’t in need of any exaggerated elation in the media.