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UM's futuristic printers can print out 3D objects

Some printers at the University of Michigan can make unusual prints.

Machines  in the University's 3D Lab can produce three-dimensional sculptures, car parts and even model human body parts. A student or faculty member can design a model, take it to the U-of-M's 3-D lab and leave hours later with their object in hand.

Here's how it works:

A student or faculty member designs a model on a computer. Technicians send the design to the refrigerator-sized machine, then a mechanical arm applies layers of material in cross-sections that slowly build up the model.

The machines layer plaster or heated plastic models as large as basketballs.

Shawn O'Grady works at the lab. He says the machine makes all kinds of objects.

"We even have the software available here where you can take a scan of your body, and extract, say, the heart, and then use that as a 3D model," he said.

O'Grady says he sees applications for the technology in every day life.

"Say you're at an auto dealer. You bring your car in and you need some work done to it. Instead of having parts on a shelf, they might be able to produce the parts right there at the dealership."

The prints cost about $50 apiece.  

For now, O'Grady says the printer is unable to print out a replica of itself.

Check out a video of the printers in action here.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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