3D Printing on TV: Fact or Fiction?

By July 5, 2017Entertainment, Industry

We’ve seen some wild things in movies and television over the past century. Especially in the science fiction genre.

Critics like to point to everything a show gets “wrong.” But that doesn’t change the fact that what we thought improbable 50 years ago is now everyday.

And sometimes a TV episode points to something that seems extraordinary to the average viewer, but common in others’ lives.

Like 3D printing.

Sure, sometimes television portrays 3D printing as far more advanced than it actually is. But with every episode that airs, our industry gets that much more interest.

3D printing is even helping the entertainment industry create our favorite shows.

But it’s much more fun to see how the technology is incorporated into plot lines. Here’s a few of our favorite examples.

Westworld on HBO

We’re more than a little fond of Westworld around here (we wrote an entire blog post on it and how the creators use 3D printing).

The series centers around a futuristic theme park filled with extremely realistic-looking androids. From scenes in the pilot episode, it appears these androids are made with a process that, if not actually 3D printing, is very close to it.

Modern 3D printing can’t create androids like those seen on Westworld. But, again, this series is set in the future. Who knows where 3D printing goes from here?

Pure Genius on CBS

The pilot episode of this series underscores how close Hollywood comes to reality, but also how far from reality television often is. This series is about a tech billionaire who builds a hospital equipped with the latest in medical advances – including many things not possible yet.

In this episode, the characters were able to 3D print a complete human organ and transplant it into a patient. Though there have been some incredible advancements in the use of 3D printing for the medical industry, we’re not quite there.

The Big Bang Theory on CBS

We’re fond of Westworld for its forward-thinking look at what 3D printing might be one day. But we love The Big Bang Theory any day – especially when they’re showcasing 3D printing.

This episode was much more realistic than most TV episodes that feature 3D printing. Two characters, Raj and Howard, decide to purchase a 3D printer in order to make better action figures – including ones of themselves. There’s even a short discussion on the potential impact 3D printing could have on American manufacturing.

Grey’s Anatomy on ABC

Medical usage has always been a huge part of 3D printing’s evolution. And a Grey’s Anatomy episode in 2013 centered on one reason why.

In this medical drama, one doctor brings a 3D printer to the hospital where the show is set. Her presentation to the rest of the hospital staff focuses on how 3D printing allows medical professionals to customize medical devices to each patient right there in the hospital itself.

The Good Wife on CBS

(CBS is apparently fond of 3D printing.)

This particular episode of the legal drama focuses more on the political and cultural ramifications of 3D printing rather than the technology itself.

A man has been injured by a 3D printed gun and is suing the designer. Yes, it is possible to 3D print a gun – but as the trial in this episode points out, doing so has its issues. Why sue the designer? Because the man wasn’t shot – the weapon “exploded” during use.

3D printing has the potential to allow people to buy 3D files and print their own items as needed. But this episode asks the question: who is ultimately responsible for a defective 3D print?

Bones on Fox

This forensic drama showcased 3D printing twice during its twelve seasons. The first episode featuring 3D printing aired all the way back in the show’s sixth season (which was 2010). And it shows a lack of real research on the writers’ parts. (Can anyone tell me what an “additive stereolithograph” is? Anyone?)

But the episode does give a good example of what 3D imaging and printing can do together, as the investigators use imaging to scan the imprint of a body left in concrete and then print the bones based on the scan.

The second episode aired as part of season 10 in 2015. The characters in the US use a 3D printer to “send” tools to members of the team who have traveled to Iran. How very NASA of them.

Getting Eyes on the Industry

From showing people what 3D printing is capable of now to stretching our imaginations as to what 3D printing could be, TV is getting people to talk about 3D printing. And every time that happens, we get a little bit closer to making what is just an idea right now into the reality of 3D printing.