The 3D printing technology used by a Gold Coast doctor to help reconstruct a patient’s jaw will be integral to a new degree starting at Griffith University this year.

Back in November it was announced that Dr Dimitrios Nikolarakos had performed an Australian first when he used 3D printing as part of surgery on a 68-year-old man.

However, the potential impact of the process extends well beyond medicine.

Griffith’s new Bachelor of Industrial Design degree, hosted by the university’s Queensland College of Art and School of Engineering, will be based at the Gold Coast campus from Semester 1 this year and will give students a clear advantage in the understanding and use of this world-changing technology.

In fact, it’s already happening. Brisbane’s Kaecee Fitzgerald recently completed her Master of Visual Arts at the QCA and has undertaken a summer position at the Prince Charles Hospital where she is modelling practice hearts for cardiac surgeons.

Meanwhile, the world’s leading exponent of 3D printing, Belgian-based company Materialise, will join Griffith University in hosting an international 3D printing conference on the Gold Coast in March. Highlighting medical and industrial design, it will also feature a 3D printing workshop and a digital fashion show with works by award-winning Malaysian designer, Melinda Looi.

Technically known as Additive Manufacturing, 3D printing operates from a digital blueprint to create three-dimensional, solid objects of virtually any shape. Using plastic, ceramic or metal, products are built in layers fused by laser, UV light or heat.

Students Danica Jeffrey and Jamie Edwards admire Danica's 3D-printed jewellery stand

Students Danica Jeffrey and Jamie Edwards admire Danica’s laser-cut jewellery stand

The process can make components specific to a person or requirement and is expanding globally across multiple platforms, including medicine, science, the military, aerospace, aviation and automotive engineering, architecture, fashion, construction, art and music.

“Rapid development in industrial design practices over the past few years has meant objects are not only being redesigned but completely rethought,” said Griffith’s Industrial Design Program Leader, Dr Jennifer Loy.

“3D printing, where objects can be made individually without the upfront costs of conventional manufacturing, is creating a shift from mass production to mass customisation.

“This means changing practice and demand, the relationship we have to the products that surround us and our ideas of what may be possible.”

Airbus engineers in Europe recently unveiled a radical redesign proposal for an aircraft built from 3D-printed components, while NASA has successfully tested a rocket engine featuring a 3D-printed injector. Harvard University engineers used 3D printing to create one of the smallest batteries ever made, less than a millimetre wide and in layers of material containing lithium-metal-oxide particles.

On the Gold Coast, Dr Nikolarakos removed an 8cm section of his patient’s jaw before replacing it with bone from the man’s leg. The bone was then attached at each end with a titanium plate. A 3D printer produced guides placed on the jaw and leg bones to ensure surgical precision.

Dr Loy said the Bachelor of Industrial Design degree aimed to produce a new breed of graduate skilled in cutting edge industrial design practices and ready to enter the global market.

“Manufacturing is becoming increasingly internationally based and this degree — from day one – will provide graduates with the underlying design understanding, advanced 3D computer modelling, 3D printing as well as traditional production technologies, computer graphic and product skills to work effectively and flexibly in the rapidly emerging, high technology digital design and production environment.”

At the end of the three-year degree, or four years with honours, graduates have the option of completing two more years of study to become an accredited engineer.

For more information, go to: or contact Dr Jennifer Loy at [email protected]