Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Recycling Corpses

Today's human body isn't all just skin and bone. In many instances, it includes titanium hips and steel pins (got a few of them in my hip).

When someone's buried, all that metal goes into the ground with the body. But when a corpse is cremated, the metal is not reduced to ash like the flesh and bone, but rather must be disposed of in some other manner (grandma's hip replacement just wouldn't look right or fit in the urn sitting on the fireplace mantle). Leave it to some entrepreneur to discover a lucrative recycling business: harvesting metal remains from cremated bodies. OrthoMetals, recycles some 250 million tons annually from cremations, which then goes into cars, plans, and wind turbines. Just think, you may be driving around in someone's cobalt-chrome knee replacement!

Yet body replacement parts may soon be getting cheaper to manufacture as engineers are using the latest 3D printing systems to stamp out new "bones." A badly deteriorated jaw was recently replaced with a titanium powder replica made using 3D laser printers.

While somewhat hard to wrap your head around, since we're all used to 2D copies made on our inkjet printers, a 3D printer actually spits out a life-size working copy of whatever it is you're copying. You can hold an actual "thing" in your hand -- and then use it!

There are a few companies now making 3D printers -- 3D Systems and Stratasys are two leading firms -- and they've just broken through the $1,000 price barrier. While that might sound like a lot, recall that it wasn't until Hewlett-Packard was able to break through the $1,000 mark with its inkjet printers that the technology became available to a mass audience. Today, it's just about cheaper to throw away your printer when the ink runs out and buy a new one than to buy replacement print cartridges.

I've become fascinated with 3D printers, as you can possibly tell, and this video lets you see just how incredible they are:

I can't imagine myself buying one just yet, but think of the possibilities for haunters. You'd never have to worry that Walgreen was going to run out of skeletons before you could get there and buy one. Just take one of the ones you already have and run off as many copies as you need on your 3D printing system! Need another skull for your display? Print it! A few more tombstones for your cemetery? Print 'em!

Between printing out new body parts to harvesting them after a body is cremated, we're in a brave new world of technology.


  1. A local shop built one and they are planning on printing a new printer with it. How crazy is that?

    1. I've heard that's actually the biggest threat to their proliferation: what happens when you have people printing printers? I'm not sure if that's actually technologically feasible just yet, but I can't imagine it's too far away on the horizon.



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