It’s a big idea. It’s powerful technology. These two things equal a perfect storm of innovative change. Several industries are finding out just how important it is — the funeral profession included.
What Is 3D Printing?
The original process, called stereolithography, was invented in the 1980s by Charles Hull. Like the first of many great ideas, it was an expensive process (it still is, but a lot less so). Its first applications were primarily in engineering and manufacturing. Fast forward to 2016, and there are headlines about the first 3D-printed car and gun.
Today, there are different processes and materials used, but the core concept is the same. This article in PCMag explains it as the “ability to turn digital files containing three-dimensional data…into physical objects.” Now it has crossed over into the mainstream. 3D printing is noticeably transforming more and more industries.
The healthcare industry is printing prosthetics, pills, and has even started on “living” organs. The food industry has just started to experiment with it. The impact of 3D printing is going to completely change the way we think about manufacturing. Why mass produce something when a single item can be quickly printed on an as-need basis?
3D Printing and the Funeral Profession
3D printing has slowly started to set up shop in the funeral profession. It makes sense, too. Two factors have helped enable a perfect environment for 3D printing. The first is the rise of cremation. The Cremation Association of North America predicts that by 2018 the rate of cremation will exceed burials. The second factor is the growing importance of personalization in the funeral profession.
So more people are choosing cremation and want a unique way to remember their legacy. What does 3D printing bring to the table? Custom printed urns.
Imagine a husband and wife who have been together for the past 60 years. They met one day under an old oak tree in their hometown and would return on anniversaries to picnic there. The husband recently passed away. The wife could order an exact replica of that oak tree where they first met, and have it printed and turned into an urn.
That’s what this family did for a NASA Engineer. They printed an exact replica of the Columbia space shuttle to serve as an urn.
3D printing will provide families with new ways to ensure a unique legacy for their loved ones. But it’s not the only way it’s making its presence felt in the funeral profession.
Repairing the Dead
Earlier, we mentioned how 3D printing has entered the healthcare field. There have been advances in printed “living parts,” prosthetics, and dental and other medical devices. ,Now 3D printing has turned toward the deceased.
In China, a funeral home has started using 3D printing to repair the bodies of deceased. These bodies are often ones damaged in accidents or disasters. Funeral professionals currently use a lot of wax and makeup to make reparations, and the resemblance isn’t always completely accurate (especially in cases of severe trauma). This new phenomenon is still being developed, but it’s easy to see why it is garnering so much interest. With 3D printing, families might have the option to see their loved ones in a more realistic and familiar state — which is a great comfort in the event of an unexpected accident or tragedy.
Let’s go back to how 3D printing works. A digital file of a concept is sent to a machine that then builds a physical object of that file. This allows for the printing of almost anything imaginable, on demand.
After the death of a loved one, families sometimes like to purchase memorial keepsakes. These include things like tokens, pendants, small figurines, casket corners, or engravings. They could be generic or personalized in some way, but they’re usually mass-produced templates.
As 3D becomes more popular and affordable, these templated keepsakes would be a thing of the past. With 3D printing, families can play a bigger role in the process. They might have the opportunity to sit down and design a unique keepsake or memento alongside their funeral director. Depending on the family size, only a few would need to be printed. Companies would save money by creating memorial inventory on demand.
As the technology becomes more pervasive and affordable, funeral homes in the future could even do this in-house.
Embrace the Change
Much like death, change is inevitable. 3D printing is already slowly permeating the funeral profession. The technology is a little slow at the moment, and at times the products don’t turn out as intended. It’s also expensive, but many of today’s game-changing technologies had the same issues in the past. Technology changes rapidly over time. After all, just consider who would have honestly thought in 1996 that funeral homes would eventually need a strong online presence?
What are your ideas on 3D printing and the funeral profession? Let us know in the comment section below!