Posts Tagged 3D printing

Hold your 3D printed horses Robert Hickson Dec 09

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Why would I go to a supermarket to print a cheap plastic imitation of myself, or a loved one? (When) will I be able to just cut out the middle grocer, and most of the supply chain and print my own real bananas at home?

I’ve previously noted  that 3D printing may not be the great disruptor that some claim. Booz & Co, using a more robust framework, take a similar view. They point out that you need to look beyond just the falling costs of 3D printers for home use. Economies of scale mean that large companies will pay less than small firms and hobbyists for the raw materials used by such printers (be those materials plastics, metals, or anything else).  So, except for serious DIY types, many in the future will probably still get their widgets from the big boys.

Printing food too, despite hype from companies like Natural Machines, will also face similar cost challenges.

The report from Booz & Co suggests that the impact trajectory of 3D printing will be more like gas ovens than microchips. People don’t buy as many ovens (or printers) as computers.

They do note, though, that 3D printing will (and already is in some niche areas) shake up manufacturing considerably.

As Callaghan Innovation has already spotted, there will be good market opportunities for firms to produce powder formulations of metals, such as titanium, that can be used for 3D printing.

There are also opportunities to develop more environmentally friendly replacements for the plastics used in 3D printing

It will also pay not to get too excited that you, or your local hospital, doctor’s surgery, or neighbourhood Warehouse Anatomy shop will be able to print new body parts on demand . Top of the line expertise and hygiene will be required there.

Booz & Co’s paper is good to bear in mind when reading about other “revolutionary” technologies.

A 3D printed microbattery Robert Hickson Jun 23

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The research uses of 3D printing are rapidly diversifying. The latest application is a lithium ion microbattery (subscription to Advanced Materials required to read full article). Unlike existing thin film batteries this printed microbattery is reported to have a similar performance to commercial batteries. Potential applications are for micro-robots and implantable medical devices.

The critical issues for these batteries will be their ability to hold enough charge to make them feasible for their intended uses, and to be able to be easily produced in large quantities.

Few will probably have concerns about uses in medical devices, but with current disquiet over electronic surveillance, swarms of autonomous micro-robots (government or privately controlled) are sure to meet resistance.

Think before you 3D print Robert Hickson Mar 24


Oh, the wondrous things coming off printers these days – houses, bone, and gun parts . See more examples at Mashable. Some gush about 3D printing following the personal computer trajectory

However, Wired has an article on the future of 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) that is less bullish about it being the future of manufacturing. While exhibiting plenty of growth potential, the report endorses an earlier Deloitte analysis that concludes that while many people will soon be able to buy their own 3D printer, they won’t be setting up their own manufacturing company. This is largely due to the costs or access to materials to replace many household objects, and the inability to scale up production. As with current home printers, the costs of the consumables rather than the printer will be the limiting factor.

Many large corporations, such as Boeing, are already using the technology to produce prototypes, which are then manufactured by more conventional means. And new services are likely to pop up so you can go and get a replacement part at your local garage or home maintenance store. Remember when you could buy a new element for your kettle rather than having to buy a new kettle? Maybe those days will be coming back.

As an article in Slate noted  one of the longer term benefits of cheap 3D printing may be to help inspire school students to think about industrial design. However, such classes will need to have a stronger theoretical and intellectual underpinning than the woodwork and metal work classes I took at school to have a more revolutionary effect. Taking home crude plastic rabbit sculptures and other doodads to show mum & dad won’t cut it.

Due to costs 3D printing probably won’t have the same influence or reach as Meccano, which reputably inspired several generations of physical scientists and engineers. But it, along with other aspects of “maker” and “hacker” culture are likely to influence how the current and next generation think about manipulating the physical world and designing futures.

A somewhat tongue-in-cheek view of future developments in 3D printing to keep an eye out for is also available on the Wired website.


Print the future Robert Hickson Feb 16


Is 3D printing — where objects are built layer by layer (with plastics, or in some cases other materials) via something akin to an ink jet printer — ‘the future’ of manufacturing, or will it largely be the realm of hobbyists churning out useful and kitschy playthings?

At Technology Review Christopher Mims argues that the latter is more likely, although he acknowledges that 3D printing (aka additive manufacturing) will have a place in rapid prototyping within existing firms. 3D printing had a large presence at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, with falling costs of hardware and rising numbers of ‘apps’ signalling declining barriers to designing and making your own widgets. Have a look at Thingiverse to see what DIYer’s are already printing.

Tim Maly challenges Christopher’s perspective. While agreeing that current designs and materials are on the whole fairly crappy, he takes a longer view of how this type of manufacturing will play out. Both agree there is plenty of hype at the moment.

Aircraft parts and other industrial components though are being printed and used, as are some body parts. Print your own food and clothes too. You may also want to look at how AUT’s Centre for Rapid Product Development is exploring the potential for additive manufacturing.

3D printing is already entering the classrooms of some secondary schools elsewhere. There are also school competitions for 3D designs. What with robot competitions, PCR machines, and iPads in schools these days, there’s a lot more to stimulate and entice and engage future scientists and engineers.

One analysis suggests that 3D printing may find its niche in the non-mass production zone; producing items in the 10 to 10,000 unit range.

Critical factors for future wider adoption of 3D printing include faster printing, scaling up production, better design tools,  the development of new materials (so high performance objects can be made) and developing standards for these materials. There is also concern brewing over intellectual property issues. Particularly, how IP law may be applied as 3D printing becomes more widely known and tries to maintain an open source ethos. If your future cell phone includes a good 3D scanner will it be OK to scan any object you come across and then go home and recreate it? How about downloading someone else’s design?

On a broader level, it is important to view 3D printing as part of the future manufacturing environment, not as the new environment. A UK Foresight report on Technology and Innovation Futures in the in 2020‘s [PDF, 0.8 MB] notes the rise of manufacturing on demand, helped in part by 3D printing. This report highlights the necessity to consider manufacturing as the provision of services as well as products. Some companies already do this (in the aeronautical sector, for example). In the future, more value may come from the service side of the manufacturing business.

The New Zealand government is keen to boost high value manufacturing. MSI’s Request for Proposals for High Value Manufacturing and Services is out. However, they are looking to invest only around $26 million a year. And this could be spread across a whole range of areas, including geothermal engineering, agricultural technologies, digital content tools, and medical devices. So a relatively small amount of the research money, even if you add in industry co-funding. How well prepared and supported will our manufacturing sector be as other economies put ever greater emphasis on new manufacturing initiatives?

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