Saturday, December 15, 2012

How 3-D Printing is Going to Change the World

Three dimensional printing is going to be huge. Some geek friends are already starting to play around with it. With some relatively rudimentary equipment, they have printed out some pretty cool 3-D items. Most interesting from a functional perspective is they had a heavy duty steel cabinet with a missing part. They were able to print out the missing part instead of ordering, paying and waiting for the part to be delivered.

They tell me 3-D Kinko-type copy shops are not far away. My guess is that we will all eventually have 3-D copiers in our homes and offices. Need a gun, coffee maker or clock? Print it out.

Here's Economist on one high-tech direction 3-D printing is going:

THE relentless march of three-dimensional printing continues. What started as a way of making prototypes by depositing layers of material in a manner reminiscent of inkjet printing is now becoming a real industrial technique. But it is also popular with hobbyists of the “maker” movement of small-scale amateur inventors.
One thing makers would dearly love to do is cheaply ape the recently developed ability to print electrical circuits with sophisticated and costly machines. And a project led by Simon Leigh and his colleagues at the University of Warwick, in Britain, the results of which have just been published in the Public Library of Science, may let them do just that.


  1. Cheap and ubiquitous 3D printing is a serious game changer. It has revolutionary implications. One that is close to home is the ability to "print" guns. There is even a video of someone shooting an AR-14 with a printed (lower, I believe, whatever is the regulated part) receiver. He got off a few shots before the thing fell apart. But this was just ordinary plastic. And it worked! Imagine metal or heat-tolerant plastic!

  2. Just for the record, and not to steal your thunder regarding 3D printers, but...

    For many years now, (user) programmable chips of immense capacity can be "burned" off your laptop. You barely need a ckt board at all and can pretty much run the world with one of these.
    It's pretty cool. I've got a "foundry" on my boat that rivals the chip factories of the '80's.

  3. Neil Stephenson anticipated this, albeit from a nanotechnology perspective, and made it a major part of one of his novels:

  4. I can't help but think of Star Trek's "replicator" whenever I read about 3-D printing. Very interesting

  5. Anybody who thinks these are anywhere near affordable simply haven't used one for an extended period of time. The input materials for these printers makes inkjet cartridges look cheap, so the (quite high already) printer cost of $2-4k is only part of the picture.

    Logically, these material costs cannot be cheaper than the bulk materials they emulate. Thus, injection molding is always going to win at very high volumes (>1MM units) and presently dominates even at mid to low volumes (1-10K units).

    The guys who printed their replacement part for their cabinet might not be aware that the capital+material cost for the part was likely over $5, maybe near $10. And without the printer, they would probably not have ordered a replacement and waited for it. If they had even bothered to fix it, they would have bought a cheap close equivalent at the hardware store, or jimmied up an adequate fix out of scrap parts. The printer allows one to get an expensive, ideal solution without pondering the necessity.

    The 3D printer is a significant game-changer for many areas. However, given how in awe people are with it, I'd say that the wise person will be he who knows when NOT to use it.

  6. I'd take a CNC mill over 3D printer anytime. And you can make real guns with it:)

  7. All the printers will have a monitor in them so you will be forbidden to "print" certain things, like guns. If you mess with the programming and the gov't finds out, it's indefinite detention for you.