3D Printing Parallels

Makerbot Industries – Replicator 2 – 3D-printer 11 | Flickr – Photo Sharing! Creative Tools Attribution 2.0 Generic | CC BY 2.0 The 3D printer is presently a hobbyist’s tool, one fostering a society of makers who have found a useful medium with which to let their imaginations run loose. 3DP business have sprung out with specialties in art, décor, fashion, and novelty. Beyond that, however, 3DP has yet to achieve an appreciable breakthrough—a killer app to transform the printer from an interesting gadget to an essential household appliance. Given this fact, one ponders the 3D printer’s trajectory. Where will that trajectory lead? When will it get there? For that answer, one should look at the early years of the home computer. The home computer, after all, spent its first decade largely in the hands of the hobbyist because of its complexity and cost. Aside from the wealthy, only the electronics enthusiast had the willingness to spend and learn how to use the early home computer. Micro-Instrumentation Telemetry Systems’ (MITS) Altair 8800 retailed for $650 in 1975 (equal to about $2,800 in 2014), Processor Technology’s Sol Terminal Computer retailed for $2,100 in 1976 ($8,700 today), and the Apple 2 retailed for $1,300 in 1977 ($5,000). The need for a buyer to supply his own keyboard and monitor added to the cost, while the need to understand a programming language (usually Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, or BASIC) further hindered the personal computer’s accessibility to the general public. Despite its limitations, the early PC fostered commercial, cultural, and technical innovation. Local clubs were set up in which members showcased discoveries, exchanged solutions, and conjured up new ideas. Northern California’s Homebrew Computer Club is the best remembered of these early outfits, having been a staging ground for the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Sid Meier and Will Wright, pioneering designers of PC games, both started their careers by programming computer software at home. Then there is the hacker, whose culture found formed seeking novel (though not always ethical) uses for the PC. The hacker community has become the most enduring of these early enthusiasts, finding new opportunity in every step of the computer’s evolution. The hacker’s place and purpose were best articulated by Loyd Blankenship, author of the so-called The Hacker Manifesto. The essay, published in 1986, explained the rationale behind and justification for hacking. Despite Blankenship’s ethos, the hacker’s knowledge has often been put to criminal use, attacking governments, businesses, and consumers. Such is the struggle that knowledge and technology bring. There is an underlying philosophy underpinning the hobbyist/consumer dynamic.  The hobbyist greets heightened challenge and complex processes as part of an enjoyable experience, while the consumer wants to avoid them. The consumer sees complexity as a burden to completing a task, whether it’s checking out news on the Web or printing a report for school.  The consumer simply wants his device ready out-of-the-box and with the fewest steps possible to operate. So we get to 3D printing. The consumer 3D printer is in its youth, experiencing the same two factors that steered the early PC towards the hobbyist: complexity and cost. The early PC required one’s knowledge in programming, while the 3D printer often requires a user’s knowledge in Computer-Aided Design (CAD) in order to generate and print objects. The average cost of a 3DP is, like those early PCs, relatively high, hovering around $1,500. (It should be pointed out that this is still minor compared to the adjusted cost of early PCs.) Many 3DPs, like old PCs, are sold as kits—something hobbyists love and typical consumers...

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New York City Meets 3D Printing

It was bound to happen: 3D printing has become front-and-center in New York’s fashion scene. The Big Apple hosted a three-day event that included a showcase on 3D-printed apparel. Designers included Catherine Wales of the UK, Kay Kwok of China, and the States’ own Frances Guevara. Jewelry, gowns, and shows were all on display, reflecting the fashion world’s eclectic style. Given how little of the high-end fashion scene ever makes it to production, there’s slim chance these flamboyant works will ever be seen on the street. (That may not be such a bad thing.) Even so, the whole event shows the imaginative scope that 3DP is taking on. News Source: 3DPrintshow.com Image Source: Fashion Ave – Manhattan | Flickr – Photo Sharing! www.GlynLowe.com | Attribution 2.0 Generic / CC BY...

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Back to the Future for Bio-printing

It’s funny how some of our high-tech tools and techniques borrow names from the past–just look at the tablet and bluetooth. Turns out that isn’t the only flash from the past finding newfound relevance today. Staff at the Houston Methodist Research Institute (HMRI) looked towards the ancient Chinese woodblock printing technique in order to develop a new form of bioprinting called Block-Cell-Printing (or BloC for short). The team use a silicon mold to press cells onto a surface, much in the way that ancient printers pressed an inked image or text onto paper. According to the HMRI team, the BloC method shows as much as a 100% better rate of cellular survivability over other methods of bio-printing. Even more shocking: HMRI projects that the cost of printing will be as little as 1/10,000th that of other methods. News Source: Engineering.com Image Source: Ancient Chinese printing press – China Science and Technology Museum | Flickr – Photo Sharing! IvanWalsh.com | Attribution 2.0 Generic / CC BY...

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3D Printing for Kids

Many of us recall a childhood fantasy of creating toys whenever we wanted. After all, there were limits to our parents’ wallets (and patience). Hasbro’s bringing us one step closer thanks to a partnership with 3D Systems. The two companies are teaming up to design and manufacture kid-friendly 3D printers. Though no model has been previewed, the printers would likely feature basic controls and a simplified (but restricted) program for uploading and printing designs. One can almost sense the déjà vu–it was three decades ago that the Commodore 64 became the kid-friendly computer. Ten years later, the personal computer became a must for every household. Could the 3D printer be far behind? News Source: CNET Image Source: 3D Systems Rock Hill | Flickr – Photo Sharing! Caspian Lenovo | Attribution 2.0 Generic / CC BY...

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3D Printing: Bigger, Faster & Better

3D Food Printer | Flickr – Photo Sharing! Playing Futures: Applied Nomadology Attribution 2.0 Generic / CC BY 2.0   Speed remains a hurdle in 3D printing. Producing a small object can require hours of waiting, a process that tests the patience of any user. While inroads are being made, speed remains the key inconvenience for 3DP. The federal government wants to change that. The US Department of Energy announced that it will invest in research-and-development to improve both the speed and scale of additive manufacturing. Asst. Secy. David Danielson made the announcement at the department’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a move that signifies the Obama White House’s continued interest in 3DP as the key avenue for US industry. Danielson stated: “Developing innovative manufacturing technologies in America will help ensure that the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow are created here in the United States, putting people to work and building a clean energy economy.” As part of that development, the US Energy Department has forged a partnership with Cincinnati, Inc., a longtime manufacturer of machines and tools. Among its current list of products, Cincinnati produces advanced laser-cutting hardware and metal fabrication. Such expertise factored into the government’s decision to partner with the company. That expertise will be needed as the US Energy Department has set an ambitious goal for the partnership to achieve. The department wants to see the maximum size of printed objects increase tenfold—no small task. Even more challenging is the department’s goal for speed: The partnership is intended to improve 3DP speeds by two hundred times–minimum. And it’s not like 3D printers don’t need the boost: A typical, name-brand example prints at a rate of a tenth of a cubic inch per minute. Using that basis, an object that’s roughly 6 in.3 in size requires an hour of printing. What does this all mean for consumers? It means the world’s largest financier – the US government – will be pouring in a fortune to accelerate the capabilities of 3D printers. That increases the likelihood of a technological break, one that manufacturers of home 3D printers will use to advance their own products. Put simply: Bigger. Faster....

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