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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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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3DP Turns the Automobile into DIY

A Do-It-Yourself (DIY) automobile is the fantasy of millions, yet one heretofore unachieved. That might be about to change as big-ticket and startup car companies increasingly turn to additive manufacturing. Could 3D printing be the catalyst that DIY carmakers have been waiting for? History’s littered with failed DIY cars, some by charlatans and others by wannabe-visionaries. They’ve come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles, targeting every demographic of every segment of society. (Just lookup up the 1910s’ “Lad’s Car,” a DIY automobile that targeted early adolescents.) There is one thing all these efforts share: Utter and complete failure. This “Second Industrial Revolution,” as enthusiasts have proclaimed it, has reinvigorated the imaginations of carmakers, established and aspiring alike. Big-dollar manufacturers have taken an inviting attitude, with Porsche and Honda both offering Computer-Aided Design (CAD) blueprints of their vehicles for 3D-printing. Ford engineers are using MakerBot 3D printers to create vehicle parts for pre-production testing. Aston-Martin printed scale-models of its vehicles for use in Skyfall. But it’s on the other end of the spectrum that one sees more creative forays being made in the field.   Rally Fighter Body (LocalMotors) / CC BY 3.0   Arizona’s fledgling Local Motors, founded in 2007, announced that it would 3D-print an electric variant of its “Rally Fighter,” making it available by fall of this year. The Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT) contracted Local Motors to develop the vehicle, which it hopes will showcase the maturing potential of additive production.   By 3dilla (Urbee 3D printed car | 3d Print Show | 3dilla.com) [CC-BY-2.0], via Flickr – Photo Sharing!   Canada’s Jim Kor is leading another 3DP auto effort. Kor, an engineer, has been on a crusade to 3D-print an ultra-light, ultra-compact vehicle called the “Urbee.” This ovular, three-wheeled car has its interior and exterior composed of 3DP material. Powered by bio-fuel, Kor aims to have the Urbee run across the United States on just 10 gal. of fuel.   By Sicnag (1961 Aston Martin DB4Uploaded by OSX) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons   In a true DIY-fashion, Ivan Sentch of New Zealand garnered international press when he started work on a 3D-printed replica of an Aston-Martin DB4, a vintage touring coupe. Sentch is using a Nissan as the basis for the replica, but he is printing interior components and exterior body-work for assembly in his humble little garage.   By Racingjeff (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons   The next stage in automotive development is approaching. MakeForge’s Mark 1 appears to be the first 3D printer to produce carbon-fiber. The relatively small, industrial-grade machine specializes in lightweight, high-strength composites as seen on exotic and premium automobiles, such as the $239,000 McLaren MP4-12C and $136,000 BMW i8. Composites appear to be an inevitable direction in automotive design: Rising fuel-efficiency standards have pushed automakers to build leaner and less consumptive vehicles. Carbon fiber, a material made of melded threads, is becoming common on automotive body-panels. High cost and labor-intensive production are the material’s setbacks, but the notion of an additive, low-labor alternative may be a breakthrough… Composites appear to be an inevitable direction in automotive design: Rising fuel-efficiency standards have pushed automakers to build leaner and less consumptive vehicles. Carbon fiber, a material made of melded threads, is becoming common on automotive body-panels. High cost and labor-intensive production are the material’s setbacks, but the notion of an additive, low-labor alternative may be a breakthrough… … or, at least, the start of...

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3D Printing’s Micro-Scale Frontier

The word “scale” plays a big part in the ongoing speculation about 3D printing, but it tends to apply to matters of production and enormity. One team of German researchers is casting light on a new aspect of the form, one not visible to the naked eye. The Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), in partnership with the Nanoscribe Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung (GmbH), is developing structures built around nano-scale, honeycomb-like layers. The theory is that the strategic layout of these structures will produce more strength with less material, thereby increasing efficiency. Engineers use photoresist, a material used in computers and engraving, as the primary material for the structures; they then coat the structure in alumina, a synthetic aluminum-based compound. Simply put: The photoresist is the frame and the alumina the armor. The combination makes for an overall product of “optimal” strength. That, however, is only part of the picture. KIT and Nanoscale have placed just as much emphasis on the lightness of the process and materials as they have of strength. This is overall in step with the direction of engineering in general, as seen in the latest generations of buildings, aircraft, and automobiles. Take a second to think about it—lighter, less consumptive structures would place less stress on the space they inhabit; likewise, lighter objects permit greater portability. Like the components that make up the process, this nano-sized form of 3D printing can offer breakthroughs on scales big and small. So, you might be thinking, how does this apply to me as a consumer? Nano-scale printing is a process on the horizon, and one that uses less material to create stronger objects. Use less, save more. Even better: You’re using less and saving more while creating a stronger object intended to last...

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5 Game-Changers in 3D Printing

The possibilities of 3D printing appear endless.  A new breakthrough seems to be announced each week, usually about a printer’s ability to duplicate a vital object (a human limb, for instance) that wields tremendous benefit for society.  Here are five “game-changers” that 3D printers are starting to duplicate, with explanations as to why they are game-changers–good and bad. Buildings: Behrokh Khoshnevis generated buzz during this year’s Consumer Electronics Show when his firm, Contour Crafting, showcased a conceptual technique for building an entire home in the space of a single day. Khoshnevis’s presentation is not new (it debuted last year), but it sparked inquiries from important folks in business, humanitarian care, and government. The high-speed and low-cost can allow homes to be more attainable to consumers; conversely, however, that speed and cost may come at the expense of human labor.  It’s too soon to determine whether Khoshnevis’s vision will bear out, but the concept of the 3D-printed dwellings has all the ingredients of being a force of social and economic change. Body Parts: One ongoing 3DP development that’s likely to garner a lot of support is in the development of prosthetics.  Millions of people (and animals, too) suffer deformities due to birth defects or injury; medical institutes have invested in 3D-printed cartilage and limbs to help replace these missing parts. Humanitarian aid groups and international agencies are likely to enlist these institutes, and their 3DP expertise, in order to help wounded refugees and wildlife at reduced expense compared to current methods, such as hand-made prosthetics, that cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Researchers are currently testing 3DP duplication of skin, blood vessels, and even organs. Vehicle Parts: The 3DP process is making its fastest inroads in the production of automotive and aeronautical parts.  Here the industrial application has richest potential by slashing the amount of resources that goes into production.  3DP is an additive process whereby a product is constricted from the ground up, layer by layer; current industrial production is subtractive, milling down a larger chunk of material in order to create a smaller product, thereby leaving behind lots of waste.  The use of fewer resources can therefore cut a manufacturer’s material cost as well as preserve more of Earth’s mineral resources. Wheels, engine blocks, and plane wings are already being manufactured.  Some car companies, such as Porsche and Honda, have freely distributed CAD models of their vehicles for 3D printing. What does all this mean for the consumer?  As as there’s a CAD model, a consumer can produce any part for his vehicle, no matter how obscure, for little cost.  Lancia owners rejoice. Doohickeys: It can be a pain having to search for some obscure, replacement part of a broken appliance or furniture—either because it’s hard to find or it’s absurdly expensive.  Whether a Lego piece or a lamp switch, 3DP’s most useful role for the consumer will be to create small parts.  After all: How many of us remember losing an action figure’s weapons?  Critics chide this factor as being little more than a novelty, but the ability to duplicate such things as outlet covers, pencil holders, kitchenware, and utensils is hard to overlook.  MakerBot’s Thingiverse is the Web’s top source for finding user-generated and free-to-use CAD models, with thousands of entries being added monthly.  The possibilities seem endless. Firearms: Easily the most controversial item, the 3D printing of firearms is having the biggest impact on government policy.   News sources from BBC World News to Wired Magazine have reported on the fledgling industry spearheaded by “crypto-anarchist” Cody Wilson, who has produced and distributed untraceable, open-source firearm...

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Beginner’s Guide to 3D Printing

If you’ve been tuning into the latest news, odds are that you’ve heard about 3D printing. Paul Markillie of The Economist declared it the “third industrial revolution.” Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN referred to it as “game-changing technology.” Even Pres. Barack Obama celebrated 3D printing, christening it as the “next revolution in manufacturing” during his State of the Union address. There’s no denying it: 3D printing is having a major impact–one that consumers are increasingly able to enjoy. Here’s Linkyo Insights’ brief, simple explanation to the ins and outs of 3D printing. —– 3D printing is an “additive” process, meaning that it creates a product by adding layers of material until those layers make up a solid whole. This contrasts with a subtractive process, notably milling, that creates a product by cutting layers of material from a larger mass. An additive process is seen as the more efficient and less wasteful of the two–crucial in an era of greater energy conservation. The process of 3D printing can be broken down into four steps: Model Slice Fixup Print The model stage has the user 3D modeling the object he wants to print. The user does this with a computer-aided design (CAD) program. He or she can develop the model by scratch or by downloading a pre-developed blueprint from a website, such as Thingiverse. This model is then converted into an STL (stereolithography) file. With the slice stage, a program called a slicer remodels the STL file by dividing the object into layers (“slices”). Remember that a printer works by producing layer upon layer until those layers become a complete object. The higher the resolution, the smaller the layer and the more precise the overall object. After the STL model has been sliced, a fixup program checks the model and corrects it of any errors. Once that’s done, the print phase begins. —– Next up–the printer. The printer itself is made up of four key parts: Filament Extruder Hot-End Print Bed The filament is to a 3D printer what ink and toner are to 2D printers. Filament is commonly made of a plastic thread wrapped around a spool, but it can also be made up of other materials. The extruder is the component that delivers (“extrudes”) the filament to the hot-end, the nozzle section. (The extruder and hot-end are often combined.) The filament is then produced in layers on the print bed. There are four types of filament: metal, ceramic, composite, and plastic. Plastic, the most common type, can be subdivided into five categories: Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) Polylactic Acid (PLA) Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) Polycarbonate (PC) High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) ABS is the most common type of plastic filament. PLA is a runner-up, being both biodegradable and available in soft or hard form. PVA, a dissolvable substance found in lubricants and adhesives, has a small, but growing, niche. PC, used in media discs and bullet-resistant glass, is still in the developmental stage. HDPE, a type of moisture-resistant cheap plastic found in bottles and pipes, has little use because of its proneness to warping and shrinkage. —– 3D printers measure resolution by tenths to hundredths of a millimeter (mm). The more minute the resolution, the longer the printing process. A small object set at 0.3 mm resolution may take 15 min., while the same object may take 3 hrs. to print when set at a 0.1 mm resolution. Of course, it takes a capable printer to put out such a precise resolution–in other words, it costs more money. The good news is that the cost of 3D printers has come down considerably, ranging...

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