If you don’t know about 3D Printers, you don’t know about the Future

By

12th Dec, 2012

Now you know how much I love everything vintage here on MessyNessyChic, but we’ve undeniably entered a new renaissance of ingenuity and I think it’s in our best interest to keep up. Remember how movies and television from the 1950s and 60s thought we would be living like the Jetsons by the year 2000– except it didn’t happen? Well it’s about to start happening right now.

3D printers are on the verge of transforming our everyday lives forever. Before I embarrass myself trying to explain this incredible and rapidly developing technology, witness it for yourself and take a look at this eye-opening video.

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Mind blown yet? It’s always comforting to know that if you lose your crescent wrench in space, you can print off another one.

But you might be thinking, machines have been manufacturing things for decades now, how is this any different? Well, it’s completely different. Let’s start with the basics. For example, before 3D printing, if you wanted to make a hollow ball, you would have to first fabricate two halves of a sphere or use a technique similar to glass blowing. With 3D printing, it would be as simple as printing a letter. Just as an inkjet printer layers ink on a piece of paper to create a two dimensional image, a 3D printer adds successive thin layers three dimensionally until a solid object emerges. Instead of ink, it uses materials such as liquid plastic or powder as we saw in the above video. Hell, there’s even a 3D printer using chocolate to print off edible chocolate structures.

So what can you really make?

We’re talking about downloading designs from the internet and turning them into physical objects, building them up layer by layer. From jewellery to gadgets to cars and airplanes that we could actually fly in, the possibilities are endless for what we can make at the touch of a button with 3D printing.

Image via Io9
 

The filmmakers of the latest Bond film, Skyfall turned to 3D printing to make a perfect replica of the 1960 Aston Martin DB. As you may recall in the film, the priceless classic automobile gets blown to pieces at the hands of Bond’s crazed nemesis. Of course, the real model that first appeared in the Bond film 50 years ago didn’t suffer a scratch. But instead of the special effects crew turning to 3D graphics, always the innovators when it comes to futuristic gadgets, the Bond team turned to 3D printing. Working with a company called Voxeljet, they printed off three different 1:3 scale models of the car with functional doors, trunks and hoods that could be opened just like the real thing.

[Side thought: This does raise an eyebrow however, as to what kind of doors this technology opens up for counterfeiting or weapons manufacturing. But we'll get to that later.]

Over at the University of Southampton in England, a research team has built a functioning aircraft using nothing but a 3D printer. It may only have a wingspan of two meters and be flying on autopilot, but its earliest indications are still revolutionary.

This technology allows a highly-tailored aircraft to be developed from concept to first flight in days. Using conventional materials and manufacturing techniques, such as composites, this would normally take months. Furthermore, because no tooling is required for manufacture, radical changes to the shape and scale of the aircraft can be made with no extra cost.

So it’s pretty likely that one day we’ll be flying on commercial airlines that were made by a printer. No biggie.

“I want one.

But what if you’re not an engineer or an industrial designer with access to an expensive refrigerator-sized 3D printer? Damn it, what if you just want to make yourself a little  Christmas ball for your tree? Luckily, affordable domestic 3D printers are already here.

From this:

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To this:

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To this:

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MakerBot is one of the pioneering companies making 3D desktop printers and was also one of the early researchers in the technology. Over the past three years, they have been continually improving their machines, making them faster, smaller, friendlier and more affordable. You can get your hands on one for $1,749, which is a pretty good deal for a product that allows you to download the design of just about anything and print it off.

See it in action here:

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With basic technical skills, MakerBot’s products are frequently described as being easy to use and about ‘as complicated as assembling IKEA furniture’. For anyone who has ever had to assemble IKEA furniture, that might not be very reassuring but if you’re not sure you could hack it, here is a picture a little kid making his own toy shop using a 3D printer:

Image via BBC News
 

See? He looks like he’s having a blast.

But, whether you decide to run out and nab one of these bad boys or not, 3D printers are going to be a huge part of all of our lives very soon. On the verge of transforming the retail industry alone, the technology is inching closer and closer to mainstream and the predicted effects are immense. Even in its infancy, the future of 3D printing is clear.

So how big of a deal is it really?

Today it’s still mostly hobbyists and specialists who are using the technology. But if you think back to the birth of personal computers, it was the same story; they were only sold in specialist hobby stores. And we all know how that worked out.

We may need a few more years before we can 3D print a house but make no mistake, this is a technological revolution poised to alter the way businesses do business. The way we think about manufacturing and production would change radically. And forget the need for shipping from place to place, components could just be 3D printed– Star Trek teleportation style.

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No doubt, this is a technology that threatens the existence of the middle man. All it will take to put in play one of the biggest global market shifts the world has seen since the invention of the internet, is for a few major company names to get on board. The global employment structure could be turned upside down, industries and supply chain markets could be put out of business; and it might even lead to the reversal of the trend of globalization.

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Has this ship sailed?

image via here

But does it really have to be a bad thing? Consider the airline industry for example; a complicated plane engine requiring several different manufactured parts could be designed and printed as a single piece– resulting in a lighter aircraft, meaning lower fuel costs and less pollution. Other business would be able to print bespoke objects on site rather than making them overseas, leading to manufacturing jobs being re-shored. The healthcare industry would be revolutionized by the development possibilities of artificial organs and bone implants. All around, efficiency would increase while costs and waste production would be reduced.

How do we prepare?

3D printing exists and it cannot be ignored, especially by the world’s governments. If they don’t act quickly enough, it could get the best of us. As I brought up earlier, the possibility of downloading and replicating physical objects with ease and in a domestic environment raises the issues of counterfeiting and illegal production. If we want to avoid making the same kind of mistakes that we made in dealing with internet file-sharing and online copyright, the government’s role in this is clear. If they don’t address a policy framework for this rapidly growing technology very soon, entire industries could find themselves up sh*t’s creek, scrambling for a solution ten years too late (ahem, the music industry).

Our generation is unique. We get to remember what it was like before the internet and all the technology that has come with it. We get to appreciate both sides of the timeline. But we’re at the brink of a new age in technology that will change everything. Are you ready?

To leave things on a lighter note, you can now make sex toys with a 3D printer.

Thought of the day:

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MORE EYE-OPENING FUTURISM:

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