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Printer Science

The Modern Ease of 3D Printing 264

An anonymous reader writes "What will it mean when 3D fabricators become cheap and common? A NY Times article explores the ease of copying objects by scanning them with NextEngine scanner and sending them to 3d 'print shops'. The experiments were done with Legos because most of the things around his office were protected by copyright. What will happen to the economy for engineering when we can just download a pirated description of a machine and 'print' it out? 'The world is just beginning to grapple with the implications of this relatively low-cost duplicating method, often called rapid prototyping. Hearing aid companies, for instance, are producing some custom-fitted ear pieces from scanned molds of patients. Custom car companies produce new parts for classic cars or modified parts for hot rods. Consumer product makers create fully functional designs before committing themselves to big production runs.'"
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The Modern Ease of 3D Printing

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  • Great! (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrNaz ( 730548 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:13AM (#18621051) Homepage
    "one trick for making models of dark shiny objects is to coat them with a cloud of white powder"

    Great, so now when I'm in the tech room doing blow and the boss walks in I'll have a reasonable excuse: I'm prototyping my nose for a prosthetic. Never mind that not even a disfigured maxillofacial surgery patient would want my nose, but hey, the boss doesn't know that.
  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:13AM (#18621063) Homepage Journal

    What will it mean when 3D fabricators become cheap and common?

    When you think about it, modern society is moving more and more to the production of "intellectual property" (i.e. an idea as something you can own) rather than the production of physical goods. A modern individual has the capability of mastering their own music and movies, post-processing and distributing their own photographs in both digital and physical form, creating their own PCB-based electronics, designing their own Microprocessors, building their own vehicles (airplanes are a big one!), and many other tasks that used to require massive resources and tens-to-hundreds of emlpoyees.

    Each time a task went digital, society was temporarily disrupted while the new technology was integrated. Then life went on, except that society was now capable of greater production than before. The implications of 3D printing technology are the same. The value of goods themselves will be reduced to the cost of initial development. Once that development has been achieved, unlimited copies will be possible. So the average consumer will see a reduction in costs, and the average producer will see an increase in profits.

    "Piracy" will continue to be a problem, but it will be just like today. If producers offer a good value for the price, the majority of consumers won't bother with piracy. If producers are dumb enough to resist the change (*cough*I'm looking at you music industry*cough*), then they can expect that piracy will run rampant until they do offer such services.

    Then life will go on, but just a bit better than before. ;)
    • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:21AM (#18621207) Homepage
      I humbly disagree.

      The reason it has happened that way in the past is because creating and replicating audio and video are relatively easy once they are digitized. The sensory data (sound saves and light waves) lend themselves well for digital reproduction at close to perfect quality. Duplication can be done perfectly, with no loss in transmission.

      That is not the case with physical reproduction, and I doubt will be for some time. These 3d scanners are good for only what their ads say: prototyping. There will not be a day when you will be able to scan copy and duplicate even a nut or a bolt in your garage anywhere near as cheaply as it can be done en masse at a production plant simply because the mould, tools and materials are too expensive on a small scale to be feasible. Now I know about the "never say never" line in technology, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that while the productive capacity of the home user will scale up, you will never get to the point where manufacturers of physical items will be squeezed out the way manufacturers of virtual goods (music, movies etc) have been. There's a fundamental difference between copying Britney Spears' latest warblings and copying a Ferrari.
      • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:49AM (#18621755) Homepage Journal

        These 3d scanners are good for only what their ads say: prototyping. There will not be a day when you will be able to scan copy and duplicate even a nut or a bolt in your garage anywhere near as cheaply as it can be done en masse at a production plant simply because the mould, tools and materials are too expensive on a small scale to be feasible.

        I agree and yet I disagree at the same time. I agree that scanning is an imperfect process that isn't likely to improve sufficiently in the next few decades. However, when a modern engineer is developing a part, does he still use a pen and paper to design the diagram? Of course not! The object is designed in detail in a CAD program. Those CAD drawings are then used in manufacturing a mold to spec.

        Now consider for a moment, what happens when you take that 3D model and feed it into a 3D Printer? In theory, at least, the printer will be able to reproduce the object with perfect quality. In reality, the printer will be limited by its design (as most manufacturing methods are), possibly requiring the 3D model to be tweaked for the printer. However, most parts are created with similar limitations in mind (e.g. a plastic part is likely to be in two pieces with open ends that fit together) making the models very easy to transfer over to 3D printing.

        Now I don't disagree that there will continue to be significant differences between what someone can manufacture in the home and what can be manufactured in an industrial environment, but the gap will close. It has always closed and will continue to close in every industry in existence. Today, we can develop high-quality prints of photos from digital negatives with an in-store machine. We can print and bind nearly any book with an in-store machine. We can press a CD or DVD with a color label with a simple machine. We can quickly produce a custom PCB board with a simple machine. These things have come down to the consumer scale, even if machines that can do even better exist.

        The same will happen with 3D printers. You're going to have everything from a home machine capable of printing toys, widgets, and useful household items; you're going have large machines capable of printing houses and ship hulls; and you're going to have everything in-between. I for one can't wait for the day when I can print my own customized CD shelf or cup holder. :)
        • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:15PM (#18622179) Homepage
          However, the fact that I can print out 2D images at home does not stop me from going to the local print shop when I want something printed. They have the advantage of economies of scale, so even with their mark-up, they can do a much better job for cheaper. For simple black and white text, a home laser/inkjet printer will do, but for more complex color photos/documents, then I would definitely take it to a print shop or photo centre. And if I'm going to print off 1 million copies of a book or magazine, I'm going to use an industrial quality printing press. I think the same thing would happen for 3D printing. For very simple object where tolerances for quality are low, you could print them at home, for more complex objects that you just need a small run of, take it down to your local 3D printing shop. And for situations where you need hiqh quality and mass production, you're still going to see large manufacturing facilities.
      • by lawpoop ( 604919 )
        I humbly disagree.

        I predict that, instead of scanning and printing, people will just design 3D objects in a CAD-like application, and then print them in a 3D printer. As far as copying existing items, human intelligence will do the difficult parts of 'scanning' and re-creating the design of, say, a Ferarri, as a 3D model.
      • I agree and disagree. a nut, bolt, are perfect things for 3D printing. Even custom frames. I can see a day not to far off in the future for the rapid replication of such objects.

        But what about a calculator. A simple calculator is more than just the outside shell, and screws but also the components. Those can't be replicated in such a fashion. The screen is built with different techniquies from the hard plastic case. The circuit boards will have to be built by a second machine, and chips a third.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by coredog64 ( 1001648 )
          You are fucking high if you think a nut or a bolt are perfect things for printing.

          Fasteners are more than just physical objects with a particular shape -- they also depend on the intrinsic material properties. You know, stuff that's only imparted by forging, heat treating, etc. If you don't believe me, try this as an experiment:

          Go out into your garage, remove a/the cylinder head cover from your car's engine, remove a cylinder head bolt, heat it cherry red with a blowtorch and put it back. Dollars to doug
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by CastrTroy ( 595695 )
            Bolts and nuts also have very low tolerance for errors. If it is off by .25 of a millimeter then it will be terrible, regardless of the materials used. Come to think of it, I can't think of a 3D object that I'd like to be able to just print up at home. It's not like i'm going to run out of spoons and just print out another one. I could see this used in a CAD shop, but not for the home use. I can't think of anything more wasteful than printing out some crappy 3D object that i'm probably going to toss in
      • Yep. We still cant make decent photos at home. Its still a better deal and better quality to get your prints developed commercially. Thats a 2D piece of paper. The 3D revolution has been in 'any day now' for a long time and I believe belongs in the category of things not economically viable. It is a boon to small and medium size businesses who outsource their fabrication equipment. Now they can make little prototypes in shop. Neat, but not a revolution. These business can drop multiple thousands of dol
      • As usual, reality is somewhere in between.
        Are people going to be replicating Ferraris? Not anytime soon. Mainly, it's a question of "what can be made from (relatively) soft plastic"?

        But there are a host of items I can see from where I sit that could be easily replicated, and a likewise host of industries that make these things that will be faced with the radical paradigm shift of consumer production.
        - a pokemon psyduck action figure.
        - a letter opener (plastic)
        - a desk organizer thing (plastic)
        - coffee cup
        • Not just plastic


          In part:
          To start with, the design is laid down, one layer at a time, in stainless-steel powder held in place by a laser-activated binder. You can see the layering on the finished pieces, it is the source of the characteristic texture of my work. Each layer is .004" to .007" thick.

          The steel granules are so fine that they feel like very heavy, cool flour. During the build the extra unbound powder supports the piece, so no extra structure is needed to
      • by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:33PM (#18622459) Journal
        Yes-and-no. Replicating a Ferrari GTO is still going to be very expensive using a 3-d printer (it's not even possible right now, and will probably always be very expensive) but the really essential thing is: 3-d printers can make things *differently*. You don't need to be able to design a part that can be cut on a four-axis mill. You don't need to sand-cast an engine block with all the weird water passages. You just print it with all those things already in place. You can put tapped holes in blind locations, should you want to. Instead of an engine having 20,000 parts it might have 2000 -- just imagine, for instance, printing a crankshaft, a big fat one that has almost no bending under torque, along with the shell bearings, the piston conn rods, the maincap bearings, all in one go -- no conn rod bolts, no cap bolts, nothing. Yeah, so you can't replace conn rods or bearings when they wear, but if you can just print a new engine, why bother trying?
        What I'm trying to say here is that if we were still blacksmithing and someone built a three-axis CNC, this is the equivalent of saying "but they won't be able to mill something that looks like my wrought-iron-and-wood wagon wheel!"
    • You'll likely see similar things to what you see with companies like Oracle today. You can now download their database software for free. But if you want support and their expertise its going to cost you.

      It doesn't matter how advanced these fabrication technologies get a well assembled factory line (using these technologies as well) will always be able to make a product cheaper than a generalized fabrication machine. Especially as you will need someone or something to put the parts together anyways.. And yo
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) *

      When you think about it, modern society is moving more and more to the production of "intellectual property" (i.e. an idea as something you can own) rather than the production of physical goods.

      You know, in Star Trek this lead to everything becoming "free," ushering in a utopia where the only "work" people did was stuff they enjoyed doing. Too bad that, instead, we'll just enact a bunch of draconian laws to artificially induce scarcity again...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AndersOSU ( 873247 )
        I hope your being facetious, but at least one mod didn't thinks so, so please ignore the moderately harsh things I'm about to say if you really don't believe the things you've said.

        First Star-Trek isn't real. I'm sorry, but neither is the easter bunny. If anything can be duplicated cheaply people will only do the stuff they enjoy doing, but no work will be done. Society will stagnate, innovation will come to a halt, and the social consequences will be immense. Perhaps no one would go without, but I'd ha
        • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:16PM (#18622215) Homepage

          First Star-Trek isn't real. I'm sorry, but neither is the easter bunny. If anything can be duplicated cheaply people will only do the stuff they enjoy doing, but no work will be done. Society will stagnate, innovation will come to a halt, and the social consequences will be immense.

          Yeah really! Why, it's just like if people could freely duplicate software. There would be no motivation at all to improve it, and innovation would come to a halt! Oh wait.. what about Open Source...

          Humans are not wired to behave the way in which you describe. People get bored doing nothing. All you have to look at for am example of this is the number of people who are perfectly financially secure who return to work anyway, because they are bored with retirement.

          People's brains needs stimulus. Even if you consider games and other entertainment - if no one makes new entertainment, then the current supply will be quickly exhausted, and the populace will become bored again. At that point, they will start doing creative things they enjoy.

          And none of this would "stifle innovation". What about all the dreamers who want to explore space and beyond, or to understand how the physical universe works in more detail? These people will always continue research and innovation - the difference is they will be able to innovate HOW they want and WHEN they want, without being constrained to rules of artificial scarcity or need for essentials, since all their materials would be "free" to them via their replicator.

          Really, replicator instantly solve a vast amount of global issues. You no longer have hunger. You no longer have theft since there is no value in stolen objects. You no longer have a "drug problem" since everyone who wants rugs can replicate themselves into a stupor without harming anyone else, and darwinian processes will quickly weed people with those addictive tenancies into oblivion. Likewise, there will be little need for war since there are no resources to argue over, and even if there were you would be assured of mutual destruction since anyone can replicate any weapons they can imagine.

      • You know, in Star Trek this lead to everything becoming "free," ushering in a utopia where the only "work" people did was stuff they enjoyed doing. Too bad that, instead, we'll just enact a bunch of draconian laws to artificially induce scarcity again...

        The problem I see is in human psychology. It would theoretically be possible to create a society in which virtually everyone achieves a certain level of material comfort; on average people are better off today in terms of food, shelter, life expectancy etc.

    • Price of Ink (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jj00 ( 599158 )
      Don't forget that the printers will be cheap, but it will cost a fortune to buy the ink.
  • In most cases, from the examples I've seen, the rapid prototyping tools can't currently create a durable item, nor can they create moving parts to any great degree. The items are only made of a single material that is not exceptionally strong. Of course, it's possible that I'm as out of touch as usual.
    • "rapid" prototyping no. But there are small scale fabrication technologies out there that can. They take a bit longer, and most of them need someone to assemble moving parts, but the technology is progressing. The models of these run in the $100K to $1M mark.
      • by qwijibo ( 101731 )
        I think the cost of materials is the catch. While you may be able to download the digrams of parts for a Ferrari, there is value in all of the raw materials needed and the assembly of all of those components. While you can take a diagram and machine a part from the diagram using the correct materials, you have to start with a block of the material larger than the end component. As you pointed out, the prototypes can be very expensive compared to the components that would be manufactured on a large scale.
    • Re:Non-Usable (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:34AM (#18621485) Homepage Journal

      from the examples I've seen, the rapid prototyping tools can't currently create a durable item

      This has been changing. Modern printers use much stronger materials based on resins similar to those used in Legos. So if you need a plastic part, you should be able to print one of reasonable strength. For example, I could see a huge market for toys on demand much in the way that books are slowly moving to print on demand.

      nor can they create moving parts to any great degree

      It's fairly rare to be able to create a moveable part in a single mold. Usually, you create a variety of parts, then assemble them. When this starts to catch on with consumers, I imagine you'll first see products coming in many parts with "some assembly required". Later revisions of the technology might include robotic assemblers that construct devices in a manner similar to how PODs are now able to print and bind nearly any book. While the precise assembly options may not be comprehensive, model developers will know the limitations of the machines and attempt to modify their models so that they're more easily assembled by the robotics.

      Also, there is an issue of scale that needs to be considered. There's nothing preventing a larger 3D printer from printing in concretes or metals. In fact, there was a story here a few weeks ago about a 3D printer that could construct a house in a few days. But why stop there? Ship hulls, car bodies, air foils, and many other items which are so large as to be difficult to mold could conceivably be printed instead. In many cases it may even be advantageous, as the part will be producable as a single object with no seams or rivets. This can potentially strengthen the object overall. Chemical agents can also be used to treat the object for better strength and endurance.

      Obviously, the technology is just getting started. But it has been making great strides in the short time it's been available. Give it a decade or two more and the necessary material injection techniques and production methods will get most of the bugs worked out. :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) *
      That's basically right. People really need to "get a grip" as to what a 3D printer is capable of. You can't scan an arbitrary device and make a copy. If it's assembled from mutliple components, you'd have to scan each component (typcially requiring irreversible disassembly or the original device) and assemble it back together. That's why they're working with individual Lego pieces! You'd also be limited on materials by what materials the 3D printer can use.

      I suspect that this will get easier, since it
    • Re:Non-Usable (Score:5, Informative)

      by peterwayner ( 266189 ) * <> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:35AM (#18621503) Homepage
      There are a wide variety of technologies in the marketplace and each have their advantages. Alas, I couldn't write a survey. The Z Corp models look flashy in the pictures because they're in full color, but they're probably not the strongest.

        Some of the other systems from companies like Dimension or Stratasys use stronger plastics but can't produce multicolored items.
      Some can produce fully working items right from the printer . They deposit two types of material: one soluable and one insoluable. After the thing is printed, you wash away the soluable stuff and the gaps open up. It's amazing. I've played with fully adjustable crescent wrenches that are built with almost the same precision as the ones from Sears. The plastic isn't as durable as metal, but you can certainly build things with the wrench. I'm told one of the cooler demonstration items is a bicycle chain that's fully assembled after the wash.

      In some sense, these pre-assembled machines are better than traditional manufacturing techniques because you can build working items inside of sealed shells. There's no ship-in-a-bottle paradox because everything is built from the bottom up.
    • by innerweb ( 721995 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:35AM (#18621511)

      In most cases, from the examples I've seen, the rapid prototyping tools can't currently create a durable item

      From my purchasing experiences in the past decade, it seems most items are not durable anyway. ;-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      If you dig around online (just type "laser sintering" into google), you'll find systems that will allow you to build metal parts instead of just plastic prototypes. As the technology improves, expect radical changes from this becoming generally available. Hypothetically, Volvo could digitize all of the parts of the 240DL, and when you need one, rather than stocking them someone would just print you a new (hubcap, engine manifold,door handle). Theoretically, nothing has to ever be unsupported again. Nerdy
    • Current Experience (Score:3, Informative)

      by necro81 ( 917438 )
      I've been using rapid prototyping machines of various sorts for 4-5 years now. I've been working with the NextEngine scanner since its introduction less than a year ago. Before that, I've used Coordinate Measurement Metrology (CMM) devices, calipers, datasheets, and a little artistry to reverse engineer parts and assemblies. Here are my impressions:

      We are not even close to the sort of society described in Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age , where everything is manufactured on the spot, rapidly and on-
  • There's a reason why Star Trek didn't have our economic system - in a world where almost anything can be replicated, goods based economies become impotent.

    As 3D printing becomes more common, there's going to be a lot of fighting between entrenched manufacturers and "pirates" (just as there is now fighting between entrenched media and "pirates") but in the end, the technology always wins out.

    Perhaps this will pave the way to a new economic system...
  • by MrLogic17 ( 233498 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:17AM (#18621143) Journal
    "The experiments were done with Legos because most of the things around his office were protected by copyright"

    Um, the Lego folks might want to have a word with him...
    • If he'd been using lego bricks he might be in trouble. Luckily, there's no such thing as legos [] so he should get away with it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Red Flayer ( 890720 )
      The patent on Lego bricks has expired. Copyright has never applied to Lego bricks.

      The trademarks on Lego and Lego bricks are still in force, however (annual renewal). However, "In October 2005, the Supreme Court [of Canada] ruled unanimoussly[sic] that 'Trademark law should not be used to perpetuate monopoly rights enjoyed under now-expired patents.'"[1] [].

      What this means is that if he copies Lego bricks exactly, he's fine, as long as he doesn't call his product "Lego".
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Great! I bagsies the first one to make a life size anatomically correct Jenna Jameson
  • The RIAA and MPAA will get lots of company from corporations protecting the "intellectual property" of their screws.

  • Scanner (Score:3, Funny)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:21AM (#18621225) Homepage Journal

    The NextEngine scanner can only do 6" scans, so we Canadians will have to wait a few more years before desktop penis scanning is the norm.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by heinousjay ( 683506 )
      Why wait? Smaller isn't a problem.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by organgtool ( 966989 )

      The NextEngine scanner can only do 6" scans, so we Canadians will have to wait a few more years before desktop penis scanning is the norm.

      No worries - their web site says that a scanner capable of scanning objects as small as 2" will be available soon.
  • As an engineer who has dealt with rapid prototyping technologies for over 15 years, I have seen a lot of these technologies evolve.

    Until the transporter is invented, I don't think we are in any danger of seeing things copied in the real world on the scale that we see them copied in the digital world. The fact is, there are still severe limitations on the mediums that rapid prototype items can be produced from, and they are still quite costly to have made. Even a small part, say the size of a disk drive, c
    • Yes, you're right. The cost is prohibitive when compared with mass production with molded ABS. But there are many areas where I imagine it might catch on. I wouldn't be surprised if the model railroad community develops an open source collection of STL files. Anyone can download homes, train stations or what not for building out their train layout. In these areas, the price and advantage of customization will be competitive.
  • It is not just the hated RIAA, MPAA, and the software behemoths, that will be complaining of copyright infringement. Designs of material things will become targets too.

    Various fashion designers are already being hurt — once they design something nice, they have to compete with (high-quality) knock-offs. The knock-offs are not produced by 3D-printing machines, but rather by hard-working laborers abroad. They can make them cheap, because they don't need to pay the genius designers — simply steal her/his designs.

    Get ready for passionate Socialists arguing, that it is "not the same as stealing" — as if that's relevant, as if being "not exactly stealing" makes it acceptable somehow.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Ah, advocating extended state-granted monopolies whilst calling others (me) socialists. Perhaps the problem has more subtle shades of gray?
    • You say this like it's a new thing. Clothing designers have always had their designs copied, sometimes before they themselves even offer the designs for sale to the general public.

      Welcome to the real world. Fiction (Mostly SF) has been saying "What if you could effortlessly duplicate anything?" for years now. It's time for real world ideas on how to deal with a world where almost nothing is scarce. Are we going to attempt to legislate artificial scarcity, or maximum abundance and a fair way to compen
    • Get ready for passionate Socialists arguing, that it is "not the same as stealing" -- as if that's relevant, as if being "not exactly stealing" makes it acceptable somehow.

      The communists don't have a monopoly on the "not the same as stealing" = acceptable philosophy. The Capitolists have been using it for years.

      If we destroy the land for the future generations to make a quick buck, that's not exactly stealing, so it's acceptable. (Just about every country has done this at some time)
      If we tax Peter

    • by Psmylie ( 169236 ) *
      Reminds me of something my wife was telling me... it used to be, those who made patterns for crafts (knitting, cross-stitch, whatever) could make some money off of selling them. That started to go downhill when photocopiers became common, and even moreso now that you can just scan and upload and distribute them with no real cost to yourself.

      Not that most folks on /. really know or care what happens to the poor pattern designers :)

    • and if the people don't want to grant that privlege, well...too damn bad.

      "genius designers"

      that is laughable. Most things these "genius designers"
        make are completly impractical in the real world. Sure, they look good one night on the red carpet, but that is it. How many of those desiugns do you see in stores where 99% of the population shop?

  • Realigning teeth (Score:4, Interesting)

    by greg_barton ( 5551 ) * < minus herbivore> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:28AM (#18621359) Homepage Journal
    One cool application of rapid prototyping I've seen is "invisible braces." Essentially a mold of your mouth is taken, then a computer model is created of where you teeth should be. A series of hard plastic mouth molds is then created that "morphs" your mouth from the reality to the desired. The molds are created using the rapid prototyping.

    Here's [] the company site. No, I'm not a shill. :)
    • by swb ( 14022 )
      My client sells this and most of the sales stuff he has around the office makes it look more like just plastic braces nobody can see.

      What looks cooler (and uses many of the same 3D modeling techniques) is a system that uses special wires; the tooth movements are modeled on screen and the wires are bent by robots with a precision that they can't get with hand tools. The upshot is supposedly 50% faster treatments due to the wires (stronger?) and the precision bending.

  • Craftsmanship (Score:5, Interesting)

    by backwardMechanic ( 959818 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:28AM (#18621369) Homepage
    Maybe we will see a return to craftsmanship and individually crafted items. 3D printing is really the final stage in mass production - the same thing, reproduced over and over, rather than adapted to the wants or needs of a particular user. Imagine a world where you go to your local computer/car/furniture shop to discuss exactly what shape you'd like, what colour, materials, etc. Or, if you're happy with the same item as everybody else, it'll just keep getting cheaper.
  • I believe the answer to that is entirely up to the manufacturers, isn't it? It's not our responsibility to keep their business model profitable.
  • New Technology Could Lead To 3D Printers []

    3D Printers To Build Houses []

    A 3D Printer On Every Desktop? []

    What's up with that? When any of these products pass the vaporware state, then it is newsworthy. Until then, it seems like someone is really interested in free publicity for non-existent or non-affordable products.
    • One of the reasons I wrote the piece is because things are getting pretty cheap. Not Game Boy cheap, but something that's in line with the historical cost of photography. We're not at the introductory price of a Kodak Brownie (supposedly $1 in 1900), but we're near the price of early cameras when adjusted for inflation. The NextEngine costs $2500 new and the print shops will build items for about $70-$200.

      We're getting near affordability for the "prosumer" who might want a hobby. I can imagine that these devices might be very useful to model train hobbiests, artists, and others. One artist I know builds Joseph Cornell-like boxes filled with historical scenes. They're great, really.
    • I think the idea is that on a news for nerds site, one might want a preview of things that may be available in the future. I, for one, am fascinated by this technology and its ramifications for the future of manufacturing. TFA mentions several current applications, posters have mentioned more--so it's not just vaporware. As material processing improves (and we will see more material scientists looking into printable materials-my guess is some exponential growth in this field), more economical application
  • I don't know, NextEngine's scan of Han looks like he didn't make it out of the carbonite in one piece. This scanning technology could use a little work.
  • Paper jams (Score:5, Funny)

    by eck011219 ( 851729 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:38AM (#18621575)
    Good God, think of the paper jams. They're bad enough now, but imagine having to sit there picking pieces of a blender out of the printer ...
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by coredog64 ( 1001648 )
      Samir: No, not again. I... why does it say paper jam when there is no paper jam? I swear to God, one of these days, I just kick this piece of shit out the window
    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      I was thinking along these lines. One can make your own bussiness cards, but they mostly look homemade, and typically making 50 cards cost the same as ordering 500, so such things only make sense when you need small quantities. Likewise, buying a magazine or book is cheaper than printing it, unless on does not pay for the paper and toner. The economy of the digital age, and threat to established businesses, is in not having to create physical artifacts. Even when a physical artifact is created, say a pho
  • Something like a left-side car chassis part that you need based on a flip of a right-side piece, could be easy to copy. Since it's a smooth, uncomplicated, single-material object that has to be symmetrical to the other half of the car. Stuff like on Star Trek, i.e. cooked + prepared food, is still a LONG ways off.
    • But why would printing car parts ever be cheaper than just stamping metal? Sure maybe you could make arbitrarily shaped fiberglass-like parts (which is why it's called rapid prototyping, but if you are going to mass-produce it, how much would it cost to make a mold or die when compared to the total cost of all the raw materials?
      • Because the inventory costs of the 10s of thousands of parts per model line of car are a touch too high. If all the e.g. solid steel parts could be stored on a computer and printed as and when needed, then there'd be no problem at all with stocking things and it would drastically reduce servicing costs.
  • by pzs ( 857406 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:39AM (#18621593)
    In my view, any revolutionary new technology has to try to not to destroy the planet any more than we are already.

    Widespread 3D printers will probably mean that we buy less pre-fabricated items from shops, which will reduce shipping. However I presume the energy efficiency (and whatever the equivalent of a toner cartridge for 3D) will be a lot worse per unit for a home printer than a mass production unit. What about waste products? Will this encourage the throwaway society even further?

    It also reminds me of this: []

    which might be a nice idea, but it's an enormous use of energy for something we can do perfectly well without a machine.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mlk ( 18543 )
      You need one that can recycle its previously created items. Pull stuff apart as well as build it.
  • by ArchAngelQ ( 35053 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:43AM (#18621645) Homepage Journal
    Seriously here folks. The level of paranoia over the whole IP issue is really getting out of hand. It's an as yet unsolved problem, yes, but why in the heck is it more important than the practical, useful application of such a shift in a new(ish), exciting technology?

    Rapid prototyping/3d fabrication is becoming cheaper. You know what that will allow, more than anything? It'll allow competition by the little guy, to produce their own items and test them without the expense of the full production process for a lot of different things. That will mean that skill at design and meeting the real needs of customers will become more attainable by more people, and overall costs will go down.

    It's like the commoditization of computer hardware that happened in the late 80's for the consumer sector, and late 90's for the mid-range server sector, and what's happening to the software sector right now. Who's allowed to feasibly compete for customer's money will become a more level playing field, which will cut into the biggest producers profits somewhat, as more people compete, but the big players that adopt the technology will ultimately win out over the big players who don't, and the little guys will generally stay little, with either have a few breakthrough big boom companies, or the few big growers get squashed/eaten if enough of the big players catch a clue fast enough. The latter happened with the hardware market, the former is happening with the software market (google).
    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )
      Because if you patent and copyright everything in sight, then you can eliminate the little guy from cutting into your profits.

      It's been insane in the software world, I know of many OSS devs that use a pseudonym when they program and only release from foreign servers to avoid the patent bullshit that has been going on for years now.
  • And I mean the Communist utopia, not the grim reality of the attempts to build Communism forcefully.

    As some old-timers may know, Marx [] was pointing out, that social order(s) are a product of the production capacity. As the humans' ability to produce things (food, clothing, vehicles, houses, anything...) evolved, so did the social orders. This is the part of his teachings, that no one really disagrees over.

    He then argued, that Communism — which Soviet People were busily building, supposedly, while living under the less perfect Socialism — will become possible, when the means of production evolve even further, to the point where Communism's principle of distribution of goods: "From each by their ability, to each by their needs," — will come into being.

    Ironically, it is the Capitalist societies, that are quickly approaching that benchmark. More and more things are given out free or for next to nothing to more and more people. Officially "poor" people have cars and TV-sets, and are entitled to substantial give-aways of food...

    TFA discusses a major "harbinger" of yet another possible production increase, which promises to allow goods to be produced closer, to where they will be used (presumably, delivery of raw materials will be easier/cheaper). Hurray!

  • by argoff ( 142580 ) * on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:47AM (#18621729)

    What will hhappen to the economy for engineering when we can just download a pirated description of a machine and 'print' it out?

    The biggest economic boom in the history of human kind.

    After the information age society is going to move into the replication age and manufacturing is going to shift from the factory back into the home. But the factory infrastructure won't go away - instead it will retool and go big. Mile long ships, mile high buildings, air ships as big as cities that have cities in them are just some of the possibilities. Society will become an invention service society.

    One other thing. When invention commoditizes, the patent system will die - Just like the information age forced the commoditisation of information and the death of copyrights, and the industrial revolution forced the commoditisation of labor and the violent death of the plantation system. That is why it is so important THAT WE MUST KILL PATENTS!!!!! Think about it, you can't control information with physical force, but with invention you can. That is why the death of copyrights will involve lots of lawsuits but little physical violence. That won't be the case when killing the patent system. WE MUST KILL PATENTS NOW BECAUSE IF WE DONT THERE WILL BE AWFULL VIOLENCE.

    • air ships as big as cities that have cities in them
      I'm fascinated by your theory of nested conurbations and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
  • Obligitory Link.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by fotbr ( 855184 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:48AM (#18621745) Journal
    Rep-Rap [] The open-source rapid prototyping system.
  • In 10 years boyfriends everywhere will be wondering why their women spend so long upstairs in the bedrooms with the printer going all the time.
  • 1) Manufactuers use the printers to create parts for mass production
    2) Smaller manufacturer get cheaper copies of the printers and use those to create entire devices (piece by piece)
    3) Robotic assembly takes over at large Mfgs and the entire process is automated at the top level, and then at smaller levels
    4) Eventually an Ikea-like store is created where parts are created as needed, eliminating warehouses for kit-based home assembly
    5) personal 3D printers reach the masses and people download couches from th
  • If and when a 3D xerox machine is avaialble, would it be considered a self-replicating Turing machine?
  • I create 3D models and then Rapid Prototypes, and the current state of the art in RP parts is OK for light duty checking of looks and fit.

    If you need higher strength and toughness like is commonly expected from Polyethylene to Polypropylene to Polycarbonates, and particularly when it is in thinner sections, current RP materials don't even come close to the physical properties of finish injection molded parts.

    In terms of accuracy and surface finish RP models will not be able to match the smooth accurate even
  • This technology has been around since Stereolithography was first produced around 1986. The prices haven't gotten any cheaper since then. Some methods are slow enough to take days while the quicker ones are limited in the materials they can use and then not to be as dimensionally accurate. If they are not dimensionally accurate enough many things like tolerances on fittings could be produced as interference fits instead of clearance fits and such. And discounting that, the cheapest rapid prototyper starts a
  • The ability to cheaply produce miniatures in almost any quantity that a home consumer might need or want right in one's own home would be a boon to players of miniatures games everywhere.
  • It means we can look forward to a bleak future characterized by a distinct lack of non-convex shapes.
  • To me, it will mean that we can, with amazing efficiency, create useless trinkets that a sales person can give to a prospective client to say "look at this cool chain link, it was made using a printer!" as a leadin for "Now, since I've awed you with unrelated technology, can you please place an order for 5000 units of pancake batter?"
  • because most of the things around his office were protected by copyright.

    You can't copyright a functional mechanical part. That's why there's a third-party auto parts industry. The author of the original article (free link) [] apparently has a desk full of promotional items, some of which might be copyrighted designs. That's the only reason he has copyright problems.

    The article is really just a product review of a low-end 3D scanner. Not a very good one. Sounds worse than the low-end Roland scanner []

  • these devices to file download.

    You need materials, and assembly. SO there will be a significant cost to producing things. Probably more to make it your self then to buy it.

    When someone invents a matter converters then run on trash, then you can draw the comparison.

  • Much of the foundation of our society and economy is based on false or inflated notions of value. In reality, there are only 4 limited resources: matter, energy, space, and time. All true value flows from these things. All those fancy objects we own are just chunks of matter, and we value them so highly because access to the facilities to make them is restricted.

    Really, the current state of things is more artificial. And every time technology helps factor out one of the artificial notions of value, we regai
  • A fascinating book on the subject [], talking a little about the tech, but also making the point the eventually, the tech will enable you to acquire physical objects that are essentially "open source," or rather, "open design", and all you would need to buy in the future in order to have an endless stream of consumer products is a vat of plastic.

    If you wanted to have a car, you probably couldn't print that out at home, you'd have to go to the 3D Kinkos. Imagine if you could just download a car off the inter

Someday your prints will come. -- Kodak