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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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  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman&gmail,com> 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.
  • 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.

  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:32AM (#18621433)

    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:Non-Usable (Score:2, Insightful)

    by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) * on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:34AM (#18621493) Journal
    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 may lead designers to make "all of one piece" versions of products, and store them in a file format for easier duplication, but it has its limits.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 05, 2007 @11:35AM (#18621501)
    Ah, advocating extended state-granted monopolies whilst calling others (me) socialists. Perhaps the problem has more subtle shades of gray?
  • 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.

  • 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).
  • 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 AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman&gmail,com> 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. :)
  • They might have a case if I duplicated individual blocks. But the spaceship design was my own and there's no way to disassemble it into the pieces. Furthermore, the construction mechanism effectively stripped away large parts of each individual piece because it didn't duplicate the hidden surfaces. I probably didn't duplicate more than 20% of the surface of the average piece-- and I didn't duplicate any of the functional parts that helped the pieces grip each other.

    I did consider using modeling clay, but I'm not a great artist.
  • by AndersOSU ( 873247 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:05PM (#18622029)
    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 hardly call it utopian.

    If someone is able to invent a replicator (probably impossible due to the energy requirements for arbitrarily re-orienting atoms) no amount of draconian laws would be able to put that genie back in the bottle. Imagine the police come to arrest me within days of inventing the the very first replicator. There are a couple of ways that could play out. Either I've already replicated enough replicators and handed them out to my friends and exponential growth has made it unstoppable. Or, I've holed myself up in a fortress and set about replicating the types of wepons required to fend off a small army - or replicated myself an ICBM and entered my self into the MAD proposition. Even if they were able to successfully stop me from distributing my machine, someone would be interested enough to focus their research in a similar direction and it would only be a matter of time before they succeeded, and avoided learned from the mistakes that prevented me from getting my inverntion out.
  • 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 mlk ( 18543 ) <`michael.lloyd.l ... `at' `'> on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:15PM (#18622199) Homepage Journal
    You need one that can recycle its previously created items. Pull stuff apart as well as build it.
  • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot@keirstead. o r g> 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.

  • by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:17PM (#18622229)
    > It will never be cheaper to "3-D print"

    Becare about using the word never. History has proved it wrong over and over.

    "We'll never fly..."
    "We'll never go to the moon..."

    At some point it is all about (re) aligning the frequencies of matter (since that all energy & matter are -- frequencies.) That is indeed possible, we just have to wait to develop our mental powers (again) and/or build a machine to help.
  • 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!"
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:39PM (#18622553) Homepage
    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 the trash in a couple hours.
  • Re:Non-Usable (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Frumious Wombat ( 845680 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:47PM (#18622659)
    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 example: the Mamiya 6 rangefinders are known for weak film advance, and the parts are long since out of stock, so if you own one, you're relying on either other dead ones, or a repairman having laid in a stock of parts years ago. With laser-sintered metal parts, you'd just type in the broken part, and have a new one fused and delivered decades after support officially ceased.
  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @12:54PM (#18622733) Journal
    Take plastic model, impress in fine, dry sand, apply pressure. Remove plastic model, make path to surface, insert filter, close sand mold.

    Pour molten metal of composition required.


    Brake apart mold,grind & polish part where necessary.
  • by MrNaz ( 730548 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @01:03PM (#18622861) Homepage
    "It has always closed and will continue to close in every industry in existence."

    I want to see you make a single pair of underpants that are a) the same quality as a commercially purchased product and b) doesn't require you to spend a hugely disproportionate time working on them. Don't be trying to convince me that underpants are a new and novel technology and that the gap will close.

    The point is that making large number of anything will always be more cost effective, hugely so, by dedicated facilities. Too many IT kiddies drunk on digital goodies think that the idea of lossless reproduction can be applied to anything and everything and that "technology will solve all problems". NEWS FLASH: Digital lossless copying is a special case, not the general nature of the world. It is different from all other forms of product duplication. Complicated stuff is complicated, and you will not be able to put in the latest torrented 3D model, upload it to your printer and then have a perfect duplicate of an axle joint or even a pair of scissors, this technology does not allow for that. It is not even close to a Star Trek replicator, it is conceptually different. It makes a lookalike of an object that is not even a reasonable substitute unless your original object was a simple piece of plastic (or other of the limited materials) with a low use case dimensional tolerance to start with.

    The *best* you can hope to do is make components, but then you're really making the final product yourself, and the 3D printer is just saving you the time of using a mill / band saw / other tool for making the parts, and even so, it can only make parts that are more or less solid and have no internally concealed structure. No engine blocks then, even if it *could* use molten iron as a material.
  • Price of Ink (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jj00 ( 599158 ) on Thursday April 05, 2007 @01:16PM (#18623031)
    Don't forget that the printers will be cheap, but it will cost a fortune to buy the ink.

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