3D printing 'could herald new industrial revolution'

Apr 28, 2013 by Jonathan Fowler
An object made with a 3D printer on display at the "Inside 3D Printing" exhibition in New York last week. As potentially game-changing as the steam engine or telegraph were in their day, 3D printing could herald a new industrial revolution, experts say.

As potentially game-changing as the steam engine or telegraph were in their day, 3D printing could herald a new industrial revolution, experts say.

For the uninitiated, the prospect of printers turning out any object you want at the click of a button may seem like the stuff of .

But 3D printing is already here, is developing fast, and looks set to leap from the labs and niche industries onto the wider market.

"There are still limits imposed by the available today," said Olivier Olmo, operational director of Switzerland's EPFL research institution.

"But I'm certain that within 10 or 20 years, we'll have a kind of revolution in terms of the technology being available to everyone," he said.

The concept's roots lie in fields ranging from standard two-dimensional printing to machine-tooling.

First, a 3D digital design is created either from scratch on a computer or by scanning a real object, before being cut into two-dimensional "slices" which are computer-fed into a .

The printer gradually deposits fine layers of material—such as plastic, carbon or metal—and builds a physical object.

The product can be as hard or as flexible as you programme the printer to make it, and even include moving parts rather than being a solid block.

"In theory, anything that we have today can be produced through 3D printing. It may just alter manufacturing as we know it," said Simon Jones, a technology expert at global law firm DLA Piper.

In addition to the potential of producing products right where they are needed, Jones said, 3D printing could make small-scale production of objects cheaper, rather than turning out huge numbers which may go to waste.

The uses go beyond easy of things that exist already.

A visitor looks at a 3D printer at the "Inside 3D Printing" event in New York last week. But 3D printing is already here, is developing fast, and looks set to leap from the labs and niche industries onto the wider market.

"The technology offers that available manufacturing does not," said Carla van Steenbergen of i.materialise, a Belgium-based service that prints designs for users.

Van Steenbergen pointed to objects such as customised screws for broken bones which match a patient's specific anatomical characteristics and thereby cause less deterioration than the traditional variety.

"It's the kind of thing that traditional technology won't allow. It's the kind of area where the big added value lies, making the impossible become possible," she underlined.

The technology has been around for longer than many would think: the first commercial 3D print technology, known as stereo-lithography, was invented in 1994.

It has taken time to inch into the limelight, however.

"It's honest to say that 3D printing is far from the mainstream, but it's a sign that something is happening," said Tristan Renaud of Prevue-Medical, a company that turns out models from 3D medical imaging data.

His technology chief Erik Ziegler said using online 3D printing services was likely to remain the norm for a while, given printer costs.

An alternative is provided by "Fablabs"—short for "fabrication laboratories"—a concept created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that offers grassroots access to small-scale manufacturing facilities.

Visitors look at a 3D printer at the "Inside 3D Printing" event in New York last week. For the uninitiated, the prospect of printers turning out any object you want at the click of a button may seem like the stuff of science fiction.

But for those tempted by home-output, a handful of 3D printers have hit the consumer market, retailing for around $2,000.

As with computers, the price is expected to fall over time as demand rises and technology advances.

Van Steenbergen said that at the industrial level, 3D printing is not set to take over from classical methods, but rather go hand in hand.

"I think it will affect the manufacturing of some products, but it's never going to replace it," she said.

It also raises a raft of questions.

For example, would a car manufacturer be ready to let a neighbourhood mechanic print spare parts? And if such goods were produced under licence, what quality guarantees would be offered to consumers?

On the intellectual property front, what constitutes fair production of a replacement part for something you already own? And would designers of 3D objects be protected from an equivalent of file-sharing, bemoaned by the music industry?

"We'd tend to see an increase in commercial impact," said Jones. "It would be very difficult to prevent that once 3D technology got to a cost point that's sensible."

Francis Gurry, head of the UN's World Intellectual Property Organisation, underlined that the global 3D printing business is forecast to be worth $3.7 billion by 2015.

In contrast, world merchandise exports were worth $18.3 trillion last year, and commercial services, $4.3 trillion.

Despite remaining small in global terms, Gurry noted, the value of is expected to expand relatively fast, to $6.5 billion by 2019.

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mb9
5 / 5 (3) Apr 28, 2013
"The printer gradually deposits fine layers of material—such as plastic, carbon or metal—and builds a physical object. "

I would be nice if it could -eventually- be extended to proteins, carbohydrates, and other biomolecules to 'print' food.

katesisco
1 / 5 (8) Apr 28, 2013
Several years ago the arrival of 'mini-mills' was expected. Where you would actually use a water jet to create milled metal parts. So this is the inferior substitute?
katesisco
1.4 / 5 (8) Apr 28, 2013
Reference to mini milling and 3 D printing:http://www.dvice....l-is.php
Milling removes material precisely and the water jet tech is only available in industry, the exact opposite of what was proposed years ago.
gwrede
1.4 / 5 (10) Apr 28, 2013
This is such an overhyped technology. The objects are made of a single compound (be it metal, plastic or other), which already severely limits applicability. Dreams like auto spare parts are simply unfounded. Real spare parts are made to strict strength and size constraints, neither of which are even remotely achievable with 3D printing in the next 30 years. Honest.

A handy man with blocks of wood and a sharp knife has always been able to manufacture a host of useful things. No revolution there. But you don't see any McGuyver stories about that. For a reason. There aren't any.

But then, every generation has to have their castle in the clouds. In the eighties it was AI. Artificial Intelligent systems were to usurp your family doctor, Real Soon Now. Ha.
VendicarE
3.6 / 5 (8) Apr 28, 2013
Capitalists will never allow parts to be printed that will allow their products to be serviced.

They will prevent it through asserting that replacement parts are a violation of their Intellectual Property. and by designing products such that they are impossible to service.

Corporations will use every trick in the book to keep their cattle fenced in and enslaved to their whim.

Any attempt to free the public cattle from the ownership and control of their corporate masters through regulation of corporate behavior will be challenged by Corporate Interests through any and all means necessary.

VendicarE
3.6 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2013
"This is such an overhyped technology." - Gwerde

In general I agree. But I look forward to the day when the exterior and interior walls of buildings are 3d printed.

flashgordon
1.7 / 5 (7) Apr 28, 2013
3d printing can inprove the quality of products. It can e-mail products to people. It can make for customized products(one of the well known weaknesses of the industrial revolution).

But, it's still not quite a general manufacturing base. It requires sophisticated lasers; it's not that easy of technology. It's not a replicator(the laser system is one problem; 3D printing could make for a duplicate laser system; but, that's an advanced application!).

What could be exciting is if someday someone is able to bootstrap from a 3d printing to a molecular manufacturing system. One thing I like about the 3d printing is the requirement whatever is being made on the small scale requires the technology from the macroscale. So, there's no danger of nano-replicators. I've been thinking this but having a little hard time putting it in an abstract framework. I'm still not sure I've got it quite written down. My point is that being able to make molecularly precise things from the . . .
flashgordon
1.3 / 5 (6) Apr 28, 2013
. . . macroscale avoids the problems of runaway nano-replicators.
Yelmurc
3.5 / 5 (6) Apr 28, 2013
This technology has a long way to go before it becomes more than a hobby. I wish those who devote themselves to its progress the best of luck.

There are numerous areas where I could see this really having a impact from prototyping to simple objects. The real progress will not happen until they can objects made of multiple materials.
NikFromNYC
1.3 / 5 (12) Apr 28, 2013
Boilerplate bullshit.
VendicarE
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 28, 2013
Nikkie rejects any reality that conflicts with his desire to be the best possible corporate slave.

"Boilerplate bullshit." - NikkieTard

baudrunner
3 / 5 (6) Apr 28, 2013
I would be nice if it could -eventually- be extended to proteins, carbohydrates, and other biomolecules to 'print' food.


If you can print kidneys and other living organs, you can print food..
http://www.design...g-cells/
Twin
2.7 / 5 (7) Apr 28, 2013
The only thing keeping foundries from replacing Pattern Makers with printers is the cost of large scale printers.
sirchick
4.5 / 5 (2) Apr 28, 2013
"The printer gradually deposits fine layers of material—such as plastic, carbon or metal—and builds a physical object. "

I would be nice if it could -eventually- be extended to proteins, carbohydrates, and other biomolecules to 'print' food.



Some one will eventually try if not already beginning to research the idea already.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 29, 2013
Where you would actually use a water jet to create milled metal parts

Water jets for cutting have fallen out of favor. Abrasive and metal fragments make wastewater treatment very expensive. Some big companies still use it, but the machinery has remained cumbersome.

The objects are made of a single compound

Google for the Connex500 which combines up to 14 materials in one printing job. Granted, you can't yet combine every type of material, but the technology is still in its infancy.

Dreams like auto spare parts are simply unfounded

We have a cooperation with a company that 3D prints patient-specific implants made from titanium. That requires more precision and higher quality than any auto part you care to name. Expensive, but for single-shot parts its worth it.

It requires sophisticated lasers

Depend on the type of printer. The printers that use plastics/epoxy need nothing more complicated than the laser you find in your Blu-Ray
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 29, 2013
We had a 3D printing research group at one of the research institutions I worked at (back in 2000 or thereabouts).
They did fascinating stuff. 10 micrometer resolutions, printing using paper as 'layers', multicolor/transparent printing (e.g. printing the skull based on the CT data from the patient with the tumor in a differnt color) for medical diagnostics and surgical planning/training...

Then there's the really cool ideas about printing houses which will free us from the "4 square walls and a roof" limitations (at least in terms of cost, as any form will become as cheap as any other).
Here's a really wild concept for one:
http://www.fastco...ilding#1
And there's another project going that aims to build a house in 24 hours:
http://www.contou...ing.org/

And if you think about going into space...well...3D printing will be a must-have.
alfie_null
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 29, 2013
One attribute of 3D printing not mentioned: it's slow. And the finer the resolution, the slower the process (up to several hours for moderate sized objects at fine resolution). This will limit the attractiveness of the technology in all sorts of potential applications.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Apr 29, 2013
One attribute of 3D printing not mentioned: it's slow.

Which could be offset somewhat by the fact that printers can run 24/7 without supervision.
Also one could massively parallelize the process (who says you only can use one nozzle per printer and not an entire 1D or 2D array?)

As the article states "it's never going to replace manufacturing" (or as the old adage goes "nothing ever fully replaces anything"). But manufacturing will be reduced to the things that really need to be put out in numbers quickly.

3D printing gives you a lot more flexibility in your products. Currently we just grab one-size-fits-all products because there are no alternatives.
indian_scientist
4.2 / 5 (6) Apr 29, 2013
I've got one these but I made the mistake of printing another 3D printer in the process of printing another 3d printer. This new printer printed another one and then before I knew what was happening 3D printers had filled my house and I ran outside shutting the front door to contain them.

At the moment my front door is bulging and threatening to break open releasing a wave of devastation upon the Earth. At least I've lived a full life.

To everyone: I'm sorry.

To Mum: I love you.
4ndy
3 / 5 (2) Apr 30, 2013
There's an elephant in the room: resource depletion. A growing industry cannot be sustained on one planet, no ifs, no buts. This anti-economic tradition that we call a market has brought us to peak exploitation of many key resources now, not just fossil fuels, and there are no planets to which humanity can escape in the near future, so we have no choice but to turn back its growth.

3D printing technology is ideally suited to our necessary goal of retracting our economy to a steady-state recycling system. It allows us to quickly iterate improved designs of an item until we reach an optimum level of efficiency and longevity, and then easily repair any items that happen to break down, before you even mention its lower levels of material waste compared to traditional production methods.

To sustain 9-10bn of us, we also need to shed this 'one for everyone' consumerism that leaves parking lots and cupboards full of unused stuff, and instead keep our hardware in libraries like we did books.
antialias_physorg
3.2 / 5 (5) Apr 30, 2013
There's an elephant in the room: resource depletion.

Maybe. Maybe not
1) Our planet has a LOT of resources (we've barely scratched the surface in some places). Getting at deeper reservoirs does tend to be increasingly expensive, though. It's all a matter of how much effort we want to expend. E.g. robotic mining could push the economically feasible mining depths considerably.

2) Looking at 3D printing (and a possible extension to atomic scale printing) one could alos think about the reverse process - where stuff that is no longer needed is disassembeld atom by atom and the taoms stored by element type to be reused. While that sounds very energy intensive it would solve all resource problems once and for all. It remains to be seen whether energy will someday be so easy to produce that such an asembly/disassembly cycle is viable.
Dug
1 / 5 (3) May 04, 2013
If the author read his own article he would understand that by definition that the 3-D printing hed described is by definition a niche market level technological event, and not anywhere close to another industrial revolution event. Whomever is manipulating the 3-D printing media exaggeration bubble clearly has a lot exposure in the 3-D printing stocks.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) May 04, 2013
is by definition a niche market

By what definition, please?

I think you would agree that currently manufacturers of products are in it to make a profit. Hence not all the investments in the product are for the benefit of the end-user (gotta pay wages, bonuses, the suppliers of raw materials want to make a profit, the people transporting your goods want to make a profit, and the front-end sales-people want to make a profit).

3D printing potentially cuts out all these middle men. While an individual cannot get the same cuts on bulk raw material rates - if we do not have to pay all those (unneccessary) salespeople, managers, trucks, advertising agencies, and whatnot then that certainly has the potential of making individually fabricated goods of ALL kinds way cheaper for the one who foots the bill: me and you.

And that is definitely a basis for a revolution (in more than manufacturing).

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