- Industrial – This mode is common today, where high-quality, terribly expensive, difficult to operate fabbing devices are typically owned and operated by industrial designers, architectural firms and other professionals with the cash flow to support use of such complex equipment.
- Service Bureau – This is a newly emerging mode, where the price of equipment and media are low enough to support a burgeoning industry of service bureaus. These services accept or provide 3D models that can remotely print objects that are then physically transported to the recipient. The service is used when the client is unable to afford their own equipment, and will be popular with anybody who needs occasional 3D printing.
- Personal – This mode has not yet emerged, and will do so only when the price of equipment and media drop below a threshold for consumer adoption. What might that threshold be? We suspect it will be lowerer than the upcoming DesktopFactory device: US$5,000. In this mode home printers would appear and become common, and provide direct, onsite object printing for consumers.
Entries in prediction (150)
Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine and proponent of the Long Tail theory, speaks at Nokia World 2007 regarding his newest theory: Free. That's what happens to business, the economy and indeed civilization itself when advanced technologies, including 3D printing and its inherent one-to-one manufacturing capability become widespread.
Anderson speaks on the effects these developments will have on our current mass-production mode. The "infinite shelf-space" of our future will be filled with our long-tail 3D printed objects.
A technology center in Wahpeton, North Dakota, USA, now offers students the use of a 3D printer. We're quite certain this isn't the only school doing so, but we suspect a trend is beginning.
In fact, it isn't the only one. Thorpe St Andrew School in Norfolk, UK is also installing a 3D printer, specifically to:
offer cutting edge design and technology to its students
As more and more schools expose students to 3D printing, we will soon see a wave of young adults entering business who are quite familiar with the concept of 3D printing. What does this mean? Only speculation is possible at this early stage, but we suspect that new and unique uses of 3D print technology will then sprout from the minds of these students.
We've been wondering how property rights will work in the future, when anyone will be able to punch out objects on their 3D printer as necessary. Will you go to Home Depot to get that bolt? Or perhaps you will just print one? Do you have the design for the bolt? Maybe you need to buy the design from Home Depot Designs Online first? It seems that in the future the design will become more important than the object it represents.
This line of thought is discussed in more detail by Omar Elsayed in his blog, where he says:
Possessing a digital model of an object is all that’s needed to fabricate it - once again ownership affords nothing. That’s an all-around game changer.
We are certain there will be much more discussion on property rights in the future. This is just the start.
Platform Design has an interesting article and video on the topic of personal fabrication. Presenter Neil Gershenfeld speaks less on specific device and technologies, but more on the social aspects - including the sense personal power that appears when individuals have the ability to create the things they want. He also discusses the issues that result when society changes from one that consumes products to one that manufactures its own products. According to Gershenfeld, people are:
Sources, not sinks
This thought provoking 18 minute video was originally presented at the TED conference. On the same page there is a second 2 minute video where Gershenfeld provides a brief overview of personal manufacturing.
Via Platform Design
HowStuffWorks has an interesting article describing methods of "printing computers". Now you'd think at first this is simply printing out the semiconductor chips, but the article describes how MIT and others are attempting to use 3D printing to print the rest of the computer as well! So far MIT has managed to print thermal actuators, linear drive motors and microelectromechanical systems. No, it's not yet enough to print off all the pieces of a computer, but clearly progress is being made.
And of course, the computer case is easily printed!
Over at the Adobe Design Center Think Tank, Allan Chochinov posts an interesting analysis of "fictional products" from the design point of view. Fictional products are those which don't actually exist but parallel existing products. Consider a speculative version of a future iPod, for example. Chochinov points us to online services where designers of such items congregate, such as Worth1000 or Idealist.
Worth1000 is a PhotoShop submission site, where contests are run to challenge the design skills of its evidently talented readers. Idealist (with subtitle "dreamed objects") is a service to submit original (and sometimes insane) design ideas and have them graded by other readers.
While both of these services are essentially for photo submission, we postulate that this type of service may eventually evolve into a 3D design library. Today readers may print their favorite photo designs on 2D paper. Tomorrow readers may print actual 3D objects of their favorite designs. However, Chochinov says,
If the "ideas of design" are just as effective at communicating thoughts around experience, behavior, culture, and enterprise as the injection-molded kind, there's really no necessity for these virtual artifacts to ever leave the virtual realm. It may indeed be best to leave them in the sphere of ideas—consuming them through pixels and sharing them across networks and communities—rather than hauling them around in shipping containers and disposing of them as soon as we're bored.
Perhaps, but we believe that the most interesting designs will likely be locally printed by keen readers. That is, if they could get their hands on an inexpensive 3D printer!
It's that time of year when we must reflect on the past and look forward to the future. While there were many interesting developments in 3D printing during 2007, the most newsworthy item was far and away DesktopFactory's announcement of their sub-$5000 3D printer.
But what about 2008? What should we expect to see? We're not certain, but there are three things we'd like to see in 2008:
- Sub-$5000 3D printers become generally available. Yes, DesktopFactory's device will no doubt eventually emerge from the beta-sphere, but it sure would be nice for them to have some competition. Well, maybe not for them, but for us! Competition would lower prices, raise the profile of 3D objects and introduce the concept of 3D printing to a much wider audience.
- Design libraries appear. If we are to have 3D printers in our offices and later our homes, we'll need something to print on them. We would like to see Internet-based libraries of 3D designs suitable for downloading by 3D printer owners. Free or commercial, it doesn't matter to us. What matters is that when I need a spoon, I can quickly find a design and print one without having to crank up difficult-to-use CAD software and design one from scratch.
- Media standardization. We've seen many different forms of 3D print media, including various brands of proprietary goop, sugar, bizarre powdery substances and even common 2D dead-trees (paper). This is no way to build the massive industry 3D will hopefully become. Sooner or later we'd better start standardizing on media - not specific formulas initially, but at least the type of media. In the 2D world, you have really only two kinds of media: those for inkjets and for lasers. This sure isn't so in the 3D world - yet.
We frequently scan the Internet to find the latest on Fabbing, and lately we keep finding many postings regarding DesktopFactory's sub-$5000 3D printer. We're guilty of that ourselves.
Many of these postings imply that 3D printing is going to be relatively straightforward. Just purchase the now-inexpensive printer and you're good to go!
But it's not like that.
There are critical and necessary components beyond the printer hardware that bear consideration, and most pundits seem to miss them. In this post we'll discuss what they are, while in future posts we'll dig deeper into what they really mean.
The three key considerations are:
- The printer itself. We often discuss these on Fabbaloo. DesktopFactory's device will be the first of many that are inexpensive.
- The printing media. Our familiar 2D printers use paper as their media, but realize there are different kinds of paper, and even unusual 2D media such as blank CDs or T-Shirt iron-ons. The world of 3D printing is no different, and perhaps much more complicated. Current 3D printers print on a variety of substances, some common like sugar, while others are complex proprietary chemical substances. Some are wet, others are dry and powdered. Some are powdered and become wet. Each has different characteristics - and cost.
- The designs. What exactly do you print? In the 2D world, you must either create a document (with office-type software) or use a document that someone else has created. Again, there is no difference in the 3D world: you must create or find a design. No objects appear without a design first. But you don't use commonly available office tools to create 3D designs - today you must use specialized modeling software that many people do not yet know how to use. 3D printing services sometimes prepare designs for you in advance, and you merely select an existing design.
We believe that the latter two items will ultimately prove much more interesting than the printers themselves, just as today's 2D printers are more or less a commodity and we focus our attention on the documents and media instead.
There seems to be a sudden outbreak of services for printing 3D figures lately. Fabjectory has been around for a while, but the blogosphere was lit up on Figureprints just a few days ago. Now I find another one: a German service called "Fabidoo". No English on their site, but thanks to the miracle of translation, I can tell you a little bit about how it works.
After registration, you select a figurine from their library, or you can design your own. They seem to have an extensive library of over 100 multicolored shapes to choose from, in three different sizes. I get the sense that their library is fluid and constantly changing with new inventions. Selected figurines are printed and sent to you. Simple! Fabidoo also explains how they make the figures with a 3D Printer.
I am always wondering how 3D printing is going to break out into the mainstream, and with today's discovery it appears that there is definitely a niche business in making small figurines. With the massive size of today's gaming, could figurines be the start of the mainstream for 3D printing services? Once established, what other objects might these services build for us?