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April 16, 2011 10:14 PM   Subscribe

Cheap 3D printing has the potential to change the way we produce and consume objects in the same way the cheap PCs and the internet changed the way we produce and consume information. Once again it is hobbyists and university labs who are democratizing the technology. They are looking forward to the day when anyone can make designer bath fixtures, functional appliances, custom surgical implants, or even business opportunities at the click of a button.

However some are warning that overly broad patents could derail the whole revolution. Even more worrisome is the prospect that existing IP law is completely unprepared for a future where the cost boundary between ideas and physical objects has crumbled. Will commercial interests demand a crack down on "pirated" printouts? Will Open Source manufacturing bring about a Star Trekian utopia? It's hard to predict what will happen when everything is commodified.
posted by Popular Ethics (98 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 


Print your Millenium Falcon while you can.
posted by smcameron at 10:26 PM on April 16, 2011


You wouldn't download a car.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:38 PM on April 16, 2011 [25 favorites]


Everything *is* commodified. China's cheap, guys.
posted by effugas at 10:40 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


This technology has been simmering for a while, and it's definitely going to take a forward path that will surprise a lot of people when it (someday) reaches a tipping point.

Imagine being able to fabricate *anything* you want as long as you have access to a machine, power, and raw material substrates necessary for manufacture.

This is going to change the face of commodity goods manufacture, for sure. Also, imagine what happens once we start to get fluent with nanotechnology and super-strong materials.

All of this doesn't eliminate environmental problems, however - unless we find a way to cleanly manufacture cheap substrates and/or create super strong nano-materials that make things last for a long time.

One of the problems I see with this technology is that it might also accelerate the "throw-away" phenomenon, creating more direct after-use pollution.

For sure, artists are going to have a great time with this technology - as well as anyone else (like industrial designers) who have to forge mockups.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:46 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Will Open Source manufacturing bring about a Star Trekian utopia?

Talk to me when you can print food.
posted by CarlRossi at 10:47 PM on April 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Recent short TED talk on this subject, although it's more promo than anything else.
posted by curious nu at 10:50 PM on April 16, 2011


CarlRossi: "Will Open Source manufacturing bring about a Star Trekian utopia?

Talk to me when you can print food
"

OK - Let's talk about printable sushi, yum.
posted by lesli212 at 10:55 PM on April 16, 2011


Talk to me when you can print food

Does printing with food count?
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:06 PM on April 16, 2011


Seems like the beginning of Star Trek replicators to me.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:30 PM on April 16, 2011


You wouldn't download a car.

You wouldn't download a car. I would.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:33 PM on April 16, 2011 [8 favorites]


Imagine being able to fabricate *anything* you want as long as you have access to a machine, power, and raw material substrates necessary for manufacture.

I'm thinking ReBirth, only with the actual hardware. Maybe a nice SSL console to go with it. And an ARP 2500.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:36 PM on April 16, 2011


One of the problems I see with this technology is that it might also accelerate the "throw-away" phenomenon, creating more direct after-use pollution.

Hardly - your old boring stuff is feedstock for the new hotness.

Drop in a few 1MB SIMMs from 1992, and out pops shiny new 16GB SoDIMMs along with a dozen MicroSDHC cards to use up the excess silicon. Moore's law means that you get more new chips out than old chips that you fed in.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:39 PM on April 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


If this technology progresses in the same manner the internet did, it will be primarily used to make sex toys and plastic cats.

I am okay with this.
posted by Ritchie at 11:47 PM on April 16, 2011 [22 favorites]


So, who's the unlucky bastard the Tea Cup industry sues (for ONE. TRILLION. DOLLARS.) first?
posted by Slackermagee at 11:52 PM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you want to see a 3D printer in action, odds are that your local hackerspace either has one or is working to put one together.
posted by parudox at 11:52 PM on April 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Considering the fact that printer ink is now one of the most expensive substances in the world, what do you suspect will happen if the manufacturers of 3D printers pursue a similar business model? Only specially formulated (and protected by patents) resins can be used in a manufacturer's printer and they'll be priced to keep the cost of whatever is made with them well above buying from the mass manufacturer. That'll discourage 'piracy' of durable goods, kinda.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:31 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


oneswellfoop: That is currently the case, see my link labeled "patents". One of the market leaders, z-corp, is basically printing with plaster and water, but they're charging thousands a year for the proprietary "powder and binder" refills. The same is true of other commercial manufacturers. The really interesting thing to watch is how that business model will adapt now that the open source community is discovering their own formulas and giving them away.
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:04 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Melancholy Elephants meets Cory Doctorow?

Is this when the MeFi community yells nasty things at me and I run away and cry like a little girl denied her pony?
posted by Samizdata at 1:22 AM on April 17, 2011


Considering the fact that printer ink is now one of the most expensive substances in the world, what do you suspect will happen if the manufacturers of 3D printers pursue a similar business model?

Part of the fun is that everyone with a 3D printer is a now a manufacturer of 3D printers.
If you want, swing by a hackerspace, and they'll cheerfully do up a set of reprap parts for you.

RepRap folk are using thermoplastics like PLA, at $15/lb.

We do have folk looking at more exotic stuff as well:
powdered metal
uv-cured resin
etc.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:44 AM on April 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


I want to say that not everyone is going to want a 3D printer. No doubt the printers themselves are going to become as cheap enough for common ownership. The powder and binders shouldn't be too difficult to replicate, making unbranded 'ink' available, so I don't see Popular Ethics business model succeeding in the long term. However, not everyone is going to know what to do with a 3D printer. Unless you're just looking to duplicate something you already own, a 3D design is required using complicated software (perhaps less so for teenagers who grow up with them). Even with a design, you're still just left with a model of something you want, not the thing itself.

No doubt a market will develop for the designs and for designers, not unlike there is web design. Perhaps shops will open up similar to camera film processing centers where I can go to print my own CAD design when my printer at home isn't big enough. If so, I imagine there will also be shops where I can have the plastic model turned into the product I actually want.

But I can't help being reminded of the Thomas Watson quote in 1943 "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." I can't wait to be able to afford one!
posted by bigZLiLk at 2:02 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


You wouldn't download a car. I would.

I would too, but I'd be worried that BMW had installed a facility that checked back with the factory and stopped the brakes working when I'm gunning along at 70 miles an hour.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:18 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I didn't realize the arstechnica article went over three pages. Apologies if I've repeated ideas already covered. I don't understand how simply making an object is an infringement of copyright. If I decide I like Damien Hirsts "For the love of God" skull but can't afford the $100m price tag and make one of my own, I can be sued for infringement?

Excuse my naivety, but could a 3D printed copy that I have bought from the designer be ignored as an infringement like my Damien Hirst skull?
posted by bigZLiLk at 2:33 AM on April 17, 2011


I think a Star Trek utopia requires sufficient, safe and 'free' energy (ie from renewable sources.. I dunno.. orbital solar panels or some magical cold fusion) available to everyone. And idem for food.

But sure, democratized (small-scale) production is possibly a step in the rigth direction. I also think the backlash against such "pirating" will be even more intense than the pointless struggles against information "piracy".
posted by Harry at 3:03 AM on April 17, 2011


When the printer prints oil at above unity, then we get the silly jumpsuits.

until then, count your sartorial blessings...
posted by pompomtom at 3:29 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


While fused deposition / extrusion machines like makerbot and reprap are very cool and easily built (and easy to maintain), the small number of moving parts and "warm liquid goo phase" makes the home-made DLP UV cured resin printer look like the future to me: the 50 micron resolution and smooth surfaces right out of the bath are gorgeous. All that is necessary is a significant commoditization of the resin to make this the most popular home printing technique.
posted by autopilot at 3:47 AM on April 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Even more worrisome is the prospect that existing IP law is completely unprepared for a future where the cost boundary between ideas and physical objects has crumbled.

Prospect? Future? Have you seen the movie, music and other digital art industries for the last 15-20 years?
posted by DU at 3:49 AM on April 17, 2011


3D printing is currently too sci-fi to wrap my head around. I feel like my grandparents must feel when confronted by the Internet.
But yeah this seems like an extension of the current copyright fight.
That said, home printers have existed for ages and I still one physical books
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:16 AM on April 17, 2011


Let me know when it can print steel. Until then, as Scott Adams might say, this is masturbation.
posted by gjc at 4:41 AM on April 17, 2011


It's definitely an exciting direction. The big leap that needs to be made, however, is home printing of exact, durable reproductions. What I see so far are rough, sometimes complex, relatively fragile models.

This tech will come into its own as soon as someone demonstrates the ability to produce exact reproduction parts that are as durable as the factory-made parts.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:57 AM on April 17, 2011


There's selective laser sintering uses a high power laser to locally fuse bits of metal powder. Generally the strength of the final part scales with the energies involved in its working. You won't be cruising down the road at 70 MPH until these techniques spit high strength parts with little chance of failure. While the repraps of the world are great, high voltage and high power is pretty daunting for the home hobbyist.

"Lost wax" type casting based on plastic originals or plaster mold printing for later investment casting would be pretty interesting. This way you manage to separate the "organization" from the "energy".
posted by Chekhovian at 5:05 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


gjc -- shapeways will print in:
  • Stainless steel
  • Alumide
  • Glass
  • Acrylic (White, transparent, black and flexible)
  • ABS
  • Silver
  • Titanium

  • posted by autopilot at 5:08 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Using RAM EDM to "burn" a shape into high quality material, even tool steel, is also pretty interesting. But again, high voltage, high power.
    posted by Chekhovian at 5:08 AM on April 17, 2011


    Let me know when it can print steel. Until then, as Scott Adams might say, this is masturbation.

    You can print a polymer or something and then do lost wax casting. It's not that hard.
    posted by delmoi at 5:09 AM on April 17, 2011


    The Diamond Age is upon us (almost).
    posted by fancyoats at 5:39 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    This is all a complete fabrication...
    posted by samsara at 6:00 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    Looks like RepRap can use ABS. So I can use my old Mountain Dew 2l bottles??
    Everything I make will be green.
    posted by MtDewd at 6:41 AM on April 17, 2011


    3D printing is currently too sci-fi to wrap my head around. I feel like my grandparents must feel when confronted by the Internet...That said, home printers have existed for ages and I still one physical books

    But a book IS a bit of 3D printing. Imagine a book, on each page of which is printed a slice from an MRI scan of Kelly LeBrock. Now imagine that, instead of printing the contents of each page on paper, you print them directly onto the printed contents of the previous page, where it sticks and holds fast (the first page is printed on a special non-stick base). At the end of the printing process, you will end up with your very own Kelly LeBrock.

    OR, imagine a book in which all these images have been printed. But you can put the book in a hot oven for a few hours; the ink will fuse, the paper will scorch away, and BAM- Kelly LeBrock.
    posted by Casimir at 6:43 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Popsci dreams of 3-d printer tech.
    posted by humanfont at 6:44 AM on April 17, 2011


    This technology really excites me, as I am both an artist and a nerd. I own a fabulous machine called a Pazzles that lets me cut my own shapes out of a variety of materials such as vinyl, paper and rubber. The higher end model can do wood and metal. Ths is just a next step up. I can't wait for the home model :-)

    One of the problems I see with this technology is that it might also accelerate the "throw-away" phenomenon, creating more direct after-use pollution.

    That is true...although I remember somewhere watching a video on how the machines could be made to repair objects. It seems just about everything has a little hinge or doohickey that breaks off, rending the object useless. The clippy snappy part on the battery compartment for my old camera comes to mind. It would be fantastic to just mock up a new battery compartment door and create it!
    posted by Calzephyr at 7:10 AM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    That's so bizarre that you mention it, Calzephyr. The snap on the battery compartment of this camera I have has also failed and I am reduced to using rubber bands to hold it shut. I was unable to find a replacement part and wished I could just whistle up a few cubic millimeters of plastic to do the job.
    posted by adipocere at 7:26 AM on April 17, 2011


    It would be fantastic to just mock up a new battery compartment door and create it!

    Or go to the camera maker's website and download the file to make up that door. Imagine the kind of goodwill a company could engender putting that kind of thing online for users like they put up user manuals.
    posted by hippybear at 7:30 AM on April 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


    gjc: Let me know when it can print steel. Until then, as Scott Adams might say, this is masturbation.

    Yes, but masturbation in SPACE!

    Seriously, there are plenty of people whose machining skills don't match up to their CAD skills.
    posted by vanar sena at 7:43 AM on April 17, 2011


    Apologies if I've repeated ideas already covered. I don't understand how simply making an object is an infringement of copyright. If I decide I like Damien Hirsts "For the love of God" skull but can't afford the $100m price tag and make one of my own, I can be sued for infringement?

    Copyright covers sculptural works like "For the love of God." Making a copy, or even something substantially similar (e.g. using rhinestones instead of diamonds), would be copyright infringement, unless one happened to come up with the idea independently of Hirst, which would be difficult to prove given how famous it is.

    Existing copyright law can prevent people from making 3D copies of sculptures just as it can prevent people from making 2D copies of paintings and digital copies of music. Note I didn't say how effectively it prevents any of those things.
    posted by jedicus at 8:02 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    To give people an idea of just how far 3D scanning & printing technology has come, here's a video of a Z 450 duplicating a canteloupe.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


    Note I didn't say how effectively it prevents any of those things.

    I shouldn't read lines like this because then I dismiss all the other precautions, and when I look to the devil and angel on my shoulders for guidance, they're gone (probably ran off together to get a cheap motel room).

    I'm left with the voice in my head saying: "Who's gonna stop me...if they never find out!?"

    In all seriousness, jedicus has a point about how effective the law is. I imagine there won't be anyone to stop you from printing, but once it's done, it's not going to be something that you want to show off to all your buddies ... lest someone's slippery lips blab about your "creativity" to a questionable party. So you may have to cloister your printed treasures in a back room somewhere ... or have everyone sign a non-disclosure agreement upon entering your domicile.
    posted by neitherly at 8:40 AM on April 17, 2011


    autopilot: the small number of moving parts and "warm liquid goo phase" makes the home-made DLP UV cured resin printer look like the future to me

    Me too, but that project highlights one of the current challenges. Junior has not yet released his build instructions nor his material recipe, in part because he's worried about patent infringement, because, while independently developed, his machine resembles this commercial printer. Envisiontec themselves got into trouble some years back [pdf] because the whole concept of stereolithography is patented up the whazoo.
    posted by Popular Ethics at 8:42 AM on April 17, 2011


    Civil_Disobedient, I feel like that video is proof that Japanese TV is the proper way to usher people into the future. Epic music, overblown reactions, plus a PIP reaction shot of a confused man.

    Come to think of it, I'd even like to see cable news delivered that way.
    posted by mccarty.tim at 8:45 AM on April 17, 2011


    Previously.

    And, of course, there's this Doctorow story.
    posted by yesster at 8:48 AM on April 17, 2011


    neitherly writes "In all seriousness, jedicus has a point about how effective the law is. I imagine there won't be anyone to stop you from printing, but once it's done, it's not going to be something that you want to show off to all your buddies ... lest someone's slippery lips blab about your 'creativity' to a questionable party. So you may have to cloister your printed treasures in a back room somewhere ... or have everyone sign a non-disclosure agreement upon entering your domicile."

    This isn't something we have to speculate about as it's a well worn problem in the CNC community. Specifically in the case of licensed creations. Make up a Canucks logo wall clock for your own use or for a buddy with your CNC router and you are fine because no one cares enough to police it. Try to sell it on eBay and watch the pain roll in. The status quo is probably the best possible outcome really (free infringement for personal use) though it would be nice if there were compulsory licences for trademarked advertising items like team logos. I know someone who has all floating panels on the cabinets in their shop carved with assorted car company logos and it would have been nice if the contract creation of those panels hadn't been illegal.
    posted by Mitheral at 8:57 AM on April 17, 2011


    MetaFilter: BAM- Kelly LeBrock
    posted by vibrotronica at 9:10 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    Mitheral: Thanks for the bit about trade marks. That's a tough angle because, although they can be very broad (some companies have trademarked colours) and they can be aggressively enforced (by sports franchises in particular), trade marks actually have pretty narrow application. They only offer protection from misrepresentation. I should think you could cover your den in sports and car logos just fine, in the same way you can use a team's logo in an article discussing their stats. I'd love to read some articles discussing the experience in the CNC community though - please link them if you can.
    posted by Popular Ethics at 9:11 AM on April 17, 2011


    Ok, but how do you test the safety of what comes out of these? If you print a car, how do you know the brakes *will* come out right? If you print Prozac (or heroin for that matter), how do you make sure you get the dose right? It's not like current manufacturing purpose-built to make one specific thing works right all the time— why would this? Especially if you are trying to make something that really does have to be precisely right or it will be deadly. How are you even going to know if it starts going subtly wrong?

    How do you regulate safety of this stuff, also?
    posted by Maias at 9:14 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    Let me know when it can print steel. Until then, as Scott Adams might say, this is masturbation.

    After some of the political news out this week, my immediate thought was 'When will they utilize human feedstock?'

    "Oh, I'm sorry Governor Walker, you've been recalled."
    "Meh, I'll just run again. Or become a lobbyi-"
    "No, Governor, " {waves in staffers with FleshKrafter 3000} "it doesn't work that way."
    posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 9:41 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    If you're printing Heroin™, you run into issues with both Schedule 1 narcotics and the USPTO.
    posted by autopilot at 9:45 AM on April 17, 2011




    I'm not worried about how IP law will handle this technology. Disruptive inventions like this are the only real mechanism for change in the law. That's not to say that one shouldn't worry about the companies that will be put out of business or the multitude of issues that come up when everyone is a small-scale manufacturer, though.
    posted by Grimp0teuthis at 10:07 AM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Will these printers support Postscript? Will Apple save us from Adobe's InDesign 3D?
    posted by juiceCake at 10:18 AM on April 17, 2011


    Here is an older TED talk from Neil Gershenfeld about the promises and challenges of personal fabrication. Most importantly, the paradigm shift that can be expected when a population finds it more convenient to create their own products rather than consume.
    posted by samsara at 11:05 AM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    I remember a sci-fi story, probably in one of the anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, about what would happen if aliens suddenly dropped off a device that could replicate anything. Of course the first thing that happened is that people started replicating the replicators, and then the price of everything pretty much dropped to zero, etc. (it was more interesting than my explanation) Anyone remember that one?
    posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:35 AM on April 17, 2011


    patent examining is about granting nearly everyone a patent and having them fight it out in court.

    If this becomes what it is supposed to be, I think the problems will be less than people think. Making your own thing is not the same as pirating. The problem is illegal distribution of patterns somebody else designed, not designing your own thing.
    posted by Ironmouth at 11:46 AM on April 17, 2011


    ironmouth Making your own thing is not the same as pirating. The problem is illegal distribution of patterns somebody else designed, not designing your own thing.

    I tend to agree with you except for one thing: widespread 3d printing will allow backyard inventors to easily sample each other's designs and mechanisms. Copyright, unlike patents, prevents derivative works (except under a few circumstances). I have no idea how the law will distinguish slightly modified printouts from the copyrighted original, but I worry it will involve the expansion of stifling laws like the DMCA.

    As mentioned upthread, this is mostly an academic concern right now. There aren't any affordable 3d printers that can match the quality of traditional manufacturing methods. That will change though, and by then I hope we've at least thought about it.
    posted by Popular Ethics at 12:17 PM on April 17, 2011


    "Copyright, unlike patents, prevents derivative works (except under a few circumstances)."

    Depends on the license, which is up to the copyright holder. Copyright in and of itself doesn't prevent derivative works. For example, This past February I designed a replacement plastic shell for the electronic keyfob for my car in OpenSCAD and put the design on github licensed under the GPL. My design is not derivative of the original (the whole reason I made it is because the original design was terrible) but I would encourage anyone who was interested to make a derivative of my design.
    posted by smcameron at 12:27 PM on April 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


    samsara: Here is an older TED talk from Neil Gershenfeld about the promises and challenges of personal fabrication.

    Thank you so much for that link. Gershenfield introduced me to two new powerful ideas:

    1) The concept of zero-barrier collaboration which will allow anyone to work together to solve major engineering problems, regardless of access to capital, in the same way that the internet has allowed for the development of Unix and Wikipedia

    2) The concept of "digital machines", that is machines made up of programmable elements. Machines which are their own instructions, much like RNA. This will allow the construction of fantastically complex machines by repeating simpler building blocks without loss of information (the same way digital computers can be built arbitrarily more powerful, compared to analog computers).

    Mind = blown.
    posted by Popular Ethics at 12:56 PM on April 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


    RobotVoodooPower, you might be thinking of (Metafilter's own™) cstross' "Singularity Sky".
    posted by autopilot at 12:58 PM on April 17, 2011


    smcameron: ...plastic shell for the electronic keyfob for my car in OpenSCAD...

    Oh wow, what a neat app, thanks for the pointer. This reminds me of messing around with CSG in povray in the 90s.
    posted by vanar sena at 1:27 PM on April 17, 2011


    Ah, found the quote I was looking for in "Singularity Sky", as Timoshevski negotiates with the aliens for access to the machine:
    "What will you give us?"
    "How about [...] a proof that the dictatorship of the hereditary peerage can only be maintained by the systematic oppression and exploitation of the workers and engineers, and cannot survive once the people acquire the self-replicating means of production?"
    His first two questions after they agree are a) can the replicator replicate itself and b) can it produce direct fusion weapons, aircraft and firearms? Once the workers control the cornucopia machine, he is certain that they will be able to deliver a postulated proof of his theory.
    posted by autopilot at 1:41 PM on April 17, 2011


    Form, Fit, and Function are the three required equivalents of interchangeable parts. A part from a replicator might be made to meet those requirements with reference to an existing one. This is not where such machines will really shine: a part from a replicator is an entirely new entity that should take advantage of the things you can do that are simply not feasible with machine tools. Examples: a part whose material properties smoothly vary from toughness on the inside to hardness on the outside (a case-hardened knife that never saw an oven). Internal cellular bracing to make light, strong structures like bones all in one shot. Structures with integral flexures and volumes with high internal damping, for optical benches.

    It would be hard to resist 3D form replication, but with secret sauces like changes in materials properties throughout a part, the odds are not great that form-only copies will conform to the fit and function requirements.
    posted by jet_silver at 2:38 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Copyright, unlike patents, prevents derivative works (except under a few circumstances).

    This is inaccurate. Patents can prevent derivative works in certain cases. If a claim is written using non-exclusive language (e.g. "A widget comprising an X connected to a Y.") then you can't simply tack on a Z and call it good. A more concrete example: if I patent a chair, and you take it and put wheels on the bottom, your wheeled chair would still infringe my patent because it would still include each and every element of the claimed invention (i.e. a chair).

    Copyright in and of itself doesn't prevent derivative works.

    This is completely incorrect. "[T]he owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following: ... to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work." 17 USC 106.
    posted by jedicus at 2:40 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    "Lost wax" type casting based on plastic originals or plaster mold printing for later investment casting would be pretty interesting. This way you manage to separate the "organization" from the "energy".

    Chekhovian, I have parts on my desk made like this. Solid Concepts can do it. (N. B. I have no pecuniary interest in this firm but I am a satisfied customer.)
    posted by jet_silver at 2:43 PM on April 17, 2011


    ...sigh, posted too quick. I meant internet has allowed for the development of Linux.
    posted by Popular Ethics at 2:51 PM on April 17, 2011


    As items have been copied, creators and those who monetized scarcity have called for stronger, more aggressive copyright enforcement. Oftentimes they have sought to transfer the cost of enforcement onto service providers and the public – anyone but themselves.

    "monetize scarcity". That's just silly. Creators and distributors of music movies books want as wide a distribution as possible. Their main thing is that that distribution be paid for - which is what most people selling in any marketplace want.

    And surely the enforcement of the law is a public responsibility.
    posted by IndigoJones at 3:01 PM on April 17, 2011


    IndigoJones "Their main thing is that that distribution be paid for - which is what most people selling in any marketplace want."

    That's not really true. It costs nothing to distribute ideas in the internet age. Creators are not so much looking to be reimbursed for the costs of publishing, but for a sustainable business model that lets them spread out the cost of production (or earn massive rents in perpetuity, depending on your view).

    "surely the enforcement of the law is a public responsibility."

    Copyright falls under civil law*, which means it's up to the aggrieved party to seek restitution. The public has no obligation to resolve IP disputes.
    *Laws like the DMCA and Europe's 3 strikes law are shifting copyright from civil to criminal law. To many people, this represents an off-loading of private costs onto the public purse
    posted by Popular Ethics at 3:19 PM on April 17, 2011


    The public has no obligation to resolve IP disputes
    I probably should have used the word "prosecute" rather than "resolve". We're still on the hook for the cost of the civil courts.
    posted by Popular Ethics at 3:37 PM on April 17, 2011


    That is true...although I remember somewhere watching a video on how the machines could be made to repair objects. It seems just about everything has a little hinge or doohickey that breaks off, rending the object useless. The clippy snappy part on the battery compartment for my old camera comes to mind. It would be fantastic to just mock up a new battery compartment door and create it!

    Funny how this all reminds me of many 19th century novels. You often read in passing that someone is carving a new pipe or hinge or axe handle or the like, back in the day when the ubiquitous material was the very do-it-yourself-able wood. (Or, more obviously, darning or knitting or sewing if they're female.) It will be interesting to return to that era of self-manufacture (most of human history, really), but without the vast demands on our time. Interesting how some automation revolutions went through a centralized/mass phase first (computers, books, ice) before becoming diy, while others went direction from hand-done at home to automated at home, with no centralized step (clothes and dish washing, cooking) -- with I guess some in between, depending on when you got on board (telephones).

    But even with automation, it's hard to imagine that the extra time and cost of self-manufacture is really going to offset the mass-produced cost (even with delivery) on ebay. Either the part is already mass-produced, which will be cheaper than doing it yourself; or it's super-obscure, in which case designing it yourself will be a pain; or it isn't mass-produced but the design is out there, in which case it will probably still be cheaper to send it to a made-to-order factory to pop out one using a larger, cheaper version of your home device.

    But certainly for those who like designing their own doodads, it will be awesome. What's interesting to me will be watching the evolution of the minimal set of "inks" that is necessary to produce a full spectrum of products.
    posted by chortly at 5:51 PM on April 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


    Jedicus wrote: "Copyright in and of itself doesn't prevent derivative works.

    This is completely incorrect. "[T]he owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following: ... to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work.""

    Yeah, you're right. Copyright alone, without any license terms at all is pretty much the worst case scenario (e.g. the case of abandon ware, where it's copyrighted, but the copyright holding entity is gone or unlocatable and nobody has the power to grant a license, and nobody can get a license, so the work vanishes into a black hole, or perhaps into a black market.)

    The more I think about copyright, the more I think Richard Stallman has the right idea. Would be better if there were no such thing at all, but if there has to be, at least use its powers against itself.

    I should have said something more like: copyright doesn't necessarily forbid derivative works if the copyright holder grants a license to make derivative works.
    posted by smcameron at 6:21 PM on April 17, 2011


    Alright, I've been aware of 3D printing and rapid prototyping for a longish while (uhmm, nearly 20 years), and I don't see what's the big deal. Even before its inception, a reasonably skilled craftsman with a decent set of tools could make within a couple of days mostly anything you can do with 3D printing. In fact, he'll do it better, because he won't be limited in his choice of materials.
    Large factories have never been necessary for making one-off items (unless the one-off item is the Statue of Liberty or an ocean liner, of course). Hobbyists have been building all sorts of nifty stuff, from knitwear to planes, from blueprints for a long, long time now. 3D printing is just another available tool, certainly useful, but not unique or revolutionary. In other words: "Kids, GEROFF MY LAWN!"
    posted by Skeptic at 11:06 PM on April 17, 2011


    > Hobbyists have been building all sorts of nifty stuff, from knitwear to planes, from blueprints for a long, long time now. 3D printing is just another available tool, certainly useful, but not unique or revolutionary. In other words: "Kids, GEROFF MY LAWN!"

    The folks building things such as the RepRap are trying to make something that said hobbyist could re-create at home.

    They have a whole side project called "RepStrap" which is about instructions on how to build a functional reprep platform when you don't have a 3D printer handy to make all the parts. So you build one out of wood or whatever materials you have available, and then you can build all the parts for a smaller more portable reprap from that.

    Everything is designed around simplicity, the design of the bearings and axis isolators are meant to take into account the fact that people wont have access to straight dowels. Right now it is possible to make something like this out a trip to radio shack and home depot, but they keep trying to simplify the base equipment more. I imagine before the XO laptop program died a painful death, they were hoping to develop a solution using one of those machines as a controller (and I am sure they are meant to be).

    This is more than hobbyists, reprap is trying to create things like water purifiers and other quality of life goods. If it eventually became rugged enough, it would be better to ship something such as a self repairable reprap to an isolated group of people if it could create all the tools they needed, instead of having to send them twenty water purifiers and hope they last long enough until they can afford to buy another twenty of them. With a reprap, they would just need a source of plastic and power, and they could make as many as they needed.
    posted by mrzarquon at 12:19 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


    mrzarquon My point was that even hobbyists have been building complex machines from blueprints from well before the start of 3D printing. Professional craftsmen have been doing even more than that for even longer. There are ways of creating quality of life goods like water purifiers even without a source of plastic and power (both of which being less accessible than you may believe, and usually provided by large, capital-intensive industries).

    Don't get me wrong: all these projects are interesting and potentially useful. Just don't get swept by the hype and, above all, don't underestimate previously available processes and resources. Mechanical engineering has been around for a very long time, and most of the industrial revolution was accomplished using basic tools and good craftsmanship in small workshops, forges and foundries. Pushing new production processes in development aid without regard to those existing local resources not only risks bypassing local needs, but may even put the struggling local artisans out of work, which is the very worst thing you can do.

    3D printers and other rapid prototyping methods are wonderful, but we should never forget that the very best tools we have are still a pair of neurally-controlled, highly flexible, multiarticulated prehensile manipulators: our own two hands. Pairs of hands are plentiful, and capable of doing so much more than just typing code on a keyboard.
    posted by Skeptic at 1:05 AM on April 18, 2011


    Skeptic...but we should never forget that the very best tools we have are still a pair of neurally-controlled, highly flexible, multiarticulated prehensile manipulators: our own two hands. Pairs of hands are plentiful, and capable of doing so much more than just typing code on a keyboard.

    That's like calling the invention of the computer unexciting because anyone can calculate pi to 100 decimal places with a pen and pencil.
    posted by bigZLiLk at 2:37 AM on April 18, 2011


    bigZLiLk That's like calling the invention of the computer unexciting because anyone can calculate pi to 100 decimal places with a pen and pencil.

    This is a faulty analogy: tools and machine tools to augment our manual abilities much like computers augment our mental ones, have been around for a long while. Machine tools were indeed at least as important a step in human development as computers. 3D printers aren't.

    3D printers are just a new class of machine tools, with their particular qualities and drawbacks. Pretending otherwise is foolish hype. If you want to make an axisymmetric part, a lathe will usually be faster, and definitely cheaper, than a 3D printer. And even for non axisymmetric parts, a small CNC mill will be more functional, and not necessarily much more expensive.

    For certain applications, for instance when you want to produce a very complex-shaped part, directly from a CAD file in a relatively short time, 3D printers are extremely useful. But they are not a panacea, and they are definitely not going to supersede most manufacturing techniques.
    posted by Skeptic at 3:04 AM on April 18, 2011


    Skeptic: I think you're missing the point. 3D printers may not be as quick or accurate as existing machines, but they hold the promise of being part of a normal household white good. No-one wants to buy a lathe to make a ring for their girlfriend, but with a 3D printer, I can make a ring, cut a jigsaw, perhaps some glasses frames, make a new case for my iPad - all with the one machine perhaps in an afternoon.

    If this is possible, you are clearly not excited enough or I am far more foolish than even I imagined.
    posted by bigZLiLk at 3:25 AM on April 18, 2011


    bigZLiLk I think that you may be overestimating both the demand for and convenience of 3D printers. The average consumer already struggles to operate his TiVo, and he certainly won't be bothered to start designing a new ring for his girlfriend on a CAD interface. Unless a very large library of open source designs becomes easily available, this is thus going to be interesting only for a small subset of mechanics and DIY geeks, the sort that is already in the market for a desktop CNC mill. And without a larger market, 3D printers are going to remain expensive and/or inconvenient.

    But I may be wrong: I must admit that I was never very good at predicting the success of business models. In particular, as an early user of Google, I struggled to understand how they were going to make money...
    posted by Skeptic at 4:50 AM on April 18, 2011


    I think that you may be overestimating both the demand for and convenience of 3D printers. The average consumer already struggles to operate his TiVo, and he certainly won't be bothered to start designing a new ring for his girlfriend on a CAD interface.

    I think time will tell on this one. If it goes the way I'm imagining it'll go...CAD designs will be the MP3s of the future. Initially slow for the masses to adopt, but once simplified, a huge paradigm shift for industry (especially small parts)...and a huge challenge for lawmakers.
    posted by samsara at 5:12 AM on April 18, 2011


    samsara, we'll indeed see, but such a paradigm shift would appear to go against current consumer behaviour. Sewing machines, for instance, used to be common household items, but are nowadays bought only by professionals and very dedicated hobbyists, and this despite having become much more convenient and despite the availability of downloadable sewing patterns.

    Globalization and economies of scale run against home production of small consumer items. Even with very sophisticated tools, such as a 3D printer, the opportunity cost for a First World consumer is likely to vastly outweigh that of a worker in a state-of-the-art production facility in China. Unless Chinese salaries explode (which can't be ruled out altogether), such hardware homebrewing is going to remain the realm of a few dedicated tinkerers, just as homebrewing of the hops-and-malt sort isn't about to put Anheuser-Busch out of business.
    posted by Skeptic at 5:39 AM on April 18, 2011


    Skeptic writes "Alright, I've been aware of 3D printing and rapid prototyping for a longish while (uhmm, nearly 20 years), and I don't see what's the big deal. Even before its inception, a reasonably skilled craftsman with a decent set of tools could make within a couple of days mostly anything you can do with 3D printing. In fact, he'll do it better, because he won't be limited in his choice of materials."

    The key thing is I can draw a lot of things I can't physically make and mistakes are cheap until one actually starts making something. Plus once the design work is done anyone can feed te file to the machine.

    Let's take for example a Warhammer 40K drop pod. Before Games workshop released a plastic model for ~$40 Forge world had a resin model for ~110. $110 is a lot of money so many people scratch built there own with varying degrees of skill. However that did require both a lot of time and significant skill so when GW released the plastic drop pod they sod like hotcakes. If 3D printers were as common as regular printers then one person could have designed a drop pod and distributed the file and GW probably would never have released a plastic model. Plus they could be customized relatively easily with different emblems or variants.

    Even being able to make scale plastic shapes like I beams or trusses for less than a $1 a foot would be a boon.
    posted by Mitheral at 5:57 AM on April 18, 2011


    skeptic: My initial reaction was the same as yours. I've seen 3d printers at trade shows for ten years, and they haven't really excited me. What's the point of spending $50k on a tool that produces worse quality parts than a similarly priced mill? It wasn't until recently that I realized that 3d printers offer a few very important advantages:

    1) Complexity
    3d printers can make parts you can't make with any other tool, like pre-assembled mechanisms straight from the machine, internal geometry without tool access, multiple material blending, and extremely small or numerous features.

    2) Cost
    With traditional tools, more complex parts require more complex cutters / mills / molds. As the price of 3d printers falls, the price of parts will depend only on the amount of material used, which is relatively cheap. I am really excited about being able to run through prototypes of my mechanical designs as fast and cheaply as programmers revise software.

    Then there's the batch and distribution costs. If I want to sell a new design, I currently have to pay for warehousing a minimum lot size, and for shipping parts to my customers. If everyone has a 3D printer, parts could be sold as quickly as mp3s. Everyone would be able to access a market of millions.

    3) User skill
    This is really the transformative advantage. If I wanted to machine even a simple toy, I would need to train myself on how to operate a mill, tolerancing, fixturing practices, and the feeds + speeds for every material. With a 3D printer, my nephew could download the plans from the internet and print a new toy himself. With some practice and easy-to-use software, he could remix his favourite toys into entirely custom creations which he could share with kids all over the world.

    This is analogous to the way PCs allowed everyone to become an author & publisher, a journalist and newspaper. You will see huge numbers of people enter the sector who never could before, either because of lack of training or lack of capital. The TED talk linked above talks about a 10 year old Ghanaian girl sending her robot designs to MIT. How awesome is that?
    posted by Popular Ethics at 7:41 AM on April 18, 2011


    Mitheral, Warhammer 40K drop pod? Seriously? Could you have possibly chosen a less geeky example?

    My answer to that: A dedicated modeller's wet dream? Yes. New manufacturing paradigm and future household appliance? No, I don't think so.

    And PE, while I was aware of, and admire, the complexity advantage, I'm not so convinced about the cost and user skill advantages. Neither one is specific to 3D printers, but would also apply in theory to desktop CNC mills, which are similarly complex mechanically. Both advantages would mainly depend on reaching a critical mass of users, and I just don't see this happening. I remember first reading about 3D printers in Osborne Press "World of the Future" books in the '80s, and then seeing first-hand the first working examples in my engineering school in the early '90s. It isn't as if this was a brand-new technology, and if it hasn't caught fire by now, I don't think it's going to do so anytime soon. It's an interesting niche technology, a boon for engineers, industrial designers and possibly modellers, but I don't see it becoming a household appliance or setting a new manufacturing paradigm, no. Mind you, I'm aware that the history of technology is full of such dismissals that turned out to be completely wrong.

    As for downloading toy plans and remixing them: hasn't this been possible with Lego and Meccano for a longuish while now? (Also, apart from the IP concerns, I can see that downloadable toys would also raise serious health and safety concerns about small parts and so on...)
    posted by Skeptic at 8:06 AM on April 18, 2011


    It isn't as if this was a brand-new technology, and if it hasn't caught fire by now, I don't think it's going to do so anytime soon.

    I think that the same applied for computers in general too. There were major advances over decades that while fascinating, were generally out of reach for the common consumer. That was until the concept of a Personal Computer came about. And even then they were only really successful within corporations.

    The PC revolution was pretty slow thinking back about it...and didn't really pick up until around 1993 when http was unleashed upon the internet. Along with the internet, the percentage of PC owners grew exponentially with the main goal of "getting online." Even then, the internet really wasn't understood or explained well by the general media until the late 90's.

    So from the digital computer's earliest days in the mid to late 40's to the personal computer 40 years later...the pace doesn't seen all that bad. All 3D printing would need is a lucky break like computers had, where it becomes affordable, convenient, and useful to the masses. To be honest, I'm envisioning it starting out with small microwave sized consumer level devices...sold as a novelty for hobbyists and small businesses. Lost a button? Need a replacement strap clip? Putting together a miniature town or dollhouse and need buildings/furnishings? Lost a pencap? Missing pieces from your favorite board game? etc...

    Like personal computers, this sort of thing will get adopted more and more..and the price per unit will drop as more are made...to a point where it could be common for every home to have a personal fabricator; devices that started out as industrial 3D printers back in their infancy in the 2010's. It might not happen in our lifetimes...but it's a fascinating thought.
    posted by samsara at 10:11 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


    3D print a button, what, for all that's holy, why?!!! There was a post on Make a while back where somebody 3D printed a cylinder to make a shower rod longer. Why someone would immediately boot up CAD when a short cylinder is needed is beyond me. Pick up a piece of wood (doesn't even need to be round), eyeball the dimension, cut it with a saw. That is all that is needed.

    Don't let your erection for 3D printing get in the way of your common sense. Sometimes it will be better to just go buy a button.
    posted by Chekhovian at 3:33 PM on April 18, 2011


    For the record, I forgot this community effort in my FPP. The Fab@Home project is currently a little bit cheaper than the RepRap, but a bit more limited. Makes great cakes though!
    posted by Popular Ethics at 4:20 PM on April 18, 2011


    Skeptic writes "Warhammer 40K drop pod? Seriously? Could you have possibly chosen a less geeky example?"

    Well I was familiar with the pricing structure. Substitute barbie furniture, Hot Wheels track, Mr. Potato Head accessories, gun stocks, bobbleheads or doll house furniture if you'd like.

    Chekhovian writes "3D print a button, what, for all that's holy, why?!!! There was a post on Make a while back where somebody 3D printed a cylinder to make a shower rod longer. Why someone would immediately boot up CAD when a short cylinder is needed is beyond me. Pick up a piece of wood (doesn't even need to be round), eyeball the dimension, cut it with a saw. That is all that is needed."

    Wood is a really poor choice for a shower curtain rod. Thinking bigger though they could have made a fancy escutcheon for each end similar to the screw on supports to take up the slack.
    posted by Mitheral at 4:42 PM on April 18, 2011


    I don't think that wood is particularly worse at handling water than the plaster walls the shim pressed againt in that photo. And anything is going to be better than the paper towel tube previously in use.

    I just love the special kind of idiocy at work in that Make post:
    "When I went downstairs, I took a few extra steps out to the car, got the MakerBot, and returned to fire up the computer with Sketchup. It took two iterations to get the dimensions right...."

    I'm looking forward to the new age of RP where every average Joe can waste thousands of hours CADing up banal everyday items that would be better if they were whittled from a chunk of wood with a pocket knife.
    posted by Chekhovian at 5:30 PM on April 18, 2011


    For the record, I forgot this community effort in my FPP. The Fab@Home project is currently a little bit cheaper than the RepRap, but a bit more limited. Makes great cakes though!

    I think you are mistaken.

    Fab@Home looks like it is $1,950.00.

    A Prusa Mendel type RepRap is currently $825
    via:
    http://reprap.org/wiki/Mendel_Buyers_Guide
    http://blog.reprap.org/2011/04/sourcing-3d-printer.html

    That's for an all pieces in the box, sole-sourced kit. The ideologically purer way would be to borrow a set of Mendel parts from a hackerspace or use a tablesaw to build a bootstrap machine to print your set of parts. The tablesaw route is recommended because then you have two machines, instead of just one.

    We're trying to get the price under $200, mind.

    I'm looking forward to the new age of RP where every average Joe can waste thousands of hours CADing up banal everyday items that would be better if they were whittled from a chunk of wood with a pocket knife.
    The bits for a prosthetic leg would be a better example. The formal and informal researchers printing shower rod extenders (and Mendel parts) will be enabling cheap prosthetic legs. Probably not out of ABS/PLA, mind.
    posted by sebastienbailard at 7:22 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


    people: at the university of washington we are printing in hydroperm, ceramics, glass, wood, bone, salt, flour...literally dozens of new materials mark ganter & his lab have pioneered. he was one of the first people in a position like his and say fuck it, we're voiding the warranties on our machines because we're not paying exorbitant costs for your proprietary powder.

    and don't worry about affordability of those powder machines. people are working on open source powder printers too. 3dp is coming...
    posted by victory_laser at 9:47 PM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


    I just love the special kind of idiocy at work in that Make post:
    "When I went downstairs, I took a few extra steps out to the car, got the MakerBot, and returned to fire up the computer with Sketchup. It took two iterations to get the dimensions right...."


    Can you imagine how silly the efforts the first pioneers of the Altair must have appeared? Or even Bill Gates for that matter (not that shower curtain guy is the next Bill Gates, rather they share early adoption of a new technology or field). Why would you go through all the trouble of writing an operating system from scratch Linus Torvolds? Who in the world would want to send a letter to someone through the phone when they could simply pick up a pencil and write it on paper Alexander Bain? (And yea it took ~180 years for the technology behind the fax machine to catch on, now that's slow adoption for ya).

    Why on earth would you want to use electrophotography to copy a document when you have the original already at hand Chester Carlson? What a dumb idea. Go have fun with your little company called Xerox..whatever that means.

    Yea, we humans do some pretty silly things...
    posted by samsara at 5:11 AM on April 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


    Well, I just printed a RealDoll. But you people probably know someone who could have whittled one out of a pinecone, or something.
    posted by Ritchie at 3:02 AM on April 21, 2011


    One of the most intriguing concepts I've seen is development of the ability to "print" houses. A gantry would drive up to the prepared site and start extruding floors, walls and ceilings in place including insulation, exterior and interior finish and provisions for wiring, plumbing and HVAC. It would totally revolutionize the low density housing (single family residences and things like duplex and town houses). Most of the advantages of factory built housing with few of the deal breaker disadvantages like transportation and assembly costs.
    posted by Mitheral at 10:19 AM on April 22, 2011


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