You might just download a car
January 24, 2012 11:13 AM   Subscribe

The Pirate Bay announced today a new category of torrents, Physibles:
We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare sparts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years.

Essentially, this technology allows for the printing of three-dimensional objects by melting and fusing bits of plastic, layer by layer. Things like toys, chess pieces, gears, artwork, cups, bowls, and more are already possible to “print” at home. So far there's not all that much to download, highlights include the Pirate Bay Pirate Ship, a 3D Portrait of Chris Dodd, and several assorted toys and games. But the potential for the massive distribution of files for physical objects through the Pirate Bay is extraordinary.

Physibles may create a entire new field for potential copyright infringement but it is not the only use for 3D printers. Makerbot's Thingiverse is an online library for sharing user-created designs of physical objects that can be made on a 3D printer. Likewise, Google's 3D Warehouse host hundreds of 3D models.
posted by 2bucksplus (157 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Would print-and-play copies of boardgames fit into this category?
posted by keep_evolving at 11:15 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heh. My wife would like to download Rei Toei, please.
posted by zomg at 11:18 AM on January 24, 2012


If you could download a car.
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:18 AM on January 24, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't see why now. Already you could theoretically download and print every piece of, say, Mouse Trap. (It would be vastly more expensive than simply purchasing the game).
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:18 AM on January 24, 2012


I love that they are getting way out in front of this, because it's (eventually) going to be huge.
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Has anybody uploaded plans for a Glock yet?

Just sayin'.
posted by atbash at 11:18 AM on January 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


Hey, did anyone else notice there is like text at the top of my browser window? It is ... every page has a different message! Wow! Is this html5?
posted by TwelveTwo at 11:18 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


(why not)
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:19 AM on January 24, 2012


This needs the tag whatisthevalueofanewbornchild.
posted by DU at 11:19 AM on January 24, 2012


I like this. A lot of it for the reason DU articulates.

Besides, is this even covered by copyrights and whatnot?
posted by infini at 11:21 AM on January 24, 2012


Living in the future is cool.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:22 AM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


I thought they were Spimes
posted by lumpenprole at 11:22 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Counterfeiting is the next big thing, obviously.
posted by empath at 11:22 AM on January 24, 2012


Counterfeiting is the next big thing, obviously.

And Australia thought their plastic money was safe.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:24 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


This will be something when the average guy can pop on down to Best Buy to get that 3D printer that everyone's talking about.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:24 AM on January 24, 2012


I am waiting for the neuro interface, where your thoughts can be made into physical form and ignore that Krell id behind the curtain.
posted by y2karl at 11:25 AM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


well this is a little different from counterfeiting. The economic structure is completely flat.
posted by kuatto at 11:26 AM on January 24, 2012


And Australia thought their plastic money was safe.

I was thinking more like counterfeiting nikes (though obviously the printers aren't nearly that good yet.)
posted by empath at 11:26 AM on January 24, 2012


Here's a question -- is would be trademark infringement, etc, to make a nike knock off and sell it, but would it be illegal to make a nike copy off for your own use?
posted by empath at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2012


that 3D printer that everyone's talking about.

(cut to a 3D printer with its ears burning)
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


And Australia thought their plastic money was safe.

And Austria, with their plastic guns.
posted by atbash at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2012


1980s_kelly_lebroc.torrent
posted by bondcliff at 11:27 AM on January 24, 2012 [17 favorites]


Somebody Fax Me A Beer!
posted by djrock3k at 11:28 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


yay more cheap plastic crap
posted by swift at 11:29 AM on January 24, 2012


This will be something when the average guy can pop on down to Best Buy to get that 3D printer that everyone's talking about.

The future is not here until it is evenly distributed.
posted by DU at 11:30 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


2012 a huge year for Makerbot.
posted by I've wasted my life at 11:30 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someone will design a machine that deposits a 2:3 ratio of aluminum and ferric oxide paste into an eminently heat-proof pan, with an added spark, layer by layer.

It will be magnificent.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:31 AM on January 24, 2012


Also: MakeHammer, war in the grim dark future of printed models.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:33 AM on January 24, 2012


Shouldn't copyright infringement be less of a thing, here? I mean for art, hm, yeah, maybe? Though not to a bigger extent than is already an issue when you make photographic prints of Starry Night for a dorm room wall.

But it occurs to me that the vast majority of all physical stuff in our world is not subject to copyright. Let's say, for example, you could use 3D printing to print your own paperclips. Paperclips are in the public domain, so great! Print a million of them! Who cares?

In some cases you might run afoul of patents, but that's a really tiny minority of cases compared to all the objects that exist in the world.

Also, chances are there's going to be a company selling the equipment and supplies to do this, so it doesn't exactly break capitalism.
posted by Sara C. at 11:33 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


can pop on down to Best Buy to get that 3D printer that everyone's talking about.

We're really not far away. The first fully-assembled, hobbyist-priced 3D printer just came out. Its printable area is a bit limited compared to the Makerbot or Ultimaker or whatever, but that's just a matter of time.

slackermagee: it's not quite thermite, but shapeways will print out 3D models in various metals using laser sintering.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:34 AM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


Bah. The link for Kiosk, the relevant Bruce Sterling short story, is down...
posted by Artw at 11:34 AM on January 24, 2012


This needs the tag whatisthevalueofanewbornchild.

How is babby formed?
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:36 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I look forward to fixing any number of things around here that have little plastic bits broken off.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 11:37 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


The first fully-assembled, hobbyist-priced 3D printer just came out

That's pretty neat.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:40 AM on January 24, 2012


Do these people not understand economies of scale? How are they going to keep this cheap?
posted by spicynuts at 11:40 AM on January 24, 2012


In some cases you might run afoul of patents, but that's a really tiny minority of cases compared to all the objects that exist in the world.

I don't think it's something that can be brushed over. Copyright became a problem when the printing press (or the equivalent) no longer became an item exclusive to a relatively small number wealthy and corporations which can be tracked and controlled by a central authority. If the manufacturing process becomes similarly democratized, patents and trademarks will be the next bits of ip to become endangered.
posted by empath at 11:42 AM on January 24, 2012


I'm not buying how 3d printers will ever be much more than a novelty - if it were feasible to make anything other than very poorly made plastic trinkets with them then industry would be producing things with industrial grade versions of them now and last time i watched how it's made that simply aint the case.
posted by zeoslap at 11:42 AM on January 24, 2012


> You will download your sneakers within 20 years.

If it takes twenty years to download a pair of sneakers, I think I'll be sticking with Payless Shoes for a while longer.
posted by mmrtnt at 11:42 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


This will be something when the average guy can pop on down to Best Buy to get that 3D printer that everyone's talking about.

True, but I can see this becoming very much like early software piracy in the next few years: college students sneaking around printing in their school's labs during their off-time, sharing and swapping files for things they can't afford normally, etc.
posted by gregoryg at 11:43 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not buying how 3d printers will ever be much more than a novelty - if it were feasible to make anything other than very poorly made plastic trinkets with them then industry would be producing things with industrial grade versions of them now and last time i watched how it's made that simply aint the case.

These two words are rather important.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:44 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


A coworker/friend of mine just got a 3D printer (makerbot). I haven't seen it in operation, but I've seen some of the output. It's pretty damn neat. Enough so that I'm honestly tempted to buy one myself ... but I know that since it's a developing technology, the longer I hold out the better the gear is going to get, and the cheaper it's going to become.

Also, I'm not 100% convinced that solid-deposition systems like the Makerbot are really where it's at. I think that a cheap CNC router system could do most of what you can do by depositing plastic goo, and can do it with much more durable material (like wood, or MDF, or high density plastic).

But in either way, I think we're right on that cusp where the technology exists, and now what we need is a "killer app" that will create a ton of demand and then we'll have the virtuous feedback loop that will propel costs to decrease and capabilities to increase. But -- aside from credit card skimmers -- I'm not sure exactly what the killer app is for 3D printers yet. It has to be something that you can't, or don't want to, go out and buy from a store, but is desirable enough to justify having a 3D printer.

In the same vein that credits porn for creating the demand for high-speed Internet access, maybe we need more downloadable 3D sex toy models or something?
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:44 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Physibles may create a entire new field for potential copyright infringement.
A very interesting topic we've discussed previously.
posted by Popular Ethics at 11:44 AM on January 24, 2012


Do these people not understand economies of scale? How are they going to keep this cheap?

Depends on what you're making, I think, and how much of the price is intellectual property and how much is based on cost of materials and labor costs. Which is why this is going to be used for counterfeiting designer goods first. (as soon as it becomes feasible)
posted by empath at 11:44 AM on January 24, 2012


if it were feasible to make anything other than very poorly made plastic trinkets with them then industry would be producing things with industrial grade versions of them now

1) They are.
2) There's a pretty large market for poorly made plastic trinkets. Especially if it's 100% customizable. And imagine if the plastic were biodegradable.
posted by DU at 11:46 AM on January 24, 2012


How do you regulate this? How does it not produce industrial waste in everyone's home? What if the car you print out is dangerous? There are some good reasons why factories are separate from homes. I don't really understand how you could actually have a universal 3D printer, given the huge variety of materials needed to make the huge variety of physical items.
posted by Maias at 11:47 AM on January 24, 2012


Has anybody uploaded plans for a Glock yet?

Not quite...
posted by mmrtnt at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not buying how 3d printers will ever be much more than a novelty - if it were feasible to make anything other than very poorly made plastic trinkets with them then industry would be producing things with industrial grade versions of them now and last time i watched how it's made that simply aint the case.

See PCs in 1978
posted by empath at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2012 [13 favorites]


zeoslap, I'm inclined to agree - I've been hearing about 3D printing technology for something like 20 years now and it still seems to be stuck in odd little niche applications. There's no big "wow" yet, beyond the vaporous concept of a magic object printer.

A couple of us have been talking about getting some of these fancy CNC fabrication tools for our hackerspace, and the problem we keep coming back to with 3D printers is that they are basically only good at making little plastic widgets. The world is already full of cheap plastic widgets; that's part of the problem we're solving by making stuff ourselves.

If we're going to go to the trouble of making nice things for ourselves, why would we make them out of plastic? If you're making something as a one-off the material cost generally isn't significant compared to the labor cost, so you might as well use nice materials. We're probably going to get a laser cutter instead of a 3D printer.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


In some cases you might run afoul of patents, but that's a really tiny minority of cases compared to all the objects that exist in the world.

While true, I can easily see some serious IP wars being waged in the area of replacement parts. Just this week, a part failed on my snowblower, and I had to have a repair shop special-order the part. Being able to run the part off on a printer would have been incredible, though I imagine it's covered under some patent or something.

That said, I think the materials side of things will have to improve considerably. Most of the stuff I've seen seem brittle and rough, and not exactly ready for real-world applications...like a snowblower.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:48 AM on January 24, 2012


I'm holding out for iMaker™ and the 3DiMaker™ app.
posted by misha at 11:50 AM on January 24, 2012


I'm not buying how 3d printers will ever be much more than a novelty - if it were feasible to make anything other than very poorly made plastic trinkets with them then industry would be producing things with industrial grade versions of them now and last time i watched how it's made that simply aint the case.

Yet.

Don't make the mistake a lot of futurists make when they only expand their vision to a more advanced version of what we have around now. Current 3D printers can't print on a scale practical for a lot of different things. As they get closer and closer to being able to print on an atomic scale, we'll be able to replicate more complex things in a much more complex manner.

Though I do find myself saddened when I think that eventually we could see a scenario where the amount of variety of any given item is severely reduced due to very advanced printing. Say we start printing food on an atomic scale, able to eventually replicate a potato perfectly and print it more cheaply than growing a potato. Are all french fries from that point on going to be made from the same potato? Is all cotton going to be from one initial piece of fabric that was grown in 2075? Etc.

Not terribly realistic, but I don't want to live in the Star Trek universe where every burger I get out of the replicator tastes exactly like every other burger I've ever had.
posted by gregoryg at 11:51 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is sooo cool.
posted by Kloryne at 11:52 AM on January 24, 2012


Considering that brands will have less influence, and indie designers will finally get a real leg up, due to this technology; I think Nike will be losing the major money to new and free CC licensed competition
posted by P.o.B. at 11:53 AM on January 24, 2012


Do these people not understand economies of scale?

It's a way of sidestepping that, I think. It depends how much the users value their time. On one hand, they don't have to wait for delivery (or go to a store and buy something). On the other, they do have to wait for the machine to run and set it up. Makerbots are probably quite a bit too slow right now, taking many hours to do a kid's tpy, for example, but that will change.

Costs are likely going to be lower to operate. In the case of the Makerbot, spools of ABS, vs shaped plastic toysand widgets. You also save on shipping, packaging, marketing and retail costs too.

While production may be cheaper, centralized, the savings in distribution and retailing, as well as the convenience and flexibility to the end-users/consumers may more than make up for it.
posted by bonehead at 11:53 AM on January 24, 2012


maybe we need more downloadable 3D sex toy models or something?

But not a torrent. I prefer my sex toys to arrive unseeded.
posted by condour75 at 11:53 AM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


... rather than have to worry about trademark infringement.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:53 AM on January 24, 2012


Not terribly realistic, but I don't want to live in the Star Trek universe where every burger I get out of the replicator tastes exactly like every other burger I've ever had.


You might feel differently if you were choosing between IdentiBurger and hunger, though.
posted by emjaybee at 11:54 AM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


1. Is there a schema available yet for 3D printers to use to print other 3D printers?

2. Where does the plastic that goes in the 3D printer come from?
posted by nicebookrack at 11:54 AM on January 24, 2012


Not terribly realistic, but I don't want to live in the Star Trek universe where every burger I get out of the replicator tastes exactly like every other burger I've ever had.

Aren't you mistaking the Ford Model-T phase for the end-point in this speculative future?
posted by nobody at 11:56 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to agree with Thorzdad to a degree. Something like printing specialty parts, while maybe not being a single killer app for most people, would be enough to get every Auto Shop interested enough to buy one so they don't have to special order, or every amateur robot hobbyist so they don't have to paw through catalogues, etc.
posted by gregoryg at 11:57 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is there a schema available yet for 3D printers to use to print other 3D printers?

RepRap aims at this, but aren't really that close.
posted by DU at 11:59 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


1. Is there a schema available yet for 3D printers to use to print other 3D printers?

That was the original concept of the RepRap, which is the ancestor of the MakerBot, which seems to have been the primary product driving this as a hobbyist technology.

2. Where does the plastic that goes in the 3D printer come from?

A long spool of plastic filament, which will soon be able to make yourself by recycling bottles.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:59 AM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


1. Is there a schema available yet for 3D printers to use to print other 3D printers?

Let me introduce you to the Rep Rap.

Aren't you mistaking the Ford Model-T phase for the end-point in this speculative future?

Great point. And it could be a very positive thing in the interim: McDonald's has a vested interest in having every one of their burgers taste exactly the same.
posted by gregoryg at 12:01 PM on January 24, 2012


Not terribly realistic, but I don't want to live in the Star Trek universe where every burger I get out of the replicator tastes exactly like every other burger I've ever had.

Hamburger. 5-Guys. Medium-rare. Grilled onions.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:02 PM on January 24, 2012


(NB: I am not your attorney. This is not legal advice. I assume everyone in this thread is speaking hypothetically. If you are considering copying anything, you should consult a competent attorney in your jurisdiction.)

Besides, is this even covered by copyrights and whatnot?

Many three dimensional items are "sculptural works" for copyright purposes. There are also other rights at issue here, such as a person's (e.g. Chris Dodd's) right of publicity and right against invasion of privacy by appropriation of his image. The sculpture may also be an unauthorized derivative work of a copyrighted photograph.

would it be illegal to make a nike copy off for your own use?

There are many theories of trademark infringement and dilution. One theory is that such unauthorized copies reduce the value of the brand name product as a Veblen good, which may amount to dilution by tarnishment in the case of a famous mark such as Nike. Appealing to the "in commerce" restriction on federal trademark law is unlikely to help, as even a product given away for free (e.g. open source software) can count as "in commerce," and the "in commerce" phrase has been held to mean "as far as the Constitution will allow." As Gonzales v. Raich demonstrated, even home production and use of a prohibited article can affect the interstate market sufficiently to fall under the Commerce Clause.

There may also be design patents that cover the ornamental design of that particular shoe, as well as utility patents covering its functional aspects.

Re: patents and replacement parts. There is a doctrine in patent law known as repair. In general, it is permissible to repair a patented article but impermissible to reconstruct it. So if the part you're making is the patented thing, that's no good, but if it's only a part of a larger patented thing, then that could be permissible repair.
posted by jedicus at 12:03 PM on January 24, 2012 [9 favorites]


I'd considered posting this, glad I waisted, great job 2bucksplus.

There is a nice article on Physibles on The Pirate Bay by bitcoinmedia.com, which notes that the third upload was a Warhammer 40k dreadnought that Games Workshop filed a DMCA against Thingiverse over on 5 December 2011.

There is imho no coincidence here : Games Workshop used the DMCA against the well intentioned site Thingiverse. In response, our favorite activist performance artists at the Pirate Bay responded by drawing the attention of miniatures fans everywhere.

There is an enormous untouched market for 3d printers in miniatures and collectables that Games Workshop has suddenly awakened, maybe the additional interest will benefit them, maybe they'll lose precious sales to MakerBot, who knows. We must obviously push both the 3d printing and the 3d scanning technology before this'll reach outside DIY communities like miniatures fans, but the dragon has awakened.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:03 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's a question -- is would be trademark infringement, etc, to make a nike knock off and sell it, but would it be illegal to make a nike copy off for your own use?

Fashion (being utilitarian and not a sculpture) is generally not protected under copyright law (not even Stormtroopers) but that's mainly because knockoffs help the fashion industry.

That means you should be able to make a shoe that looks like a Nike shoe, but you can't claim it's a Nike shoe or use their name/logo.

Unfortunately this "inspired vs. copied" line is not so clear, and so you're risking a prolonged legal battle (and recently, domain seizure/Ebola/death by ferrets) if you offend anyone.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:04 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the topic of the relative value of solid-deposition vs. CNC lathes: the primary difference is in the raw material cost. If you're making a concave part, you're wasting a lot of material with a lathe - material you can't use in your lathe again without having a way to reforge blanks. With a printer, your stock waste is reduced quite a bit.
posted by Fraxas at 12:06 PM on January 24, 2012


> 1. Is there a schema available yet for 3D printers to use to print other 3D printers?
2. Where does the plastic that goes in the 3D printer come from?


Sounds like the plot of a very srange sci-fi flick.

One machine chasing after others, consuming them and their plastic in order to make more of itself.
posted by mmrtnt at 12:06 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


the third upload was a Warhammer 40k dreadnought

Heh. This is probably worthless for just about all things, but I can imagine that being a) an effective use and b) REALLY pissing off Games Workshop.
posted by Artw at 12:08 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love that they are getting way out in front of this, because it's (eventually) going to be huge.

Totally agree. We're getting into nanotechnology/replicator territory at some point.

But "physibles" is silly. It's still just a digital file.

Counterfeiting is the next big thing, obviously.

Next?

Shouldn't copyright infringement be less of a thing, here?

China agrees.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:08 PM on January 24, 2012


This reminds me of a concept a coworker came up with: paper babies.

"What would the world be like," he said "if instead of making babies the normal way, all you had to do was hold someone's gaze for an unnatural amount of time and then, from that union, came a sheet of paper with a baby on it. In 2D of course."

The idea was that after a year, unless you somehow destroyed the paper baby in some fashion usual to paper (burning, shredding, etc) it would spring from the paper as if birthed, ready for a normal life.

Another friend and I started coming up with all sorts of admittedly horrible (...or awesome?) ideas then. Collecting babies and keeping scrapbooks. Paper airplane babies. Christmas wrapping babies. Wallpaper babies. Giant poster babies. Magazine advertisement babies. Scanable and faxable babies. Snowflake babies.

Now I want to see downloadable babies happen.
posted by DisreputableDog at 12:13 PM on January 24, 2012 [8 favorites]


I first read this as "psilocybes" and thought "Wow, people can now upload the genomes of their favorite mushrooms to the web? Far out."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:14 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're making a concave part, you're wasting a lot of material with a lathe - material you can't use in your lathe again without having a way to reforge blanks.

Very true. I guess that's why I was thinking about cheap feedstocks, like MDF or laminated plywood cubes. But if you wanted to make anything out of metal it would be pretty incredibly wasteful.

Maybe affordable laser sintering is the missing piece? I assume that you can reuse the un-sintered powder that surrounds the finished part.

And I wonder if there are ways to accomplish something similar to laser sintering, but without the expensive CO2 laser? I'm imagining some sort of inert crystalline powder, which you'd then selectively harden by squirting it (using an inkjet-type printer head?) with some sort of binder. Maybe fiberglass powder and a very, very thin liquid epoxy? I have to assume that somebody's tried something like this.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:14 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shady sites may give you computer pschaybies.
posted by Artw at 12:15 PM on January 24, 2012


As for print-and-play games, I recommend you peruse the freeware selection at Cheapass Games, keep_evolving. Imho, their games kick the crap out of most serious board games. And they'll sell you the printed versions for very little.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:16 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


if it were feasible to make anything other than very poorly made plastic trinkets with them then industry would be producing things with industrial grade versions of them now

I know, right? This thread is full of silly sci-fi futurists envisioning some fantastic future that will never be.

Wait.. hold on. I've got to take this call on my miniature computer that I keep in my pocket that contains more power than all the computers used in WWII to break Nazi codes and communicates continuously and in real-time with a world-wide communication network where I can download 3D models to print out on my personal physical 3D printer.

Anyways, as I was saying, it'll never work.
posted by formless at 12:16 PM on January 24, 2012 [15 favorites]


"What would the world be like," he said "if instead of making babies the normal way, all you had to do was hold someone's gaze for an unnatural amount of time and then, from that union, came a sheet of paper with a baby on it. In 2D of course."

Pensacola Christian College was right after all!
posted by kmz at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2012


zeoslap: I'm not buying how 3d printers will ever be much more than a novelty - if it were feasible to make anything other than very poorly made plastic trinkets with them then industry would be producing things with industrial grade versions of them now and last time i watched how it's made that simply aint the case.

“Boeing now has parts on flying military aircraft made by 3D printers without a single failure.”
posted by polyhedron at 12:32 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


There might interesting impacts of 3d printing upon overall consumption patterns. I'd imagine that 3d printing consumes more energy than centralizer production, but less than transportation from centralized production facilities.

Imagine your kids pirate and print all their toys that aren't sporting good or clothing, but the printing takes some time and requires recycling old plastic toys, presumably they'll associate possession with the data file, not the object, which might impact their consumption habits later in life.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:40 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


For some reason, it seems to me that this would result in the black market eventually being the only market. Imagine if every industry experienced what the music industry experienced from 1996- the present.

Then, after a backlash, it would be like Green Lanterns fighting each other, tearing up the landscape with nukes and 400-mile long jackhammers, until there were only two humans left-- the CEO's of Coke and Wal-Mart.

...But something tells me I might just be responding the way my grandparents responded to answering machines and VCR's in 1986. Carry on-- what the hell.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:46 PM on January 24, 2012


I'm not sure exactly what the killer app is for 3D printers yet.

Not in the highly industrialized parts of the world, no. There may never quite be a killer app, unless transition towns and localization takes off or 'civilization' collapses.

But once you step outside of Walmart, Home Depot's and your favourite ATM's radius, particularly in the under industrialized, resource scarce parts of the world, the potential is not only immense but already being tapped.

Think about it, CNC machines for USD 3000? What could resource scarce yet ingenious makers and inventors tinkering away in places you've never heard of do with access to tools like this?

Better than the cheap plastic stuff the Chinese are selling to these very same markets.
posted by infini at 12:47 PM on January 24, 2012


Something like printing specialty parts, while maybe not being a single killer app for most people, would be enough to get every Auto Shop interested enough to buy one so they don't have to special order, or every amateur robot hobbyist so they don't have to paw through catalogues, etc.

I could definitely see this making McMaster Carr obsolete. Or maybe McMaster Carr would sell the plastic thingums for the printer. If I worked for them I'd start selling them on it now...
posted by Sara C. at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2012


zeoslap: manufacturing today is all about lowest possible marginal cost as opposed to maximum operational flexibility.
posted by Freen at 1:05 PM on January 24, 2012


The most interesting thing about the patent/copyright/trademark issue here is that it's exactly along the lines of the flamewars that get started on Ravelry when someone sees a scarf they like in Banana Republic and decides to count the stitches and replicate it.

Then again, knitting needles are basically 3D printers for fiber.
posted by Sara C. at 1:07 PM on January 24, 2012 [6 favorites]


@polyhedron - Interesting article...

" For Christmas, he bought his wife 3D-printed jewelry, an intricately shaped pendant made of steel and coated with gold." - is this true, are there actually 3D printers using steel and gold?
posted by zeoslap at 1:18 PM on January 24, 2012


zeoslap: is this true, are there actually 3D printers using steel and gold?

Yes, but I suspect the man in question used a wax printer, and then cast the ring.
posted by Popular Ethics at 1:28 PM on January 24, 2012


CNC machines for USD 3000? What could resource scarce yet ingenious makers and inventors tinkering away in places you've never heard of do with access to tools like this?

oh, I am full of ideas for interesting things to do with low-cost CNC machines! We already have a CNC embroidery machine at ALTSpace and I expect we will have a laser cutter and a small mill by the end of 2012. But these are simply automated versions of traditional, well-understood subtractive manufacturing techniques, so you simply take whatever you would have done by hand and make a robot do it instead.

3D printers, being an additive technology are something a little different; to my knowledge nobody was making anything using this kind of technique before the introduction of automation. The automation is what makes the technique possible. So we're in the very early days of figuring out what to do with it, and I don't think the answer is clear yet.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:36 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


ok maybe the embroidery machine is not "subtractive" exactly, but it's still an automated version of a process people have been performing by hand for centuries. All we have to do is take whatever we would have done anyway and tell the robot to do it for us, faster.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:38 PM on January 24, 2012


Zeoslap - it doesn't print steel and gold, it prints powdered steel, reinforced with bronze, which like any piece of metal can then be gold plated.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:50 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


For prognostication purposes, I see local 3D Printer retail shops as a possibility. A storefront could contain a number of large printers allowing for a range of things in a range of materials. Walk in and choose your part/shoes/toy from their kiosk or order it online. Pick it up in x hours.
posted by wemayfreeze at 1:58 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shoes seem a very weird target application for 3D printing, being generally made of a variety of materials using a variety of techniques. Unless we are talking Crocs?
posted by Artw at 2:02 PM on January 24, 2012


Dark chocolate and Benedict Cumberbatch (not necessarily in that order).
posted by tzikeh at 2:03 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Like Kinko's, but for stuff.

Actually I foresee this being a good early business model for 3D printed goods. It solves the cost problems as well as the patent problems (the same way that Kinko's won't let you blatantly use their machines for piracy), and also acts as a first line to make the idea comprehensible to the public. Not unlike those "Sell It On Ebay" storefronts that popped up in the early aughts.
posted by Sara C. at 2:04 PM on January 24, 2012


Shoes seem a very weird target application for 3D printing

I think empath was using that as an example of trademark infringement, but if these things became a cheap reality that's not the way it would play out. Just as t-shirt printing became cheap enough for everyone to make want they wanted, people didn't rush out and start making Nike shirts.
posted by P.o.B. at 2:09 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Crocs for sure! Also, the task here is not to replicate existing products but replicate their function. As 3D printing gets into more and more people's hands they'll start discovering applications that we haven't yet considered.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:13 PM on January 24, 2012


Tea, Earl Grey, hot.
posted by Beardman at 2:13 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


/hands Beardman solid plastic cup
posted by Artw at 2:14 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


This subject is one of the few things that i actually like about Cory Doctorow's writing. From 'Makers', Disney's dastardly plan to exploit 3D printing:

"So in part two, they're setting up the kitchen around this mystery box -- one part Easy-Bake lightbulb oven, one part Tardis. You know what that is?"

Sammy grinned. "Why yes, I believe I do." Their eyes met in a fierce look of mutual recognition. "It's a breakfast printer, isn't it?" The other supplicants in the room sucked in a collective breath. Some chuckled nervously.

"It's about moving the apparatus to the edge. Bridging the last mile. Why not? This one will do waffles, breakfast cereals, bagels and baked goods, small cakes. New designs every day -- something for mom and dad, something for the kids, something for the sullen teens. We're already doing this at the regional plants and distributorships, on much larger scales. But getting our stuff into consumers' homes, getting them *subscribed* to our food --"

Sammy held up a hand. "I see," he said. "And our people are already primed for home-printing experiences. They're right in your sweet spot."

"Part three, Junior and little sis are going cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, but these things are shaped *like them*, with their portraits on each sugar-lump. Mom and dad are eating tres sophistique croissants and delicate cakes. Look at Rover here, with his own cat-shaped dog-biscuit. See how happy they all are?"

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:17 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Has anybody uploaded plans for a Glock yet?
Not quite...


Firearms aren't particularly difficult to make, 3-D printer or not; even the semi-auto pistol is basically a piece of late-19th-century technology. Anyone with a decent machine shop and a diagram or five could easily learn how to turn out functioning pistols or battle rifles, and this is already happening on a wide scale in places like Afghanistan and the Philippines...
posted by vorfeed at 2:39 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone with a decent machine shop and a diagram or five could easily learn how to turn out functioning pistols or battle rifles

That's very different from "anyone with a $100 printer they could buy from Walmart could easily learn to turn out functioning pistols and battle rifles".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:45 PM on January 24, 2012


I'm not sure exactly what the killer app is for 3D printers yet.

For the motorheads among us, they're great for difficult-to-find or non-existant car parts. Print the plastic prototype, check for fitment, create mold from the prototype, cast the actual metal part from the mold. Similar process for boat parts, cabinet parts, farm machinery parts, etc., etc.

Don't think of the 3D printer as just a plastic part-maker -- it's also a neat tool in creating the fixtures, molds, etc., used to then create parts from [whatever] material.

posted by LordSludge at 2:51 PM on January 24, 2012


As a restorer of antique stuff no one has parts for any longer, please, please, please...
posted by maxwelton at 2:51 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


(somebody print me a </i>...)
posted by LordSludge at 2:52 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's very different from "anyone with a $100 printer they could buy from Walmart could easily learn to turn out functioning pistols and battle rifles".

Yes, it is, in that most communities already have one or more members with a basic machine shop.

Besides, 3-D printing (kind of) works for parts like magazines and lower receivers, but it's not going to get you a functional barrel until it can handle metal.
posted by vorfeed at 2:56 PM on January 24, 2012


I'm imagining some sort of inert crystalline powder, which you'd then selectively harden by squirting it (using an inkjet-type printer head?) with some sort of binder. Maybe fiberglass powder and a very, very thin liquid epoxy? I have to assume that somebody's tried something like this.

What you describe exists. Zcorp has a lock on the market, but it's really simple technology that has been reverse engineered pretty thoroughly. The powder is finely ground plaster, and the inkjet hardener is just plain water (maybe with some alcohol). The results are as brittle as you might imagine powdered plaster parts would be, so they're usually infused with plastic (crazy glue) after printing.
posted by Popular Ethics at 2:58 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Vorfeed, that Philippines links is great.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:05 PM on January 24, 2012


I own a Thing-O-Matic 3D printer. The plastic parts it produces are not brittle, in fact they are amazingly strong. There is a problem with printing out items which have overhangs, but it appears that this drawback has been addressed by printing integral supports with a second plastic which is water soluble which is dissolved away by dunking the part after it is finished. I bought an Apple ][ computer in '79 and feel the same energy and enthusiasm for 3D printers now as there was for computers way back when.
posted by digsrus at 3:33 PM on January 24, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am already stoked as hell about the action figures I'll be designing for any kids or grandkids I might have by the time I can afford this technology. Or myself, I guess, if things don't pan out due to my already problematic adult fixation on action figures.
posted by Rustmouth Snakedrill at 3:46 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't wait until we can assemble things molecule-by-molecule using proton, neutron, and electron cartridges that don't cost more than the printer itself.
posted by not_on_display at 4:43 PM on January 24, 2012


I came up with this idea back in the late Seventies.
During an acid trip.

Oh, wow, indeed.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:08 PM on January 24, 2012


Won't be long until you can print an AR-15 part by part.

Now there's a killer app.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:22 PM on January 24, 2012


Recently I've been eyeing Solidscape's 3d printers to use for wax casting. A little too expensive at the moment but I love the idea of designing something in Maya/Zbrush, printing it out in wax and casting it in metal.
posted by the_artificer at 5:36 PM on January 24, 2012


Oh, please, John Hughes invented this technology in the 80s to print out Kelly Lebrock!
posted by crossoverman at 6:11 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not buying how 3d printers will ever be much more than a novelty
ROFLMAO!!!!!!1111111111. How? HOW????!!!!

we are at approximately 1980 - 1982 of 3D printing, using personal computers as an analogy. It has already revolutionized prototyping completely.

I expect the growth curve to be at least twice as fast though as PC's though, because of the accelerative effect of the Internets.
posted by lastobelus at 8:21 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bought an Apple ][ computer in '79 and feel the same energy and enthusiasm for 3D printers now as there was for computers way back when.

Exactly. And a large part of that credit has to go to O'Reilly and their Make magazine and the subculture it brought together again. Reading through Make magazine and going to hacker spaces has the feel of typing in a BASIC program from Byte magazine circa the Apple ][ era.

It's one of the big things that gives me hope for the future. We're starting to create and build again, after a long sleep of consumption.
posted by formless at 8:34 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


The first generations of the makerbot == the Altair.

The Makerbot Replicator and the Cube == the TRS-80 & maybe the Apple II & Commodore Pet. Adjusting for inflation, they're just coming in to that same price point where the transition from obscure hobby to commonplace hobby can occur.

But I doubt very much it takes us 5 years to get to the C64 of 3d printing. More likely 1-3 years.

And I also doubt it takes 15 years for 3d printers to start to become an essential part of households. I think it'll take only half that long.

By then the equivalent of the replicator/cube will cost about 10-20% more than inkjet printers do now, because that's about how much more they inherently cost to manufacture.
posted by lastobelus at 8:53 PM on January 24, 2012


So, in 7-8 years, when 3D printers are a must have in middle-class homes, what exactly are we using them for? Making replacement parts for board games? New pairs of flip-flops? Because I haven't seen any obvious day-to-day useful applications mentioned which would make this worth having in the average home.

As a pre-teen in 1990-something when computers were transitioning from nerd toy to home essential, I used our PC to play games, learn stuff, practice rudimentary graphic design*, and dial in to BBSes to talk about Star Trek. I would use a 3D printer to... make a new pair of sunglasses after I sit on my old pair?

*The popularity of MS Paint among my fellow tweens circa 1991 is the only aspect of the early home PC that reminds me a lot of the 3D printer phenomenon. I'm also fairly sure that this is part of what accounts for my generation's sophisticated taste in typefaces (Helvetica good! Comic Sans bad!) and tendency to pursue graphic design careers.
posted by Sara C. at 9:07 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


@Sara C.

The turning point will be when the first machine comes out that is a) high enough resolution to print surfaces that are smooth to the naked eye and b) that paints the finished piece at the same resolution as current inkjet printers, which is about 1200 dpi or more.

Then we're not talking about dollar store plastic things any more, but high-end ornaments, furnitures, housings and cases for electronics, lamps, picture frames, jewellery, etc.

Next, ink jet printed circuit boards are already being done, and diodes, resistors, solar cells, and transistors have been done experimentally. Having one device print all those things concurrently requires only several generations of manufacturing refinement on current technologies. More dense logic will probably be simply accomplished by generic, standardized, pre-packaged gate arrays that the device simply places in the part being printed and then prints traces onto. So this means eventually 3d printers will print your consumer electronics. Even the displays -- some displays are already being made with inkjet printers.

When you look at the plastic bunny and the gears heart, see pong and a text editor with big blurry green pixelly letters. And realize that Skyrim & iBooks etc. are only a decade or so of manufacturing & software refinements away.
posted by lastobelus at 9:40 PM on January 24, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a pre-teen in 1990-something when computers were transitioning from nerd toy to home essential, I used our PC to play games, learn stuff, practice rudimentary graphic design*, and dial in to BBSes to talk about Star Trek. I would use a 3D printer to... make a new pair of sunglasses after I sit on my old pair?

For one thing, you could make a badass scale model of the Enterprise complete with interiors (thereby learning about math, perseverance, and 3-D graphic design), and then you could share it with everybody on tumblr. Then someone else could print it out and make an equally badass diorama of Kirk and Spock feeling each other up in the foyer.

Other than that, I'd imagine that breaking the capitalist lock on stupid disposable crap like scissors and sunglasses and shotglasses would be a paradigm-changer. Imagine if all the little junk in your home came out of a machine in the corner, and could be recycled into new forms of junk whenever you wanted -- the impact on our carbon footprint (a lot of which is used to bring shiploads of junk from China to you) would make a big difference... and I like to think that making new things rather than buying them might, too.
posted by vorfeed at 9:41 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


As a pre-teen in 1990-something when computers were transitioning from nerd toy to home essential, I used our PC to play games, learn stuff, practice rudimentary graphic design*, and dial in to BBSes to talk about Star Trek. I would use a 3D printer to... make a new pair of sunglasses after I sit on my old pair?

Well, aside from the communication part (which isn't a problem these days) you can do pretty much all of the above, and then some.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:41 PM on January 24, 2012


@Sara C.

Also, the cost will eventually be within 150% of what ink jet printers are now.

How many people do you know who DON'T have an inkjet printer, or two or three?
posted by lastobelus at 9:41 PM on January 24, 2012


How many people do you know who DON'T have an inkjet printer, or two or three?

Well, until literally this morning you could have counted me. I just picked up a used inkjet for emergency situations.

It'll be interesting to see how these are treated.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:48 PM on January 24, 2012


When you look at the plastic bunny and the gears heart, see pong and a text editor with big blurry green pixelly letters. And realize that Skyrim & iBooks etc. are only a decade or so of manufacturing & software refinements away.

Reality check. You are extrapolating a sustained period of Moore's Law advances from silicon transistor photolithography to the manufacturing of motors and gears. This has never happened, and will not happen with 3D printing.

The technology of 3D printing, much like battery energy density or solar panel price per watt, will incrementally advance over many years, not continuously double every few months.

It is not the case, for example, that 18 months from now, manufacturers will have found a way to double the positional precision of the gears and motors that operate a CNC print head, and then double it again in another few months, and again. What you can expect is that, as with cars, the same money will buy increasing complex and higher performing mechanical systems, as sub-systems that were previously experimental and priced out of the market, become mass produced and cheap.

Perhaps we can get a taste of Moore's law for a few years in how many print-heads a $1000 3D printer comes with? But bottom line, 3D printers are mechanical devices, and their advance will be at the usual rate of engineering, not silicon.

Compare a color laser printer from 20 years ago (actually, 19, since the transition from being large bulky devices to being smaller desktop-sized ones started 19 years ago). Nearly twenty years later, color laser printers are roughly one tenth the price, and the print resolution is four times better, and they're physically smaller. In twenty years, that's a big evolution, but it's not an epic Moore's Law revolution. They have become mainstream accessible, that's the biggest difference.

3D printers will be awesome twenty years from now compared to today, but keep it in perspective.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:23 PM on January 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


All you doubters of smell-o-vision are as unimaginative as those who thought we'd still be flying in propellor biplanes instead of the modern turbojets. Why, by the year 1990, advanced smell-o-vision will probably be more ubiquitous than the electric stove, printing out delicious odors to order in every room of a modern american home.
posted by chortly at 10:41 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


But bottom line, 3D printers are mechanical devices, and their advance will be at the usual rate of engineering, not silicon.

I think 3d printers are probably a dead end except for rapid prototyping and producing one -ff parts for repair and replacement.

The revolutionary technology has always been nano-tech, and that actually might advance at a Moore's Law pace.

If we could ever get it off the ground.
posted by empath at 10:49 PM on January 24, 2012


More dense logic will probably be simply accomplished by generic, standardized, pre-packaged gate arrays that the device simply places in the part being printed and then prints traces onto.

Most electronic devices are already going this way, but you generally pick some all-in-one microcontroller rather than flashing an FPGA. Not only do microcontrollers include the processor core, RAM, and flash storage, but they come standard with USB interfaces now, and the current hot generation also include radio transceivers. On the sensor end of things, MEMS devices are joining up - you can now get a six-axis accelerometer/gyroscope chip with integrated sensor fusion processing.

Designing an electronic gizmo these days is a process of deciding what your inputs and outputs are going to be, picking a microcontroller that will handle the job, figuring out how to connect the sensors and effectors to the microcontroller, and then writing a lot of code.

I'm really excited about the idea of setting up a CNC mill for PCB manufacture. I hadn't thought of using an inkjet head and actually printing out conductive ink, but that seems like another pretty interesting way to go.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:41 AM on January 25, 2012


Reality check. You are extrapolating a sustained period of Moore's Law advances from silicon transistor photolithography to the manufacturing of motors and gears. This has never happened, and will not happen with 3D printing.
3D printing does not need anything remotely like a moore's law level of advancement to reach critical mass. Although people don't realize it it has already gone way past being useful only for prototyping - in about a decade. Were you aware that about a quarter of the output of 3d printing is final products, not prototypes? Were you aware that the market for 3D printers is already > $1billion annually? The more complex a part is, the greater the advantage 3D printing has. The industry itself & the pace of improvement is not in any way reliant on it becoming a "home" phenomenon, I just thing it coming into the home is eventually inevitable.
Compare a color laser printer from 20 years ago (actually, 19, since the transition from being large bulky devices to being smaller desktop-sized ones started 19 years ago). Nearly twenty years later, color laser printers are roughly one tenth the price, and the print resolution is four times better, and they're physically smaller.
really you need to compare to inkjet printers, so we have between 4-5 times the resolution at about 1/15th the price, or 12 times the resolution at 1/5th the price

I think 3D printing needs to improve from it's current state by only 3-5 times resolution at 1/5 to 1/4 price to be a major game changer

I.E., a decade or less of quite non-magical, not particularly surprising manufacturing refinement.
posted by lastobelus at 1:20 AM on January 25, 2012


Were you aware that about a quarter of the output of 3d printing is final products, not prototypes?

FWIW, more than a quarter of my 3d prints are final products.
I don't think 3d printing is useless, I think that 3D printing going from Pong to Skyrim in ten years is bad prediction/analogy. We should be excited, but stay grounded while being excited :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 3:44 AM on January 25, 2012


Then we're not talking about dollar store plastic things any more, but high-end ornaments, furnitures, housings and cases for electronics, lamps, picture frames, jewellery, etc.

Well, sure. But my point still stands. The average household only needs so much stuff. Even if the 3D printer makes AMAZING stuff in any material you can think of, even if said stuff can be recycled into other stuff, people only need so much stuff.

To go back to my knitting analogy upthread, this is why knitting has been mainly for hobbyists over the last century or so. Yes, with two needles and a mess of fiber, you can make pretty much anything. But people only need so much knitwear. Even if you extend it out to the furthest innovations of what knitted fabric can be used for, at the end of the day, people only need so many pillow covers, heirloom quality lace wedding shawls, tea cozies, etc. There are a lot of obsessed knitters who mostly knit for charity because they want to knit something but nobody they know actually needs any more knitted stuff.

The amazing thing about the PC is that for the most part, it has always been centered around activities rather than products. I can dick around online forever and never have too much internet. I can never run out of room in my house for more excel spreadsheets or experiments with new logos for my business card. I can play video games till the cows come home and never reach a finite end point.

But once I use my 3D printer to print out new sunglasses and flip flops for my trip to the beach, I'm done. I have sunglasses and flip flops now. I could print up ten pairs of each in different designs, and then I'd probably be set on sunglasses and flip flops for the next few years. I could print up 100 of each for every time a facebook friend has a birthday, and then everyone I knew would be set on that stuff for a few years. Then what?
posted by Sara C. at 7:31 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone suggested printing out your own Lego pieces due to their extortionate pricing
posted by infini at 8:19 AM on January 25, 2012


Firearms aren't particularly difficult to make, 3-D printer or not; even the semi-auto pistol is basically a piece of late-19th-century technology. Anyone with a decent machine shop and a diagram or five could easily learn how to turn out functioning pistols or battle rifles, and this is already happening on a wide scale in places like Afghanistan and the Philippines...
posted by vorfeed at 5:39 PM on January 24 [+] [!]


"It cant form complex machines, guns and explosives have chemicals, moving parts, it doesn't work that way"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:53 AM on January 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


It could produce items with moving parts in kit form, so that;s one up on T1000. You'd probably need an extra component made out of different material to make something like a crossbow though.
posted by Artw at 10:07 AM on January 25, 2012


If this every does happen, even on a medium scale, it will be the nearest we have ever come to a "singularity" yet.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:11 AM on January 25, 2012


FWIW,
Pong = 1972
Skyrim = 2011
So more like 4 decades, not one decade.

From current model-year 2011 3D printers to model-year 2051 3D printers? That could be pretty substantial. I don't think I'd be willing to make any real predictions about that at all.

I'm thinking of getting one, could be neat. I'd be more interested if it could print metal, though, and be willing to pay for it.
posted by Neuffy at 11:13 AM on January 25, 2012


The revolutionary technology has always been nano-tech, and that actually might advance at a Moore's Law pace.

If we could ever get it off the ground.


Very punny.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:13 PM on January 25, 2012


You're right that Pong to Skyrim is more than a decade. Where I think we'll be in a decade is roughly analogous to where PC's were in around the late-90s. I.E., I think the time from novelty to saturation will be faster than that of PC's, perhaps as much as twice as fast.

I think this for the following reasons:

1) the Internet and it's general accelerative nature

2) once the devices reach a certain level of capability vs. price they are actually more useful to more people than computers. That's without speculating on NEW uses -- much of what makes PCs so compelling to us now were but dimly glimpsed 30 years ago.

3) At a certain point the transition will start accelerate very rapidly due to the cascading disintegrative effect on distribution and retail networks. That's a ways off, probably at LEAST two decades, but when it happens it will go fast.
posted by lastobelus at 1:48 PM on January 25, 2012


@Uther Bentrazor: I rolled my eyes at that part of the movie, because it is absurd.

And in fact, though home machines that extrude hot plastic can't build pieces with moving parts in place (or can do so very poorly at best) selective laser sintering and some of the other methods in current use can and do. Pre-assembled complex moving parts. This is in fact one of 3d printing's compelling advantages.
posted by lastobelus at 1:58 PM on January 25, 2012


Pong = 1972
Skyrim = 2011
So more like 4 decades, not one decade.


Fuck, I'm getting old
posted by empath at 2:02 PM on January 25, 2012


re: nanotechnology

Is two photon lithography nanotechnology?

It kind of is, really, although the feature size in production currently is ~ 100 nanometers, that is obviously going to change rapidly.

Two photon lithography can produce microscopic, pre-assembled moving parts of arbitrary complexity with 100 nanometer feature size. This is tech that is IN PRODUCTION as of last year, mind. They cost about as much as a high end imagesetter did in the mid nineties.
posted by lastobelus at 3:24 PM on January 25, 2012


I thought to revisit and actually calculate the laser printer analogy, and look at black and white laser printers.

In fact, adjusting for inflation, today's black and white laser printers (at 4 times the resolution in 1 dimension) are just over one one-hundredth the price of the first consumer-oriented b&w printers from 27 years ago (the hp laserjet)

3D printers in their pre-consumer hobbyist form are entering the market at 1/3 the price that the first consumer laser printers did.

How can anyone doubt what inevitably lies before us over the next 2 decades?
posted by lastobelus at 3:40 PM on January 25, 2012


@Sara C.

You might find Shapeways to provide some answers about things people are doing with 3D printing NOW.
posted by lastobelus at 3:50 PM on January 25, 2012


they are actually more useful to more people than computers.

But again, how do you get around the "stuff" barrier? I understand what kinds of things a person could make with a 3D printer and how it would be useful on a commercial level, or to a hobbyist. Or maybe to individuals who for various reasons are required to consume an unusual amount of stuff (parents of toddlers? people with certain health issues?).

But your average household would very quickly reach the stuff-saturation point. You just wouldn't WANT anything else. And then what? I use my computer for everything, all day. When I'm not sitting in front of it, I'm carrying around a pocket-sized version which also works as a phone and a camera.

I go to Target for some kind of doo-dad, I dunno, once a month? Even assuming some sort of amazing revolutionary change where I never leave my house to buy anything but epoxy, I just... don't really need all that much stuff. Even if we entered a new phase of consumerism where people were expected to have exponentially more than we have now (not unlike what digital media did to record collecting). You still eventually hit a point of vanishing returns dictated by physical space if nothing else. So how is this going to be "bigger than the PC"?
posted by Sara C. at 5:54 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


@Sara C. In general, people don't actually seem to get bored with "stuff".

I didn't actually say 3d printing would be bigger than PCs (although it is likely to be more disruptive). My case is that the adoption curve will be even faster than PCs, and that we are already on it.

A 3D printer that can print even 60% of items you currently buy, that costs $1000 or less (+ consumables of course) is a no brainer even if you only use it once a month. As my friend pointed out it would obviously be THE essential wedding present. Of course not everyone will buy them. There are after all still people who still trudge out to the drugstore to get their photos printed. But most people consider buying a $100 inkjet printer and some glossy paper a no-brainer.
posted by lastobelus at 6:17 PM on January 25, 2012


It's not that I think people will get bored with stuff. It's that I think that people live in physical spaces which only have room for so much. At a certain point, the possibilities are limited by the laws of physics if nothing else. This is a barrier that PC's broke by their very nature - suddenly everything is digital and you don't need the stuff. You can have 500 albums in your back pocket, 5000 photos of your baby's first steps, all the movies in the world streaming on your laptop, a library's worth of books only a click away via your e-reader.

3D printing is neat, but it brings back the limitations presented by the need for physical objects. Which fixes the technology into a scope that is much smaller than that of PC's.
posted by Sara C. at 6:33 PM on January 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which fixes the technology into a scope that is much smaller than that of PC's.

Well, no, not exactly. This tech will invalidate a lot of manufacturing. Think that over a second. Whole markets of products and business will have to reorganize or go up in smoke. Shipping, one of the worlds largest users of petrol energy, will not be reduce significantly. This will bring about changes in design and a surge of inventive ideas about everyday things will become available. It will allow people to easily sell creations they came up with while showering. For me I keep thinking over that last one because I have 3 or 4 ideas I would test out right now. Print them up, test them out, put them online as a "physible" and allow people to start buying them right away. You know how many people have simple and great ideas but can't get them out to market? No more worries about having to sell your idea to someone who will listen or worse have someone steal them.
You want the little doodad to connect to the broom that will allow you to scrape up the dried milk, instead of getting on all fours? Easy-peasy, get on the app store and download one of five variations, that were all designed by home tinkerers. Whether you value shaving or not, do you think people should be spending upwards of 25 dollars or more for razors each month? That won't be a problem anymore. Shoes? Top end is pretty high for snazzy dressers on that one.
There is all kinds of things this technology will be great for, and I find it kind of hard to view the scope of this thing as anything but huge.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:16 PM on January 25, 2012


This tech will invalidate a lot of manufacturing. Think that over a second. Whole markets of products and business will have to reorganize or go up in smoke.

To clarify, it's not that I think 3D printing won't have an impact. I'm just not sure it'll have an impact on par with the PC for the average middle class household. Most of the obvious uses I can come up with are more commercially oriented and will have a huge impact on the way people do business, not on the way people live their everyday lives.

I mean, I can think of a million amazing uses for this tech in my field alone (Film/TV production), down to never having to order office supplies again. But at home? Meh. It would mean I could recycle my sneakers into new sneakers on a whim? Which would be... cool? But probably not earth shattering on the level of being able to watch any movie, listen to any record, or read any book in an instant without leaving the chair I'm sitting in right now.
posted by Sara C. at 9:59 PM on January 25, 2012


Even though I was all WOOO APPLE II! upthread, I think Sara C does have a point, the more I think about it.

But first, I think the commercial/average middle class distinction isn't it. That's actually the reason 3D printing is so exciting, because it brings production into the living room. Personal computers literally created an entire generation of software engineers who could build entire virtual worlds using bits and bytes. These kids have gone on to create wonderful apps and services we all use. It was that turning of the consumer into the producer that is exciting, and could happen with 3D printing.

Our hope, my hope at least, is that the average middle class household, everyday people, become "commercially" oriented. In the sense that we're all creative, we're all making things. An informal, or formal, barter economy could arise, new divisions of labor and specializations. Imagine the Second Life economy come alive. Your next door neighbor might design intricate filigree patterns in 3D and publish them for others to use, and somebody on the other side of the world might download those patterns and integrate them into their own ring designs. It's a democratization of production.

But there's the other issue that you were talking about earlier. We can create infinite worlds and designs in computers because we're dealing with information, which takes up negligible space. But when we're talking about 3D printing, we're talking about the physical world. And we run up against physical constraints. Do we really need more stuff?

Which brings up some uncomfortable questions about the environment and contributing to waste and whether enabling an entire new generation of creators will only contribute to that.
posted by formless at 12:32 AM on January 26, 2012


Ok, well I never meant to be arguing that 3D printers would be as immediately important to the average person as pcs (although I think it remains a distinct possibility they end up being as or more INDIRECTLY important to the average person's daily life)

The person I was responding to when I engaged originally said:
I'm not buying how 3d printers will ever be much more than a novelty - if it were feasible to make anything other than very poorly made plastic trinkets with them then industry would be producing things with industrial grade versions of them now and last time i watched how it's made that simply aint the case.
which to anyone who's even slightly informed as to what has happened in the industry in the last 8 years is just hugely funny for being colossally misinformed. I then used the PC revolution as an analogy to indicate roughly where I think we are in the second industrial revolution (not my coinage, it is seriously being referred to as that).

The thing to remember is that although the technological progress is inevitable and easy to predict (because 3d printing is already significant and can become massively more significant without any new breakthroughs necessary beyond predictable manufacturing refinement) the social and political and cultural effects it is going to have on the world are impossible to predict, because it is going to be a highly disruptive tech. It will change things, forever. Exactly how is too chaotic to predict.

I've gotten a little more up to date myself since yesterday (hadn't looked at the field much for a couple years) and now I would say it's been moving even faster than I realized. I didn't even know about multi-photon lithography before now. That shit's crazy. The video of a scaffold being printed around a LIVING NEMATODE still has me reeling.
posted by lastobelus at 1:58 AM on January 26, 2012


This short video is a good hint at some ways 3d printing will impact things way beyond disrupting the traditional manufacturing supply chain:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nFyuxGEhzY&feature=player_embedded

it will enable new types of buildings that are simply not possible with traditional manufacturing. New types of aircraft. You'll see form factors in bicycles and cars that are completely impossible now -- which means at some point there will likely be whole new recreational/sports options invented that are simply not possible with current manufacturing. Implants, prosethetics, organs, art -- virtually everything that makes our lives tangibly different from cavemen is up for disruptive change.
posted by lastobelus at 2:08 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I had to pick the one thing about 3d printing that is the most disruptive, it is not that people could have them in their homes or that you can eliminate economies of scale or any of that.

It is that it can print objects with moving parts in place. Think about what that means when the technology is mature and single printers can print a variety of materials simultaneously (and the first early multi-material printers are already available commercially).

That big plastic bunny or the plastic globe in the replicator video that are like things that can be bought at the dollar store? The difference between manufacturing that and a similarly sized complex object with hundreds of moving parts will be that the bunny costs more. More. Because it uses more material. Think about the effect that will have on the world, when the complexity/cost equation in manufacturing goes completely flat.
posted by lastobelus at 3:03 AM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Imagine if desktops included their own fab for printing off CPU upgrades and special purpose CPUs :

"TTA-based Co-design Environment (TCE) .. provides a complete co-design flow from C programs down to synthesizable VHDL and parallel program binaries " using the LLVM. (via LLVM Projects)
posted by jeffburdges at 9:58 AM on January 26, 2012


How to build a 3D printer
posted by jeffburdges at 3:27 PM on January 30, 2012


For all the "cheap plastic crap" people: An 83-year-old woman just got a replacement lower jaw made out of 3D-printed titanium.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:41 PM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Not 3D printing, but this is arguably cooler: $1000 hobbyist CNC milling machine.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:05 AM on February 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Pirate Bay : Year of the storm

"What binds us all together is a strong belief that what we do is good. That it is something we one day can tell our grandchildren about with pride."
posted by jeffburdges at 4:49 PM on February 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pfffff...
posted by Artw at 4:59 PM on February 6, 2012


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