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March 22, 2013 1:08 PM   Subscribe

What do 3D printing, jelly, liver transplants, chainmail, dental fillings, ferrofluids, and the Six Million Dollar man have to tell us about our future? Materials scientist and engineer Mark Miodownik lets us know in this Royal Institution lecture.
posted by cthuljew (8 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

Ack. I love all those things, including the Royal Institution, and excluding Mark Miodownick because I hadn't heard of him before, but the selected frame of that video keys right into my damage-to-fingers phobia. Can someone let me know the timestamps so I can avoid that part of it, please?
posted by daisyk at 2:42 PM on March 22, 2013

I had no idea the Royal Institution had such a kick-ass, content-filled web site. I could get lost in there.

I am aware of some funny worries about money, their building possibly being sold off (the one that Faraday, etc, worked in). So I'm reassured looking at this, thanks for the post.
posted by C.A.S. at 2:47 PM on March 22, 2013

Am I alone in thinking that (important niches like printing new skull sections aside) 3D printing will not be 'bigger than the internet' as I hear some people claiming?

Surely laser technology will not allow it to scale to mass-production level?
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:01 PM on March 22, 2013

I should have been a materials scientist.
posted by mollweide at 3:58 PM on March 22, 2013

3D printing isn't about mass production as we know it. It's about producing things that can't be produced at all, even at low quantities, with current methods. Printing something like the hands or the head of Disney in the video is really just a gimmick, since those things can be made by other cheaper methods. But the printer can make shapes and work with materials like living cells that can't be done at all by any other method. And the machine that does this magic isn't very high-tech or expensive, so if there is a worthwhile application one could always stuff a building with thousands of the things, just as Google stuffs buildings with thousands of individually disposable servers.

I tend to agree that there are going to be killer apps for other 3D printing but it is in biomedical where we are finding them first, where printing scaffolding materials has already created a revolution and we're on the edge of another one with the ability to print living cells into the scaffold. I'd guess the ability to print a heart or liver is some time off because of the necessity to print the blood supply network and worse nerves, but if the person with the scaffold-grown windpipe survives that's going to create a revolution in gastrointestinal treatment. There are probably other body parts that might be easier than hearts and livers which will benefit people who die or lead highly miserable lives now.
posted by localroger at 4:32 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Surely laser technology will not allow it to scale to mass-production level?

There's a lot of room between "made in a manufactured landscape by worker drones in China" and "tea, earl gray, hot." I would expect within 5-10 years to see a boom in "micro-manufacturing", i.e. the ability for local shops in your town to produce basic necessities of life on machines costing perhaps a few tens of thousands of dollars, in the same way that there's burgeoning homebrewing but more importantly to more people's daily lives a booming number of microbreweries actually supplying an increasing percent of the country's drinking needs with small-ish, local facilities.
posted by crayz at 10:12 PM on March 22, 2013

Printing something like the hands or the head of Disney in the video is really just a gimmick, since those things can be made by other cheaper methods.

If you want dozens or hundreds of them, yes. If you want just one or two, not so much. The past few generations have lived in a very atypical age of one size fits all driven by economy of scale. Economy of scale will still be in play as these technologies develop but it will be less economic relative to other things as it has in the past.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:58 AM on March 23, 2013

Yeah KC I think there will be a growing niche for one-off stuff that could be mass produced but won't be, and for custom fitted stuff. The killer app might be something as prosaic as shoes that really fit. I mean, if they can make a jawbone...
posted by localroger at 3:51 PM on March 23, 2013

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