Wonder Alert: 3D Printing

Technology is moving forward so rapidly that if you blink once, you will miss some significant advances. I am amazed at the products coming via convergence. As each new product is introduced, the supply chain takes on new characteristics in the form of supporting and aftermarket opportunities. Of particular note are the 3D printing technologies involving DIY (do-it-yourself) equipment, software, and supplies.

For those of you not familiar with this technology, let me put you in the time machine and take you back to the first {complink 6245|Xerox Corp.} copiers. Which of us did not at some point say to a fellow employee that someday there will be copiers that will copy or create objects like the Star Trek replicators? We're already working on the virtual reality research that will make the holodeck a reality. In fact, using 3D printing, based upon mostly plastic type materials, objects can be made from computer-aided design (CAD) programs quite easily.

By strengthening these plastics with composite type formulations, the resultant product can be much more than just a model, but can be sufficiently durable to be put into everyday practical use. Products could include plastic replacement parts for home appliances, furniture, and as I witnessed recently, hand tools that could take the full torque and pressure stress encountered by metal equipment. Add to this working part intermeshing gears, rotating cams, rods, and wheels, and there is no limit to the number of practical, usable, and inexpensive products that will one day be sold in a retail store near you.

The most incredible advantage is that all the moving and intermeshing parts can be made with a single setup and at a single printing. No more costly casting or mold creations and subsequent modifications. Now all we need to do is tweak a software program to get things just right… the first time. That fact alone is huge.

Many CAD programs have multiple part assembly simulations that will look for motion and fit interference and stress points before a product is made. Now imagine downloading all the 3D printer supplies material characteristics into the CAD library, and soon the engineer will be able to examine the 3D-printed part or assembly behavior under programmed stress simulations. There will be no guesswork before creating a prototype, and the material cost and setup time will be minimized.

I can hear the supply chain rattling with this new innovation. Soon we should see appliances and other consumer product manufacturers charging for CAD data relating to replacement parts. The CAD data would be uploaded into a USB- or Bluetooth-connected 3D printer loaded with the manufacturer's specified materials, and within minutes, your own personal replicator spits out the part you need to fix that washing machine door hinge.

Now we have talked about the holodeck and the replicator, but I think this is getting about as close to the transporter as we will ever experience. “Scotty, beam me down the 3D code for the deframbulator core pin. And when you get back from Risia 6, I will need you to program the replicator materials for transparent aluminum.” This is Captain Douglas — out.

But seriously, it really doesn't stretch the imagination to consider the supply chain impact. Replaceable printer cartridges that are filled with a manufacturer's code identifiable mixes. There will be Internet stores featuring 3D CAD, ready to print parts and repair depots with the only inventory and capital equipment being material cartridges and various 3D printers.

Our current vending machines are about as close as we are going to get to food replicators any time soon, but you can still put in your dollar and say into the microphone, “B5,” and quicker than a wink, out pops your potato chips. Absolutely amazing! I can see 3D printer vending machines stocked with materials to make some consumables like sunglasses.

The picture selection guide will be your chosen style that you can modify in real time. When you press “Design Done,” you will hear a little whirring and some mechanical movement, and then you will hear a fan cooling down your customized pair of shades. The machine will say, “Thank you,” and out will slide a tray with your new shades. Let your imagination soar. It will never overtake the realities that are overtaking us every day.

14 comments on “Wonder Alert: 3D Printing

    August 16, 2012

    Do you have any idea (or links) how an inside moving intermeshed part, like a gear tooth, can be printed?  One would imagine that by printing in successive layers that there must always be a touching point and hence no free movement. 

  2. dalexander
    August 16, 2012

    @flyingscot, You can move the print head without a flow just as with a regular plotter. So with a stop and start flow operation, the intermeshing at the midpoint where the gears are not touching the adjacent teeth, the program could time the flow so there is no interference whatsoever. Having said that, the limitation would be the diameter of the flow bead such that it was less than the gap midpoint in the gear mesh. Then, the technology cutting edge development would be to create micro or nano ports that would allow the continuous material flow without clogging the flow port. Wow! If they get micro pores working, then we could see all manner of medical implants including stents being fashioned on the fly customized to the person's physiology. I have been thinking about home printers that will make your own prescription glasses, contacts, and custom frames. On the frightful side, one guy has already done the Cad and print for an AR -15 rifle that he has test fired. The whole thing is plastic and if others produce cad files for different guns, then home gun enthusiast will surely being buying the cad programs online and printing their own arsenals. Metal detectors aside, now we will need vast deployments of plastic detectors that are multi- sensory so that shape, chemical out gassing, and propellants can be isolated and identified. Plastics that can be broken down into discrete parts for anti detection will become the norm for terrorist and other criminals. Unfortunately, everything that can be used for good, can be perverted towards evil ends.

  3. _hm
    August 16, 2012

    This is wonder machine for designer. I hope price drops much faster and all these facilities are available very close to deisgn center.


  4. dalexander
    August 16, 2012

    _hm, proce is already decreasing for both the printers and materials. Cement printers for buildings with built in channels for wiring and plumbing, prosthetic legs with considerably lower than former knee joint cost, and hold onto your chair, some 3D printers are also using human cells to generate the rough shape of an organ and then nature takes over and the cells form the tissues. They have already done this with a two valvemouse heart that when completed, started beating. So, I guess in the furture it will be possible to make human tissues and organs that would not be rejected because it would be the recipients own cells used to make the tissues. With the price dropping rapidly, 3D printers will be a huge business for home and professional applications. There are already printers that use metal composites as well. What a time to be alive!

  5. dalexander
    August 16, 2012

    Flyingscot, I neglected to mention the current tech for very small gaps is to use a substance that would dissolve after the part is immersed in a solvent. It's almost like photlithography on wafers. Put down a mask, use a photo resist substance where you don't want the aluminum trace, and after the metal deposition, etch away the resist and you have just the aluminum layed out in a perfect routing pattern with trace to trace dimensions being super small. The computer switches print heads that are loaded with specific materials. Keep watching this technology. It will explode right before your eyes.

  6. ITempire
    August 16, 2012

    Thats a wonderful technology. It has the potential to turn the manufacturing of the products away from the manufacturers right down into a household provided that the cost of 3D printer itself comes down and users dont find it too technical to use. 

  7. dalexander
    August 16, 2012

    @WaqasAtlaf, you can buy a 3D printer on Amazon for less than $4000 dollars and it comes with Turbocad Pro 19. That being said, better ones are around $5000 and the price is coming down fast. Look at what happened with digital cameras from introduction until today. These 3D printers are going the same direction but not as rapidly. The basic elements are X,Y, and Z axis movement in the print head and thermal controls for material heating and cooling. Of course you don't want to plasticize your lungs so the chamber integrity is critical. Right now there are companies sprouting up offering 107 plus materials for priniting. You can generate 3D models from 2D drawings or scans of real objects. The computer does all the really hard work.

  8. ITempire
    August 16, 2012

    @ Douglas

    $ 4000 aint bad for such a technology that can produce stuff you can further sell as well. Have the big name printer manufacturers such as HP, Samsung and Canon started manufacturing them for consumer market or is it some specialized manufacturers that are currently marketing this product ?

    August 17, 2012

    @Douglas…..which is a great Scottish name by the way…..your first reply did not settle my uncertainty but your second on the dissolvable part does completely.  Now I understand how a continuous structure built up in layers (which must by definition touch (or fall down) can indeed produce moving parts that are intermeshed.  Thanks for the details.

  10. dalexander
    August 17, 2012

    @WaqasAtlaf, Here is a URL for an e-book version of a #D Printing buyers guide. This should be a good reference for both pricing, selection, and availability.

  11. ITempire
    August 18, 2012

    @ Douglas 

    Thanks for the link. I'l check it out. 

    I hope we all get to use this priniting technology sooner than expected.

  12. SunitaT
    August 22, 2012

    @Douglas, thanks for the post. 3D tech is already being used in Army. The US Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF) is sending expeditionary labs housed in 20-foot shipping containers to Afghanistan, allowing engineers to manufacture parts on-site and provide soldiers with real-time technical support. Each lab costs $2.8 million and contains a 3D printer to print plastic parts, a CNC machine to manufacture steel and aluminum parts.

  13. SunitaT
    August 22, 2012

    That being said, better ones are around $5000 and the price is coming down fast.

    @Douglas, good to see that of the 3D printers coming down. What impact do you think 3D printing will have on the manufacturing industry. Do you this 3D printing will help reduce the cost of manufacturing because prototyping becomes easier ? 

  14. SunitaT
    August 22, 2012

    @Douglas, If a company is planning to invest in 3D tech is it the good time to invest in 3D printers or will we see this industry maturing rapidly in coming days ?

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