3D Printing… the ebb and the flow

So it’s 1980 again – a cliche to say it now: “3D Printing is at a state now, that computers were in the 80s”… and like the 80s, there are definitive moments of ho-hum. I think I own one now… a 3D Printer I mean… or at least own part of a company that owns one… am I impressed? Not especially… but then I wrote the hype.

So where are our arses at? It seems like time for a re-cap. Take stock etc.

I was just down at a small-town technology fair in NZ, and by Christ, wasn’t that boring? Lots of big-screen TVs and people selling… what? Dunno. That had lots of posters and “Brand” etc – but I couldn’t really tell what any of them actually did. Something to do with communications I imagine. There were two 3D Printers… one from a local school-stall, one from the company that sold it to the local school. They were both printing things that were of precisely zero use to anyone, but which look quite impressive nonetheless. It must have seemed the same with computers in the 1980s – although I do remember becoming addicted to games, almost instantly.

So… 21st of July, Year of Our Lord, 2012…. this is the state of play:

1) two months ago, there was a veritable flood (ok, a flotilla) of crowd-funded 3D printers on Kickstarter… there are now two on Indiegogo… but the flotilla of printers has been replaced by a flotilla of building blocks for The Internet Of Things… sensors for smartphones; building-blocks etc… the flow of printer-information has moved elsewhere.

2) Another claim that open-source repraps are producing quality that can compete with commercial models

3D Printer Hair

3) Rostock Delta Robot Printer

This is a variant that I’ve been cheering on for a while now… not sure why. The first one I saw was Festo’s. I have a feeling that these things could be combined with sensors… eg: that new Leap machine… so it “knows where it is” rather than doing everything blind. I have a feeling that this might allow for printer-heads with a lot more freedom of movement… ie: not trapped within a Cartesian box.

Anyway, the Rostock is open-source, and on Thingiverse. Photostream here.


4) there’s been a couple of new printer-boards emerge recently:


One of which has waltzed home on Kickstarter.

This is not quite “plug and play”… (like a lot of the other kickstarter “internet of things” stuff is… but it’s getting there.

I think true plug-and-play with this sort of thing will need to be some sort of genetic algorithm… so a brain that uses a LEAP (or similar) to “see where it is” can figure out it’s own hand-to-eye coordination. Just leave it running overnight and when you come back, it will be able to control any set of motors with micron-levels of precision. Maybe.

See also, breakout-boards for iPods/iPhones and GoPro cameras


Which are on a version of Etsy just for electronics (via: Ponoko)

5) 3D Printing blood vessels… using sugar

Which looks very 21stC… but we still haven’t earned the right to call ourselves “21stC yet”. Imagine you’re back in 1912… calling yourself “20th Century”… well, fuck me, you’re in for a fright. Hopefully in 2012, we’re not sailing into waters quite as the first 4 decades of the 21st C. Got a feeling we are though.

6) so back to the 80s. This does actually remind me of a portable computer from the 1980s

So there it is. Is this a revolution? Maybe, in a school-science-fair sort of way… but there is one hell of a lot of hype to live up to – mostly because this is a science-fiction technology – and has been since… well, the 20th Century. I think it’s fair to say that it’s gotten beyond its first baby steps though. It’s been around for decades… but there does seem to be a bit of a Cambrian explosion going on… although as yet, it’s a technology without a killer application.

If a killer-app is going to emerge… it’s going to happen (I think) by way of breaking a trade-barrier… either physical or legal. The physical is to do with places that don’t have postal-services or even roads. The legal is to do with breaking IP monopolies, trade-sanctions and weapons-controls.

That is the killer-app of bits to atoms (aka: turning information into stuff) – it allows the internet to leak into physical space – and one thing the internet is really, really good at, is routing around blockages.

So look for blockages.