3D Printing Revolution In The Making: Part 1

Posted on Wednesday February 20, 02013

On February 19th at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, California Sustainability Media shot the Long Now Foundation's monthly Seminar About Long-term Thinking talk for February 02013.  We were honored to hear Chris Anderson speak at the seminar and hear what he has to say about the latest revolution in technology and enterprise: 3D printing.  

Watch the Long Now Foundation's Seminar About Long-term Thinking talk for February 02013 with Chris Anderson shot by Sustainability Media here:

WIRED's Chris Anderson: The Makers Revolution from The Long Now Foundation on FORA.tv

What is 3D printing?  

Makerbot Replicator 2 at work

3D printing is a process in which 3D objects that already exist can be scanned with 3D scanning tools or built from the ground up using software. Then the information from this scan or plan can be used to create a 3D replica of the object by using a 3D printer, which are commonly called "fabbers" or "replicators," which melts and extrudes different materials along X,Y, and Z axes to create a complete copy of the original object in 3D.  In this way 3D printing can be used to create replacement parts for everything from doorknobs, motor parts, gears, and circuit board holders. You can even download the plans and software to build and print your own 3D printer!  But 3D printing isn't just about replicating already existent objects.  3D printers can also be used to create rapid prototypes of new objects for testing and further for manufacturing.  3D printing has been used to create jewelry, sculpture, and toys.  

Makerbot has an online community for makers where you can upload and download plans to create or modify all kinds of objects.
Thingiverse homepage

Online resources for learning and implementing 3D printing abound on the net.  TechShop is one of many online communities commited to the futhering of the maker community.

In the initial days of 3D printing advancements scale was small but as the technology and demand around 3D printing has grown, so has the capability to create larger objects.  Utilizing different methods and materials everything from prototype concept vehicles to car parts have been created.  There have even been applications of 3D printing used in architecture to create buildings.  The practical applications of 3D printing are endless, and paired with the creativity of the human mind there is serious potential in the world of 3D printing. Arguably 3D printing's biggest alley has been its open source foundation.  Information on how to build, set up, and utilize 3D printers abounds on the internet. Plans, scans of objects, and software can be found for free or a relatively low footprint investment to get anyone started in 3D printing.  This has revolutionized consumerism and manufacturing, making anyone with access to the internet and materials needed for 3D printing into a maker of our modern age. 

Here are a few samples of what can be created with 3D printing and a video prodcued by TechNewsDaily at Maker Faire fall of 02102 which illustrates the growth in the 3D printing world.

  3D Printed Gears 

Cube X 3D Printer


An Industrial Revolution for The Modern Era 

Chris Anderson is a writer who started his career in scientific journals such as Nature and Science.  He went on to become the US Business Editor and Technology Editor for The EconomistIn 2001 Chris Anderson became the Editor of WIRED magazine.  In addition, Chris has authored three books, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, FREE: The Future of a Radical Price, and most recently, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.  In his most recent book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution, Chris discusses the pivotal role that emerging 3D printing technology has has on manufacturing in today's world.  Like the advent of the printing press heralding a new era of widespread information and literacy, and further the reach of information flow over today's internet, 3D printing is opening doors the world over for anyone who cares to get involved.  The very spirit of the 3D printing community and its technology is about open-source sharing and low cost implementation.  Meaning that anyone can join the movement of 3D printing and usher in new products to our markets while still being able to maintain and keep up with large scale manufacturers through the use of readily accessible 3D printing technology.  These future forerunners in the 3D printing world are aptly called "makers."

“Today,“ Anderson writes, “there are nearly a thousand ‘makerspaces‘— shared production facilities— around the world, and they’re growing at an astounding rate: Shanghai alone is building one hundred of them.“

“Open source,” he adds, “is not just an efficient innovation method— it’s a belief system as powerful as democracy or capitalism for its adherents.“

Makers by Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson sat down with Long Now Foundation's Co-Chair and Board of Directors, Stewart Brand, to discuss the long term thinking behind the 3D printing revolution during the February 02013 seminar.  By focusing on long-term thinking, Stewart Brand asked Chris Anderson to explain the advent of 3D printing and how the movement might move into the future ahead. 

"We’re now entering the third industrial revolution, Anderson said.  The first one, which began with the spinning jenny in 1776, doubled the human life span and set population soaring.  From the demographic perspective, 'it’s as if nothing happened before the Industrial Revolution.'
The next revolution was digital.  Formerly industrial processes like printing were democratized with desktop publishing.  The 'cognitive surplus' of formely passive consumers was released into an endless variety of personal creativity.  Then distribution was democratized by the Web, which is 'scale agnostic and credentials agnostic.'  Anyone can potentially reach 7 billion people.

The third revolution is digital manufacturing, which combines the gains of the first two revolutions.  Factory robots, which anyone can hire, have become general purpose and extremely fast.  They allow 'lights-out manufacturing,' that goes all night and all weekend.

'This will reverse the arrow of globalization,' Anderson said.  'The centuries of quest for cheaper labor is over.  Labor arbitrage no longer drives trade.'  The advantages of speed and flexibility give the advantage to 'locavore' manufacturing because 'Closer is faster.'  Innovation is released from the dead weight of large-batch commitments.   Designers now can sit next to the robots building their designs and make adjustments in real time.

Thus the Makers Movement.  Since 2006, Maker Faires, Hackerspaces, and TechShops (equipped with laser cutters, 3D printers, and CAD design software) have proliferated in the US and around the world.  Anderson said he got chills when, with the free CAD program Autodesk 123D, he finished designing an object and moused up to click the button that used to say 'Print.'  This one said 'Make.'  A 3D printer commenced building his design.

Playing with Minecraft, 'kids are becoming fluent in polygons.'   With programs like 123D Catch you can take a series of photos with your iPhone of any object, and the software will create a computer model of it.  'There is no copyright on physical stuff,' Anderson pointed out.  The slogan that liberated music was 'Rip. Mix. Burn.'  The new slogan is 'Rip. Mod. Make.'

I asked Anderson, 'But isn’t this Makers thing kind of trivial, just trailing-edge innovation?'  'That’s why it’s so powerful,' Anderson said.  'Remember how trivial the first personal computers seemed?' "

--Stewart Brand

For an indepth write up on the Environmental aspects of the 3D printing revolution, please see Part 2 of this article on the Sustainability Media blog.
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