Will your next house be 3D-printed?

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The ability to create, to alter the world around you while manipulating your environment, is the essence of technology. Whereas mankind once had to create new objects through industrial intermediaries (or painstakingly by hand), we are entering an exciting new age where a desired object can be “individually mass produced,” printed by 3D-printer to exact specifications. This technology stands poised to alter our world, and the objects in it, forever. But what does that mean? What are the implications?

They start with the very roof over your head. Cnet‘s Michelle Starr is reporting that the world’s first 3D-printed apartment building has been erected in China. “In March of last year, company WinSun claimed to have printed 10 houses in 24 hours,” she writes, “using a proprietary 3D printer that uses a mixture of ground construction and industrial waste, such as glass and tailings, around a base of quick-drying cement mixed with a special hardening agent.” The term claimed is very important here, as the Chinese are eager to be seen as a technological powerhouse and have, historically, been somewhat loose with the details. The embarrassing incident a few years ago, in which China’s Central Television tried to pass off footage from the movie “Top Gun” as a recording of one of its air force’s training exercises, springs readily to mind. Still, if the claim is true, the 3D-printing of entire dwellings only paints that much more clearly the place of such printers in our future.

“Although the company hasn’t revealed how large it can print pieces,” Starr goes on, “based on photographs on its website, they are quite sizable. A CAD design is used as a template, and the computer uses this to control the extruder arm to lay down the material. … The walls are printed hollow, with a zig-zagging pattern inside to provide reinforcement. This also leaves space for insulation. This process saves between 30 and 60 percent of construction waste, and can decrease production times by between 50 and 70 percent, and labor costs by between 50 and 80 percent. … [The use of] recycled materials … [decreases] the need for quarried stone and other materials – resulting in a construction method that is both environmentally forward and cost effective.”

WinSun is, according to Starr, eying the printing of such massive structures as bridges and skyscrapers. They are not alone. The Guardian’s Alastair Parvin asserts that 3D-printing of buildings could solve the current “housing crisis” – that is, supplying attractive, affordable dwellings to more people. He calls for a dramatic reform of the “land market” to “make it dramatically easier for those without much capital to buy a plot of land and commission their own homes – either individually or as a group. … Our first step might be to develop open source tools and platforms that radically simplify the process of planning, designing and constructing customized, high-performance, sustainable, low-cost homes, and to put those tools into the hands of citizens, communities and businesses. That is the aim of the WikiHouse project, an open source construction system that allows online self-build models to be shared, improved, 3D-printed and self-assembled.”

Of course, one of the barriers to entry in the 3D-printing consumer market is the cost of a 3D-printer itself – which leads, at the risk of being recursive, to the idea of printing the printer that you’ll then use to print other things. “Over 90 weekly issues of 3D Create & Print at £6.99 a pop,” writes Stuart Dredge, [publisher Eaglemoss] is hoping to get a 3D printer into the homes of people who are keen to experiment with 3D-printing, but have balked at the upfront price of existing models.” The idea is to learn as you go, first assembling the printer, then using the knowledge you developed during its assembly to inform later creations.

There are those, however, who see the solution to putting 3D-printing in every home as more of a software issue than a hardware issue. “Desktop 3D-printing has long been a one- or two-color affair,” writes Signe Brewster. “Printers that work in two colors tend to have two nozzles, each of which draws plastic filament from a different spool. Not [Madison, Wisconsin-based startup] Spectrom. The [company] actually uses ink to dye the same strand of filament different colors along its length, opening up a full range of colors. … Its software designates the exact amount of filament that needs to be dyed for a red layer or a blue square within a layer. It’s much more complicated to build software that can account for the color of each drop of filament, but Spectrom believes it is doable.” The upshot? Cheaper full-color 3D-printing, which very soon could be accessible to the market at large.

More than plastic is affected. Just as Chinese manufacturers are claiming to erect buildings from recycled materials, the 3D-printing of metals – an industry in its infancy – is also ready to explode. “According to 3D-printing insights firm Wohlers Associates,” writes Steve Heller, “the metal 3D-printing industry experienced 75.8 percent annual growth in 2013, equating to 348 metal 3D-printers being sold worldwide. Despite its relatively small size, metal 3D-printing was a major focus at [the world’s largest 3D-printing conference, EuroMold], because the expectation is that it will grow to represent a larger percentage of the overall 3D-printing market as more manufacturing-related applications take hold. After all, General Electric has plans to metal-3D-print more than 45,000 mission-critical jet engine fuel nozzles per year by 2020 – a feat that is likely to make history as the largest-scale mission-critical 3D-printing application ever. Metal 3D-printing players seem to be banking on the likelihood that GE will fuel increased adoption across the industry.”

In the coming years, the pace of 3D-printing development will only increase, and likely at an exponential rate. It will be interesting to see just which different areas of our lives this technology touches. And while it will certainly improve our lives in many ways, it will also likely create unintended consequences – problems we cannot even imagine until they occur. As with any new technology, our only choice is to take these as they come, and deal with them as we can.

Media wishing to interview Phil Elmore, please contact media@wnd.com.

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iPhone 6 is on it's Way Next Week And so Are 3D Printed Personalized Cases

dar-3If you are anything like me, then you can’t wait to see just what Apple will be announcing next Tuesday. We’re certain it will be the next version of the company’s smartphone, the iPhone 6, but just what features will it have, and will any other groundbreaking products be unveiled as well? We’ll have to wait and see.

Over the past year we have seen numerous 3D printed smartphone cases, both for the Apple’s iPhone as well as various Android devices. In fact, even MakerBot got in on the trend, teaming with a company called Fraemes a couple weeks back to enter the market for customized 3D printable iPhone cases.

Today, we got a bit of news from a relatively new company, Darby Smart, a San Fransisco based maker marketplace where consumers can launch, discover and buy DIY projects and pre-tested craft supplies. The company has announced that they are now making available, customizable 3D printed products at affordable prices via their web interface.

“Darby Smart scours the Internet for unique projects and packages them up for consumers in a collection of kits. All Darby Smart projects are super easy and accessible, no matter what a person’s DIY skill level. Projects are pre-packaged with everything you need – and in various categories, e.g., home décor, fashion, food, kids and holiday,” stated Kristin A. Martell from K21 Communications, a PR firm representing the company.

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The new 3D printing section strays just a bit from the rest of the marketplace, as the products offered within the new 3D printing section are created on the site, rather than at home. For now, the company has made available, their customizable 3D printed bracelets where users can change the font, lettering, and color of the bracelets before having them printed and shipped to their doorsteps. Darby Smart, however, will be one of the first to offer iPhone 6 cases. On the day that dar-1Apple announces the iPhone(s), September 9, Darby Smart will begin offering cases for the highly anticipated device, fully customizable within their 3D editing platform. Once users customize their cases by choosing the color, symbols, letters and words they wish to include, they can pay just $9 and have their case shipped to them within about a week.

It’s a given that when next week comes around we will begin seeing other companies, as well as designers, begin offering models and physical 3D prints for a variety of different cases for the new iPhone. Darby Smart hopes to be a bit ahead of them all.

Let us know if you decide to create a 3D printed iPhone 6 case at Darby Smart, and be sure to post pictures in the 3D printed iPhone case forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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Tarsus to Launch 'Industrial Print Expo' in Monterrey, Mexico Early Next Year

thumb_eventos20121128-73bf5_Manufactura13In 2015, Mexico will host its first tradeshow dedicated exclusively to industrial printing in the realm of manufacturing. As the potential of 3D printing becomes increasingly obvious, its footprint is expanding across the globe. In some places, 3D printing is just becoming a part of the way that manufacturing is done. In others, such as Mexico, additive manufacturing is already being practiced on a large scale and is the driving force behind a great deal of economic development, such as the expansion of BMW in San Luis Potosi. man15h11evAs such, Tarsus Group and E.J. Krause & Associates saw the country as the perfect location for this latest addition to its portfolio of manufacturing events, the Industrial Print Expo. The 2015 event will take place in Monterrey and run alongside the Expo Manufactura, currently the most prominent business forum for the Mexican manufacturing industry. Expo Manufactura currently showcases manufacturing technologies in areas of CAD/CAM, robotic metrology, quality control, logistics, and micromechanization among others. In a press release given by Tarsus and E.J. Krause, the collaborating entities described the nature of the event:

“Industrial Print Expo will be a platform for displaying cutting edge technologies and solutions, sharing knowledge, and generating investment within the industrial print sector. The even will timthumbbring together specialists and key decision makers from both the public and private sectors. Attendees, whether representing industrial, commercial, public, government or military, will be able to see and compare the latest print technology solutions and applications, learn and understand the benefits and opportunities offered, discuss specific requirements, and meet industry professionals from across a wide array of sectors and technologies.”

Given the McKinsey Report’s prediction that anywhere from $230 to $550 billion dollars of growth could be generated by 3D printing by 2025, the time to invest in the culture of additive manufacturing and the establishment of networks for communication and advancement is now. Plans are for the show floor to bring together the most up to date equipment, techniques, and processes in ink jet technologies and 3D printing. In addition, the expo will showcase additional technology from hot stamping, to laser and thermal transfer. The event will be co-located with Expo Manufactura and run from February 3 – 5 in Monterrey at CinterMex.

Are you planning on attending this even?  Discuss with others in the Industrial Print Expo forum thread on 3DPB.com

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3D printing could be the next big thing…someday

V3's Dan RobinsonEarlier this week, analyst firm Gartner poured some cold water on the hype surrounding 3D printing by issuing a report claiming that many of the technologies involved are still five to 10 years away from the mainstream. Furthermore, consumer adoption will be eclipsed by business and medical applications that have more compelling use cases in the short term, Gartner said.

This isn’t necessarily knocking 3D printing, but merely recognising that it is a bit more complex than reports in the press might have led everyone to believe, and that the technology still needs to develop more before it reaches the stage where the average household might be using it in the same way they use mobile phones or the internet now.

Actually, low-cost 3D printing has already come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Previously, such fabrication technologies were eye-wateringly expensive and thus largely available only as a prototyping technology used in the manufacturing industry.

Only in the past decade or so have desktop-scale devices that can ‘print’ objects using types of plastic come onto the market, pioneered here in the UK by the RepRap project founded by former academic Dr Adrian Bowyer.

Now, there are myriad 3D printers on the market, varying in price from a few hundred pounds to tens of thousands. Most of these are similarly designed to produce objects by melting ABS or Polylactic acid (PLA) plastic filament to build them up layer by layer.

As Gartner points out, 3D printing is not about just a single technology. Being able to fabricate objects only in plastic limits what can be produced, requiring users to turn to other sources for components that have to be made from metal or other materials, for example.

While there are projects working towards delivering low-cost devices that can work with other materials, these are likely to be some time coming to market, which is one reason for Gartner’s prediction regarding the timescale for mainstream adoption.

Another reason is that creating a 3D object from scratch is a non-trivial task requiring specialist software and skills. Because of this, many of the lower-cost 3D printers seem to be aimed at a usage model where buyers access an online store or catalogue of ready-designed objects rather than creating their own using CAD tools or suchlike.

In this respect 3D printing can be thought of as at a fairly early stage of its development, comparable to the days of the first microcomputers when enthusiasts had to assemble the hardware themselves using a soldering iron, and often had to key in the software manually afterwards.

However, the potential for 3D printers does seem to be enormous. For consumers or small businesses, it holds out the promise of being able to manufacture items themselves for the first time, and perhaps compete with larger vendors for business.

It’s easy to imagine small businesses setting up shop as a bureau to produce small numbers of custom-made items for consumers or other small businesses, perhaps even charging for the design work as well as manufacturing the end product.

Of course, there are dire warnings from some that broad uptake of 3D printing in the home could spell the end for some manufacturing industries, but as Dr Bowyer pointed out at a 3D printing event earlier this year, this is not an unusual occurrence in the history of economic and technological evolution. He cited the traditional photography industry as an example, which has “disappeared, almost unremarked and unmourned” since the advent of digital cameras.

So while 3D printers are still costly items used mostly for prototyping or by early adopter enthusiasts, the day may come when you can simply download and print that snazzy new case design for your smartphone instead of buying it, and 3D printing may be as commonplace as streaming your favourite TV shows over the internet is today.

This may not happen next year or the year after but, given the appeal of 3D printing, it seems certain to happen eventually. Unless certain vested interests decide that it is too dangerous a technology for us mere mortals to be allowed, of course.