Sunday 1 March 2015

A Brave New World

3d printing manufacturers are making great steps developing appliances for industry, office and home use.  The 3D printing revolution is well on the way and it will not be long before we see it as an extension to BIM.  Businesses could carry 3d printers as part of their service plant to directly print out replacement parts or whole components required for building maintenance.  Digital models for these parts being kept within BIM O&M files.

In home use the possibilities seem endless with the aspiration to model and print just about any component or part required, either as a replacement or as an upgrade to our existing life styles.  Home use printers are already handling multiple materials and producing integrated, articulated and  working products with ease already, with micron precision.

Lots of wonderful items being produced for the home...
Garlic press

The draw on this is that consumers will be able to directly download and print their own designer items.  Alternatively proprietary designs could be hacked them to meet different or extended functions.  In the same way that we have become more computer savvy, soon we could be routinely designing and producing our own individual creations.  

The 3D revolution is being sold with the promise of environmental benefits too.  Shipping base materials is cheaper than shipping finished components, which take up more space in transit. Material cartridges can produce several items, saving on numbers if shipments made or sizes of vehicles needed to transport them might be smaller.  In addition it could also reduce the number of distribution centres and warehouses, if generic printing materials can produce items otherwise created in different locations.  3D printer manufacturers are championing recycling services where waste material can be regenerated, but this will no doubt lead to more localised recycling processes, if not by the 3D printers themselves.

3D printing represents a fully integrated single stage fabrication system which can be achieved in the present, eliminating remote manufacturing restrictions and lead-in times.  It enables essential items to be created in logistically difficult to reach locations.  3D printed components designed to integrate structural, service and aesthetic requirements can potentially be lighter, economising on material usage.  

3D printed monocoque car chassis
Single item responding to structural, environmental and aesthetic design requirements.

The advance of 3D printing begs the question, how will design copyright be managed in the future.  Will 3D printing have a significant impact on designed goods, in the same way that streamed music has impacted the revenues of music producers?  3D printing manufacturers use the term open source as buzz words to sell their systems with seemingly unlimited access to design possibilities, but it will not be long before industry giants realise they might be missing out on a key revenue stream and want part of the action.  I'm sure the 3D printing revolution will eventually become locked down and regulated in the same way as the internet, but the form it takes will in part depend on how quickly 3D printing can develop as a subculture, and in part by business entrepreneurs identifying how 3D printing can enhance our lives and developing the offer.

There's a brave new world coming - or at least that's the aspiration.  The possibilities are enormous but its going to take some work.  Current 3D printers are becoming ever more technically advanced, but compared to the computers of today, 3D printers are currently more akin to the VIC 20 or ZX81.  Compared to the internet and its impact on our everyday lives and social media, 3D printing has some way to go before it makes a cultural revolution and paradigm shift.  Current printers can be unpredictable, take some getting used to and can quite happily make their own individual works. As the proud owner of a Cube 3, I sometimes my relationship with the machine is a personal one, requiring TLC and understanding chats.  Explosions on the 3D printing plate can easily happen if the machine decides to play Buckaroo.  Its early days but these messy beginnings will eventually change the way we live and work.

When 3D printing goes wrong
Its like something out of a SciFi horror like the Thing or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when the translation of the body malfunctions.

In 30 years time the Cube 3 might be sitting in a glass cabinet in the Science Museum next to the VIC 20.  By then, much of the gallery's fit-out might have been 3D printed.  Join the revolution - buy a 3D printer! 

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