Will 3D printing go mainstream?

Thoughts on the current and future state of 3D printing

Over on the Make blog, Dale Dougherty asked the question “How many people will own 3D printers?”  I posted a comment there, and I’ve expanded it a bit for this post.

In my view, 3D printers as they currently exist will remain tools for industry, hobbyists & makers. There are 4 things needed for them to break out as mainstream products:

1. Ease of use: current printers are finicky, requiring too much adjustment and have too high a printing failure rate. But the biggest impediment is the software. 3D design software is too complex, and the tool chain from design to print is too cumbersome. Simple design software, and a “print” button that looks after the rest, will be needed before these become household items.

2. Colour: current 3D printed items are boring. Printing custom bobble heads & action figures of your friends & family would be fun, but the painting required makes it too laborious. The ability to print colour items would greatly enhance 3D printer’s desirability. This can be through multi-colour, multi-printhead designs, or by using a combination of 3D printing and inkjet printing to “paint” objects during or after the print process. Alternatively, heat shrink colour printed skins can be made to put over objects, similar to the advertising wraps you see applied to cars, trucks & buses.

3. Simple, inexpensive, high quality 3D scanners: following on point 1, design software is complicated. If you have a broken part that you want to replace, it would be much easier to scan & print rather than try to design a replica in software. Scaling is also a reason for scanning – you have an object you want to replicate, but at twice the size, or half the size. Scan, resize, print. Or for customization – scan, modify, print.

4. Adoption of “designed for 3D printing”: this could, in my estimation, drive 3D printing more than anything. Think of the inconvenience and expense of the parts inventories held by companies & repair shops around the world. When a replacement part for a vacuum or a car is needed, you often find yourself paying a ridiculous price for the part, and/or waiting an inordinate time for it to come in. With current products, 3D printing can’t change this much, as most parts can’t be readily reproduced at sufficient quality. But what if product designers took this into account. What if a car company actively designed its cars so that as many parts as possible could be 3D printed. Dealerships & repair shops could install high quality 3D printers, and maintain a digital inventory of spare parts, which would be printed on demand for customers. No more waiting for parts, no more investing millions in spare part inventory and parts distribution systems. From there, one can see a progression to the home. Products that are sold can be designed for 3D printed part replacement. Just as you now can go on most manufacturer’s websites & download instruction manuals, you could go on their sites and download files to 3D print parts. Print the replacement part yourself at home, or take it to your local Kinko’s, Staples, or other 3D print shop. Companies could make these parts file downloads available for free, or charge a small fee for the download. In most cases, the 3D design files will already exist, as the product was probably originally designed this way. Many may think that companies won’t follow this path – they profit from expensive parts & built-in obsolescence, and hope you give up on repair & simply buy a new item. There may be many who will think this way. But there will be companies who will see “design for 3D printing” as a strategic advantage. They can market their goods as easily repairable, and green, in that they are not as likely to end up in landfill because of a small broken part.

I expect a market will also develop for “framework” products designed with 3D printing in mind. You buy the core component (electronics, mechanics, etc.) with the idea that you can 3D print the rest to customize your product. Buy the workings for a camera, 3D print the case to perfectly fit your hand. Or a case that moulds to your ski helmet. Just as clock mechanisms have been available for woodworkers, mechanisms for all sorts of products will be available for 3D printer owners. This market may be niche, but with the internet enabling both product discovery, marketing and commerce, niche can now be a viable business model.

The earliest hobby computers had toggle switches & blinked lights. They were of interest to a very small group who wanted to learn how they functioned, and who were fascinated by the process of building, programming, and making it work. Few people could see any reason why they’d want one. Using one as a calculator, requiring conversion to/from binary? Not a mainstream application, but it was the beginning. That’s the point we’re at with 3D printers today. They are difficult to use, and accomplish underwhelming tasks. We don’t yet have a VisiCalc for 3D printers. But I’m confident we will, and that 20 years from now, we’ll be doing things with our home 3D printers that today we’ve not even thought about.

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Four years? Already?

th-4th

Four years? Already?

One of these days, I’ll put in a reminder to myself that March 31st is the anniversary of think|haus.

Two years ago, I posted “Two Years of RELOADED…” and I think I somehow missed posting on last year’s anniversary – actually, we didn’t post a single thing from 2011/10/11 to 2012/05/13 so it’s fair to say we missed a whole lot.

We had our first meeting 2009/03/31.
We moved into think|haus v1.0 on 2009/07/01.
We moved into think|haus v2.0 on 2010/11/20.
(Still affectionately referred to as “old|haus” and “new|haus” respectively.)

This is four years later and think|haus is stronger and more vibrant than ever.

Looking back over the last four years is actually pretty cool. A non-exhaustive list of highlights includes:

  • getting started at all
  • hosting the first SoOnCon
  • acquiring and upgrading the laser
  • the great Forums debate of late 2009
  • providing some dignity to the last months of a member’s life
  • renovation club
  • began to hold classes (and kinda stopped)
  • learned that laser cutters are flammable
  • participated in the Great Global Hackerspace Challenge
  • participated in the Toronto MiniMakerFaire
  • became sponsor and host to OpenHamilton (Hamilton’s OpenData group)
  • became sponsor and host to TOOOL (The GTHA Open Organization of Lockpickers)
  • participated in the Function Keys Conference

…and most importantly, heading into our fifth year with renewed enthusiasm and a strong membership with ideas on how to make think|haus even more think|hausian.

Be Ambitious With Us.

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March TOOOL Meeting Photos

toool_logo_sm

 

I would like to thank everyone who came out to the TOOOL-TOR meeting tonight.  I know I had a blast and hope everyone else had a good time as well :)  I would also like to thank @JoeyColeman who kindly provided us with coffee as well as trays of fruits and goodies for the meeting.  [Thanks Joey!  It was tasty! :)]

Here are some of the photos I snapped.   Read the rest of this entry »

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Function Keys Conference

Hello folks, I wanted to draw attention to the Function Keys Conference happening this November 1st to 4th here in Hamilton. The conference is a kind of intersection between arts, technology and culture with some great presentations, demos and workshops. Included:

  • Art/Science Collaborations as an Interdisciplinary Practice
  • My Experience as a G20 Hacker
  • Laser-Based Collaborative Space
  • INCUBATOR LAB: Reproductive Technologies from Print Media to BioART
  • Beyond the Uncanny Valley
  • Intro to Quadcopters
  • Public Participation in Visualization
  • Mediated Reality – Past, Present and Future
  • Plasticity of Flesh: Breeding and BioArt
  • Augmented Reality and Grand Island’s Jewish Ghosts

Three of us at thinkhaus will be presenting too! Trevyn Watson will be giving the quadcopters talk, Richard Degelder will give a 3D printing demo, and I’ll be exploring the uncanny valley. Tickets and passes are on sale now. Please visit the Function Keys website  for more information and venue details. http://functionkeys.ca

Hope to see you there!!!

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First TOOOL Meeting A Smashing Success!

 

I just wanted to thank everyone who came out to our first ever TOOOL meeting.  It was a whopping success and you all helped make it happen!  I would also like to send a very special thanks to Ken Owen who REALLY saved my ass!!  We have not yet received our TOOOL care package and I figured I had about enough locks/picks to keep ~ 10 people busy, but I was very surprised by the 20+ people who showed up and, had it not been for Ken and his huge collection of locks/cuffs/etc. I would have been in real trouble :)  We had some people drive in from the Niagara Region and even one person who drove in from Ottawa o.O!  Pictures from the meeting are attached at the bottom of this post.

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TOOOL is coming to Think|Haus!

It is my pleasure to announce that Think|Haus will be hosting TOOOL (The Open Organisation of Lockpickers) meetings on the first Saturday of the month from 2pm-4pm.  Our first meeting will be on Sat. Oct. 6th.  Several of the Think|Haus members and friends have pick sets already, and we have the “lockpicking” locker  full of old locks to practice with.  On top of this, Deviant from TOOOL.us is sending us a care package of goodies :)  The meetings are open to everyone (ie: you do not need to be a member of the hackerspace to attend) so feel free to drop in and check it out!  Since it’ll be our first meeting we’ll likely spend a bit of time on some basic tutorials and the rules.  We can do some picking, bumping, jiggling and maybe even some impressioning (limited # of vices and magnifying lamps may not make this easy to accomodate until we are better equipped).  Come by and check it out!  There will be something for everyone! :)  For more information about The Open Organisation of Lockpickers check out the http://toool.us/ website.  You can also sign up for our TOOOL mailing list over at http://lists.thinkhaus.org/listinfo.cgi/toool-discuss-thinkhaus.org to keep up with the latest news and announcements!

Cheers!

Edit 9/29/2012: For those who asked, we will have pick kits for sale at the meeting.  The kits available will be the “Beginner’s Blend” set listed on the TOOOL.US website here: http://toool.us/equipment.html  The cost will be $25 and unfortunately (for now) I’m only equipped to accept cash.  Looking into electronic payment methods for future meetings.

 

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The Benefits of a HackerSpace

Some of the really great things about having a HackerSpace, and being a member of it,  are that you get access to some really cool tools, like lasers cutters, and thinks that people have brought into the space, like the kit from MakerBeam from their successful KickStarter campaign, as well as the ideas of the members.  And having access to great Open Source Hardware ideas like the Nautilus Gears by MishaT (http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:27233) can lead to some interesting works in progress.

 

I took the initial .dxf file included in the Nautilus Gears and expanded it 375% to get something that was about as large as the laser cutter could handle. But that left me to figure out the best spacing for the gears.  For that I constructed a small frame using the Aluminium extrusions, along with assorted other parts, that we got as part of the MakerBeam KickStarter campaign, which allowed me to easily adjust the spacing to find the best distance between the hubs of the gears.  With this I was able to easily move the center points back and forth and to know that they would not move otherwise.   I had also needed to make a small part on the laser to attach the gears but that was easy using a few small scraps.

 

Some of the ideas that were discussed with various members also expanded the potential of the original design and gave me more ideas on where to look at making the original gears even more assume.  The original gears were really interesting to begin with but expanding them makes them even better.  It is really interesting to watch as they rotate.

This test rig has allowed me to try a few things and to ensure that further progress will indeed work.  And it is all possible by being a member of a HackerSpace and having access to the things within it.

 

Now to make it even better.

 

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key|haus

Laser cut thinkhaus keychains! I put all my keychain know-how into designing them:

  • Etching and cutting!
  • Double-sided content!
  • Stick font text for surplus legibility! (used CamBam fonts)
  • Motivation slogan “Be excellent to each other” on front, thinkhaus url on reverse!
  • Double split-ring action for increased doesn’t-break-in-your-pocketness!

We’ll be bringing them out to events like art crawl and software hamilton, plus handing them out to guests who stop by on open house nights (Tuesday starting at 7PM) Come by and grab one!

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Lazzor upgrade

Long time since an update, so I might as well talk about two recent laser upgrades. First I converted an unused exit sign box into a big hey-don’t-forget-laser-station-is-on indicator light. A couple of times we (/I) have forgotten to turn it off and have left the computer + pump + vent fan running. Not horrible, except that the pump runs quite warm and that ain’t good. Plus, I’d been thinking of ways of making turning on the laser more awesome, so this was a good opportunity. Read on after the break!

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Adina’s message to us

 

Have a safe trip and we are looking forward to your return.

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