3D Printing – The New Wild West of Design and Manufacturing

This is so what I want for Christmas.

I’ve never actually used a 3D printer before and right now I’m actually not too sure what I would use it for.

But I want one.

‘Cause it’s fun.

When I was young, my family went to the Memphis Zoo.  There was a machine called a Mold-A-Rama that created molds of cheap plastic animal busts.  It looked sort of like an old school juke box with a window that let you watch as it created your toy.  The one I used was some version of this: http://replicatorinc.com/blog/2009/04/mold-o-rama-50s-plastic-molding-vending-machine/

The Mold-A-Rama worked by injecting plastic into a mold and hardening it into the shape of, say, a polar bear or a penguin a giraffe or something.

I’m now 30 years old.  Even as a child, I’m sure the machine was about 20-30 years my senior.  Excitedly, I pressed my mom and dad to shove some change into this machine and they indulged my eagerness to watch it work.  It produced something that would have resembled a zoo animal except it didn’t squirt quite enough plastic into the mold and came out looking like a really shitty piece of Postmodern art.

Mold-A-Rama is nothing like 3D printing.  Mold-A-Rama is a standardized mold that (theoretically…) spits out the same object every time.  3D printing allows you customize anything you want.

But it didn’t matter.  For me, the “product” was watching this neat machine work, not so much the toy it produced.  It was the function that was interesting, and the idea of creating toys stuck with me.   For the price of a few quarters I could watch something birth a brand new plastic toy.

I wanted a Mold-A-Rama in my bedroom to print piles of polar bears in any color I wanted.  Christmas presents for everyone!

3D Printing is a far more advanced extension of this fascination.   These up and coming machines will allow us to print endless customizations of anything in our own home.  Perhaps a polar bear wearing a tutu for Suzie.  Then perhaps a polar bear eating the penguin for Thomas.

Any 3D shape we want, produced into tangibles with more accuracy, ease and customization than ever before possible.  Seeing these MakerBot 3D printers gives me that same feeling of excitement I felt with the Mold-A-Rama machine.

Someday, these printers will be in our homes and our kids will be so interested in CAD design to produce their own action figures and toys.  It probably will not change manufacturing, as manufactured goods will always make things cheaper and faster through mass production than printing copy after copy of something.  What makes 3D printing so incredibly unique is the customization.  We can change and tweak our designs to perfection.  We can send our designs to other people to print for themselves.
New markets will emerge with levels of customization that simply were not possible before.  It will also revolutionize our concept of property rights and piracy.  CAD experts will re-build popular toys and products into 3D printing files that can be replicated endlessly.  Just as today we have 2D images and videos representing pop-culture, in the future, we’ll have CAD Mickey Mouses, CAD He-Mans, CAD X-Men, CAD NFL Team Logos, CAD Luke Skywalkers and CAD Tom Brokaw Busts, all printable in your own home to fill those toy boxes and fireplace mantles.

Who will own these designs, if anybody?  Can, or should, we charge for them?  Undoubtedly we will.   People will trade and share them.  Will there be laws against producing them?

Think of the practical applications – hospitals could fabricate on-demand medical devices, customized to the individual who needs them, and out of any material required.  Perhaps artificial body parts. This could be done in hours instead of the days it may take to manufacture such a product by traditional means.

On an even larger scale, what if we could produce 3D printers large enough to fabricate homes, or parts of homes, in such a way we could erect housing within days or even hours?  Even if it is not intended as long-term shelter, this could be an incredible benefit to disaster relief where even something as simple as plastic forks and spoons could be needed.

3D printing will be a game-changer in the world of art and design, and potentially many manufacturing needs that will benefit us all.

The only limitation to what we can create will be our own imagination.

 

(Originally posted in tumblr “On the Future” here.)

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