A Primer on 3-D Printing: An Emerging Technology You Should Know About

A few days ago, the first 3-d printed airplane flew for the first time.  See the LA Times article “World’s first 3-D printed airplane takes to the skies”.

Although 3D printing has been around for a number of decades, the quality has increased dramatically in recent years and the prices are just beginning to drop, making it much more affordable for small and medium businesses.  And if you really want to explore 3D printing, they are even getting cheap enough for consumers to own.

The reality is 3D printing is a very cost-effective way to have an in-house rapid prototyping capability.  For a relatively modest investment, design engineers can use a 3D printer to catch design flaws earlier in the process lowering costs and shortening design cycles.

What is 3D Printing?

3D printing involves having the computer sending the coordinates for a 3D object to an output device (a 3D Printer) that employs the same ink-jet printer principle that is used to print on paper.  However, in this case the ‘printer’ deposits successive layers of material to build up a full-scale 3D model.   The material used can be powder, plastics, resins or even metals.

In the case of powder, the printer is actually delivering ultra-thin layers of powder onto a surface, one on top of another, until it produces a 3D model.  With each successive run of the ‘printer head’, the powder that is deposited is then given a spray of a binding liquid that' helps to harden the powder and help form a solid object.

The end-result of this process might be a model which designers can use to verify a product’s design qualities before full-scale manufacturing begins, or it might be an end-use specialty product ranging from a component in a complex aircraft engine to a consumer medical  or dental implant.

The big benefits of 3D printing is it’s low cost and speed.  The printers can generally produce models in as little as one-tenth the time it takes other types of machines.  3-D Printer-produced models are throwaway models that allow you to see things you would not be able to see as well on a computer with a CAD system.  The beauty of this approach is people can hold the proposed design, study it, and get a good feel for its shape.

Video Introduction to 3D-Printing

The video below (about 4 minutes) provides an introduction to 3-D printing.

 

 

Implications for Traditional Manufacturing

It is doubtful that this new generation of 3D printers can replace traditional manufacturing methods such as injection molding, machined or milled parts and manufacturing line assembly.  However I do believe that small and medium specialty manufactures should consider implementing 3D printing processes for individual steps or subsystems in a traditional line manufacturing process.  It is very possible that these new low cost printers would help reduce overall manufacturing costs.

Implications for Consumers

Many people in the 3-d printing industry fully believe every household will have a device that’s capable of printing any solid object, and even basic mechanical objects.  Imagine pressing the “bowl” or “cup” button on the 3D printer in the kitchen, followed by the “fork” or “spoon” button. It would even work for larger objects like cutting boards and colanders and laundry baskets — and it would be easy enough to provide fairly extensive customization, too: a stripy cup, with colors of your choosing, a narrower fork, a bowl that is perfectly tapered to support and grip an unwieldy watermelon, and so on.

Implications for Healthcare

Experts also see a bright future for 3D printing in the medical industry.  3D printing technology is currently being studied by biotechnology firms and academia for possible use in tissue engineering applications where organs and body parts are built using inkjet techniques. Layers of living cells are deposited onto a gel medium and slowly built up to form three dimensional structures.  Future applications include Organ printing, bio-printing, computer-aided tissue engineering.  

Vendors

For those of you wanting to learn more about products and services out on the market, here are a few vendor sites to visit

  • Desktop Factory  Makes a very small and affordable printers that truly fit on top of a desk.
  • 3D Systems   Provides mid-range solutions that employ a technology that film transfers photopolymer to build 3-D objects
  • Z Corp  Is widely thought of as providing top of the line printers for an office environment
  • MakerBot, an entry level machine, has sold more than 4,000 so far.
  • Ultimaker, a new entrant into personal 3-d printing

For More Information

Deloitte: Eight Media Predictions For 2010

Deloitte 2010 Media Predictions My last post provided a summary of seven technology predictions from Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) Industry group.  In this post I will provide a summary of Deloitte’s predictions for the media industry.  

Deloitte covers a wide range of topics in these predictions, including demand for on-demand TV, the integration of television and the web and the short-term prospects for 3D television.

Here’s my summary of Deloitte’s eight predictions for media…

  1. Linear's got legs: the television and radio schedule stays supreme.   Deloitte says that most content will continue to be consumed according to broadcasters' programming schedules.   I’d have to agree here, I don’t see this changing dramatically in 2010…or for the next few years.
  2. The shift to online advertising: more selective, but the trend continues.  Deloitte sees this trend accelerating and as a result advertisers will look for better ways to measure the effectiveness of advertising online.
  3. eReaders fill a niche, but eBooks fly off the (virtual) shelves.  Deloitte says that eReaders will not have a breakout year, but we should expect more and more users to download eBooks to their current devices.  For myself, I do find myself downloading e-books every once in a while to my desktop.  But only to skim them, not to read them like I would a book.   While I like the general idea of a Kindle, I think I will wait until there is an e-paper version.
  4. Publishing fights back: pay walls and micropayments.  In 2010, Deloitte says that traditional newspapers and magazines will continue to try to find ways they can charge for online content.  I think this is an uphill battle for the newspapers and magazines.  I can’t see paying for their content online when similar content is available for free.
  5. Music as a service rises up the charts.  Deloitte says music on mobile devices will be hot and at the same time the major industry players will be experimenting more with subscription based music service offerings.  I do see this as a growth area.  However, my 3 year old iPod Nano serves my needs just fine.
  6. TV and the Web belong together, but not necessarily on the same screen.  Deloitte says that the trend towards convergence of the TV/Web experience will continue.  My vision is two screens on the wall side by side.   That is how I work at my desk.  I have a TV on the right side of my desk and a display monitor in the middle.
  7. Video-on-demand takes off – thanks to the vending machine.  Deloitte says that while growth in the internet as a distribution channel for video content continues to grow, the revenue growth in the industry is all in the DVD vending machines. 
  8. One step back, two steps forward for 3D TV.  Deloitte implies that the success of the 3D version of Avatar will not necessarily translate into 3D TV growth.  I don’t see myself buying a 3D TV anytime soon.  In the long run, perhaps for gaming, but not for regular TV shows.

For more on the media predictions from Deloitte, you can download the summary report and/or the detailed report.  For more on the Deloitte TMT predictions, you can check out the Deloitte TMT predictions website.  There’s also the TMT 12 minute podcast.

I’ve embedded the summary report found on Slideshare.

Deliotte: Media Predictions 2010

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Friday Gadget: Augmented Reality Business Card

As gaming technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, we will begin to see that gaming technology make its way into everyday applications.  Augmented reality is an emerging technology that I’ve been increasingly fascinated with as it will further blur the line between what's real and what is generated by computers by enhancing what we see, hear, feel and smell.  I fully expect future movie goers will be experiencing AR in local theatres.

So I was looking for an example of how AR technology could be applied in the business environment and found a neat video I’ll embed below.  In the video, you’ll see a cool augmented reality business card created by James Alliban

In the video James shows a business card with a distinctive pattern on it to a computer equipped with a cheap web camera.  Software on the computer automatically renders a simple 3D object (attached to the card as it moves around in 3D) and plays a short video about the person whose business card is shown.  A nice idea if you want to convey more information about yourself than can possible fit on a paper business card. 

AR Business Card from James Alliban on Vimeo.

If you know of other neat AR applications for business, please comment with a link….thanks!