Facilitating Automation

Three-Dimensional Printing, Revisited

Is it possible to innovate innovation? Does anyone else often worry about the their career track in fear of constantly reviving new skills? Will the term “professional” one day no longer seem exclusive? Wait. I can create the cheap nob that broke off of my bathroom vanity, without going to the hardware store?

Upon reading a Wired article, published last week about MakerBot’s 3D printer (that was brought to my attention by Meaghan Fitzpatrick, in a discussion reply), I couldn’t resist but to revisit my original blog, “Biology Breakthrough.” The blog posted in Unit 1, outlines Biomimicry and the future of printing, specifically 3D printing. Having read many comments and articles on the topic of 3D printing, I decided to make sense of its inception before the mainstream floodgates open. In doing so, I’ve thought about the impact of 3D printing on our current model of 2012 technology.

What Happens to the Retailer, Small and Large?
Three-dimensional printing is not new, yet the likeliness of it becoming mainstream, just as with the smartphone, tablet or the Do-it-yourself community is happening soon. How soon? Yesterday soon: September 19th, when the MakerBot Replicator 2 was made available (in very low quantity of 2,100). However, it might be another year or two before mainstream 3D printing arrives on the store shelf. So, if desktop manufacturing is becoming the next extension of home office gadgetry, what will happen to the retailers that sell manufactured goods?

Aren’t We Continuing to Nurture a Wasteful Consumer Mentality?
For every little gadget that’s “Made in China,” we’ll eventually replace it by creating it ourselves with “Made in My Garage.” This is great news for the D.I.Y. type, but what about the possibility of producing endless waste? Do I worry about what the future of hoarding awaits? “The entry level Replicator 2 uses an ecofriendly bioplastic called PLA (polylactic acid), which can be made from cornstarch” (Anderson). I don’t know how I feel about imagining every household garbage bin filled with corn waste. It’s not exactly a selling point, yet research and development teams at MakerBot are experimenting with wood pulp and sugar as alternatives. Printing innovations are already in place with printing food, human cells, footwear and, uniquely, animal prosthetics. After all, just about everything that is manufactured has survived the design phase (testing and redesign) as a printed 3D model, prior to its final product.

Is 3D Printing For Everyone?
I might not yet believe that 3D printing is for everyone, yet it should be a significant change in the way that designers operate. I was first introduced to CAD in high school and revisited CAD-like models in 2005, when learning how to use SketchUp (before Google bought out @Last Software). By 2006, I was part of a design team to facilitate and edit 3D models of buildings for a university campus map. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my self-initiative, I wouldn’t have realized the potential in what I was doing. MakerBot cofounder, Bre Pettis, paints the future of 3D printing in another light. Pettis foresees the consumer (of all ages) watching objects printing right before their eyes, upon visiting a retailer or 3D printing manufacturer. Consumers unwilling to create their own goods could therefore simply purchase goods on the spot instead.

What About Insta-Bombs, Guns and Patent Infringements?
Hmmm. That’s a “loaded” question, but legitimate.

Would It Be Possible to Print a House?
Yes. The shell and interior of the house could be completed piece by piece. Could you imagine how that might smell in plastic? Playing devil’s advocate, I wonder about the shelf life of a printed “thing.” Nowhere (yet) have I found if testing has been conducted for how durable objects are, designed by a 3D printer. In other words, maybe we really are just encouraging another means for producing more waste.

Works Cited:

Anderson, Chris. The New MakerBot Replicator Might Just Change Your World. Wired Magazine. 19 Sept. 2012. Web. http://www.wired.com/design/2012/09/how-makerbots-replicator2-will-launch-era-of-desktop-manufacturing/

Starr, Benajmin. 3D Printing to the Rescue: Bald Eagle Gets a New Beak. Visual News. 18 Sept. 2012. Web. http://www.visualnews.com/2012/09/18/3d-printing-to-the-rescue-bald-eagle-gets-new-beak/