The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

3D printing in space – an example of agility

space station.pngI’ve written before about the alignment of 3D printing and space exploration. I just saw the news that NASA is preparing their first 3D printer for space. This makes a great deal of sense to me since anyone who has seen Apollo 13 knows that sometimes things need to be cobbled together to meet the needs of the moment and the only things the astronauts can use are those that came with them.

 

There still is quite a bit of confusion about what 3D printing really can do, as you can tell if you read this post about the announcement. I doubt they will be printing anything more complicated than a framework for holding satellite hardware (as opposed to the whole satellite, the way the article states).

 

I view this approach as analogous to what businesses are trying to do looking to adopt a new style of IT. They are trying to be more agile in how they can address the needs of the day, without having the same level of investment as needed in the past.

 

Bits, atoms and logistics

cloud factory.pngMany times when we think about 3D printing, we think about it in the garage or kitchen. Incrementally, the next big thing is likely the merger of cloud computing, additive manufacturing and logistics.

 

Anyone who has experimented with 3D printing (at least with low end devices) knows that it is full of trial and error and at least as many failures as successes. That is not a recipe for consumer success.

 

On the other hand, I can easily see the use of cloud computing techniques and modern logistics to merge into a specialized manufacturing facility (that have the experts and techniques to drive out the variability), who  can quickly ship just about anything that can be 3D printed quickly, in volume, just about anywhere. If done at a logistics hub (e.g., Memphis), some interesting possibly can develop, since you'll be moving the atoms more efficiently.

 

They can provide product lifecycle management functionality as well.

 

As the quality of 3D printing devices increase, the need for these specialized facilitates may decrease but I doubt we’ll see that anytime soon.

3D printing and the demand for custom

camera mount.jpgWhenever I talk to people about 3D printing there is always interest in being able to create new, custom objects but eventually it gets to a point where they say “Wait a minute, how often will I need to actually do this?”

 

Granted not everyone will have the skills to create their own designs but it is actually not all that hard when you use tools like SketchUp. I’ve printed out designs for neighbors, relatives, friends… Many people have these custom ideas sitting around but no way to do anything about them. 

 

For example, I have two monitors that I stack vertically one over the other, at home. I’d like to put my webcam in a very specific position between the two monitors. This would allow it to appear that I am looking somewhere near the middle of the screen when I am doing a video call – so they don’t get the bald headed view or nostril cam. I also don’t want any of the cables to get in the way of the screen.

My monitor has a strange shape at the top of the housing that is ideal to clip onto, so I made a custom part that positions my camera so that it is out of the way (within the bevels of the two screens). There was zero possibility that this design existed so it took me about 4-6 hours to design and make this rather convoluted shape, with 2 prototypes along the way.

 

There are no fasteners to mar the surface of the monitors and when it clips into place, it is not going anywhere. I’ve taken it on and off a number of times and that was just what I wanted.

 

Here is another article that might give you some ideas about The world's five most fascinating 3D printing projects

Tags: 3D| 3D printing
Labels: 3D| 3D printing

Are printed houses in our future?

futureplanning.pngOne of the areas I’ve touched on before is the concept of large scale 3D printing, essentially enabling the printing of houses. I came across this article on Why 3D-Printed Houses Matter. It is an interesting view of the current state and current misconceptions of what is possible. It also includes a link to a documentary being created about The Man Who Prints Houses showing the issues one person and his company had in making his dream a reality.  

 

May people have trouble wrapping their mind around a 3D-printed house, thinking it would be done board-by-board or brick-by-brick, when in reality much of the structure would be extruded (relatively seamlessly) onsite out of specially created materials. This will enable radically new topologies and techniques.

 

In the same way that 3D additive and subtractive manufacturing techniques are changing how we fabricate components and products, the same shifts could easily take place in the building market for some situations. The following TED Talk Video gives a great overview:

 

 

It makes me wonder about other industries and their future integration between computing and the basic tasks that need to be performed.

Medical application of 3D printing

3D print samples.jpgI mentioned a while back that I purchased a 3D printer (PrintrBot). After many hours of assembly and calibration, I actually produced some parts that look close to the models (chip bag holder and a cube calibration model).

 

Making my printer work made me even more impressed when the story broke about a 3D printed tracheal implant saved a baby's life. Essentially, they were able to print a splint to keep the baby’s air passage open, using a material that can be absorbed over time once it is no longer needed – this is another example of the intersection of 3D printing and medicine.

 

I was talking last evening with a product developer at a large food manufacturer who met with his tooling supplier yesterday. The supplier is producing production tooling direct from models using 3D printing and food grade plastic. You can expect to see some really interesting approaches to seasonal cookies/snacks in the future. These techniques are definitely entering larger volume mainstream manufacturing as well.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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The opinions expressed above are the personal opinions of the authors, not of HP. By using this site, you accept the Terms of Use and Rules of Participation