Thursday, March 31, 2011

Will 3D Printing Kill Jobs?

A question on the forefront of many within the manufacturing and design industry, and with the advent of large scale 3D printing, a big question for the construction industry. Fabbaloo raised the same question in their blog, quoting several economic and business texts.

Essentially, barriers to entry become lower (start-up costs and time to pay of debt). In that case, competition for customers becomes fiercer, forcing many established companies to shed variable capital costs (eg. Labour). The flipside is that products may become cheaper - 3D printing is at a stage where only the most basic techniques are widely available. Makerbot, RepRap use ABS and PLA plastics and additive techniques..CNCs and draftbots use drills, wood and ink....but overall, there are major limitation in what they can make. So perhaps jobs will be lost in just particular sectors.

Intellectual property of physical products are threatened - what has not been disclosed in the news about 3D printing is that 3D scanning is getting better and cheaper too. I am currently working on my own design for one....costs so far: 45 bucks. Simplistic designs can be copied and reproduced - toys and games. Open Sourcing of designs along with community effort to improve said designs have made Thingiverse and Shapeways the touchstones they ought to be. The problem is that existing designs and all the hardwork involved in their R+D are threatened. Why make a product when you can copy someone else? Why make a product if I can't make money of it? Well, there is no replacement for good quality....and that still matters...let me illustrate this.

Imagine a world where there are thousands of 'print shops' that can make virtually any part with any material. A part blows up in your car, the master cyclinder. You reconstruct it, you scan it, send it to the shop, and they use laser sinistration to make the part. Money and time is saved. Quality it may not -  that is the catch with 3D printing and scanning for the next decades...low quality. And the only thing holding the bottom of any industry is doing their job right..producing quality products.

Lets talk about the Dshape's impact on the US construction industry which is made up of 710,307 companies and contractors, makes 1.2 Trillion and pays out 250 Billion to 7 million employees. The Dshape can make a lot of basic masonry as well as building structures. It also needs 2 people to run it and is completely automated. For concrete makers and users, this is a serious threat. Yet for carpenters, landscapers and every other industry involved with finishing, there is a big advantage. They will have plenty of business to finish the shells of these buildings. Not only that, carpenters can use cheap CNC machines to produce customized products. Landscapers can make customized garden ornaments with the Dshape. Most importantly, it reduces costs of house building. Arguably, it opens up the possibilities of design. As Thingiverse and Shapeways have demonstrated, Open Source and 3D printing are meant to go together. Large Scale 3D printing of buildings will have to step up and change the Construction Industry and bring it into the Open Source fold.

Open Source changes the mode of work, and i believe it makes for more productive workers. I certainly believe that industry will become even more diffuse and atomized, which can often strengthen an industry rather than weaken it. For the construction industry, that could be a major boon.

Manifesto of Done and other thoughts

Cruising through Make Magazine's blog and I noticed a post titled: "The Cult of Done Manifesto". Written by Bre Pettis (founder of Makerbot) and Kio Stark, it outlines 13 simple rules to follow. Best way to sum it up? Just do it.

The Cult of Done Manifesto
  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you're doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you're doing even if you don't and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you're done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It's boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Post!!1!

This is the first post of what I hope is going to be a lot of fun. Talking about my thoughts and progress with 3D printing.

There's a revolution ready to happen, and I intend to be right there when it happens.

But where and when?

Well as lots of people may be aware, 3D printers have become very cheap - The RepRap and Makerbots Thingomatic are prominent examples. But it is still firmly in the realm of hobbyists. More advanced high-quality (and reliable) printers are far too expensive at the moment, only available to companies, universities and Richie Rich.

Although nothing ages faster than predictions of the future, I predict that in 10 years we could be able to buy these printers for less than 500 bucks. We are forgetting the fact that these printers can make their own parts. If the ease and cost of making almost every part is low enough, anyone can enter the market and compete, driving the cost down.

But I'm not expressly interested in 3d printing at that scale. I'm thinking about 3D printing buildings. This has been done already.

The Dshape printer was developed by Enrico Dini, and patented last year. It can print objects as big as 6 x 6 meters (height is unknown...possibly 6+). In essence, nozzles spray a chemical ink over a layer of sand in discreet areas which harden in time for the process repeated. Its simple, effective and revolutionary.

In my conversations with Dini, the constructive quality and resolution is not high enough to create buildings from scratch - there are major limitations. However, these limitations are not as difficult to overcome.

In the meantime, there are limitless options for making money - artificial stones and objects, statues, sculptures, moldings, small sheds or shelters, molds for casting concrete or other objects. It comes in dolomite, grey or granite colours...not much variation at this point.

So the question for me can we take advantage of this technology and get a headstart on competitors? (There are - Obviously, market to virtually everyone. The start-up costs are somewhat prohibitive - a single 6 x 6 Dshape printer costs 280,000 Euros. However, the running costs are not as much you would expect. Electricity consumption is not high (peak 40 kWh, usually 2kWh), materials are not terribly expensive. At 15 - 30 cm of layering a day, a small bus shelter of 2.5 m would take 1-2 weeks! Plus, any screw ups would badly affect speedy production.

In  retrospect, the technology has gone pretty far in the 5 years it has been moving, and following the speed of small scale 3D printing, we can expect reliability and quality in large scale printing to go up.

With the right investment, of course. That is my challenge.