Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Our Next Industrial Revolution Could be Off-World

According to Wikipedia, 3D printing is:
...a phrase used to describe the process of creating three dimensional objects from digital file using a materials printer, in a manner similar to printing images on paper. The term is most closely associated with additive manufacturing technology, where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material.
The technology originated in the rapid prototyping of custom components where speed and convenience were valued over the high manufacturing costs. However, those costs have dropped dramatically over the last decade and this has led to the growing use of 3D printers in production manufacturing. Here's a recent CTV News story, focused on a Canadian example.

Virtually any raw materials can be used to manufacture components from 3D printers. For example, the February 7th, 2012 Sydney Morning Herald article "3D printing: saviour or piracy tool" discusses EOS Germany, which builds 3D printers "able to create metal objects as robust as cast parts, and often as strong as forged parts" which, at the very least, suggests new business models for the auto parts industry. The article also mentions transplanting a jaw bone produced by a 3D printer and how custom items could be printed from precious metals and other materials for a fraction of the typical cost.

In essence, virtually anything physical could be copied for use in much the same way as audio, video or other information is currently duplicated. The January 24th, 2012 ZDNet Australia article "Pirate Bay to allow real-object downloads" reports on those concerns among copyright experts and on the recent decision by the notorious file sharing website to host a public repository for the mock-up files and designs which 3D printers use as templates in order to create physical objects.

This incredible and ongoing drop in price and complexity is especially suitable for frontier environments like space which possess few existing manufacturing facilities and tend to worry less about copyright infringement. Here are a couple of quick examples:
  • The February 3rd, 2012 FastCo Design article "No Joke: These Guys Created A Machine For Printing Houses On The Moon" discusses the use of a technique called "contour crafting" which is essentially a variation of the 3D printing technology, to build structures for humans on the Moon. According to the article, Moon rock  is surprisingly similar to concrete and would make a suitable material for buildings. 
  • According to the January 23rd, 2012 Hosted Payloads article "DARPA Eyes Hosted Payloads to Re-Use In-Orbit Antennas," the US Department of Defense (DOD) is "seeking assistance from the space industry to address a host of technical challenges that must be overcome to salvage antennas and other components on board defunct satellites." While some of  these technologies would be salvaged for direct re-use and this would be the prime driving component of this initiative, other components could certainly be collected and used as raw material for 3D printers making new components.
Canadian organizations with some expertise in 3D printing include Toronto based HackLab TO, the Kitchener based Kwartzlab Makerspace, the Vaughn based Proto3000 (which provides services to industry) and the Nova Scotia Community College Waterfront Campus. There is also a design team in Winnipeg building a "two-passenger hybrid car designed to be incredibly fuel efficient, easy to repair, safe to drive, and inexpensive to own" using parts constructed in a 3D printer, according to their website at Urbee: A Natural Way to Drive.

Expect more of these small little firms and collectives to spring up over the next little while. Among other things, they are part of our upcoming next industrial revolution.


  1. Excellent post! Also of note, the D-shape, the world's largest 3d printer, can use simulated lunar regolith as a material component for their filament. Using advanced robotics this method has the potential for developing a host of lunar infrastructure necessary for long-term human habitation. It would not be just one company with one machine there, it will be an entire industry of 3d printer companies building infrastructure for millions of future humans as we expand into the solar system.

    James Wolff

  2. excellent ! i have not seen such article before ! excellent job boss !

  3. Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact was once a enjoyment account it. Glance complicated to more brought agreeable from you! However, how could we keep in touch?

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  5. I found it real exciting to imagine the future of 3d printing.


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