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More 3D Printer News 338

tallackn writes "The New Scientist website has an article that tells of a 3D gadget printer which will allow fully assembled electric and electronic gadgets to be printed in one go. 'The trick is to print layer upon layer of conducting and semiconducting polymers in such a way that the circuitry the device requires is built up as part of the bodywork.' When the technique is perfected, devices such as light bulbs, radios, remote controls, mobile phones and toys will be spat out as individual fully functional systems without expensive and labour-intensive production on an assembly line."
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More 3D Printer News

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  • Great! (Score:4, Funny)

    by vought ( 160908 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:09AM (#5045341)
    Now I can prnt my own iPod.
    • Re:Great! (Score:4, Funny)

      by bsharitt ( 580506 ) <bsharitt AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:32AM (#5045433) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, not only can I get music off of Kazaa, I can download a music player too.

      • Re:Great! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by zmooc ( 33175 ) <(zmooc) (at) (> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @07:47AM (#5046083) Homepage
        Moderated as funny. But it's not just funny; it's the future. There is no hardware equivalent to GPL software, but this technology will make it happen. Not just now, maybe in 30 years or so, but once decent 3D printers become affordable, the rest is just a matter of time. Free designs will start showing up. This will be a major step on our way to the not-having-to-work-with-our-hands-"utopia" which will now only have 3 things left to complete:

        • Food. Fully automated production is theoretically possible right now. Preferably in your own backyard, which will become pretty easy if you can print your own farm-robot and run it on GPL-software.
        • Transport. Fully automated transport is theoretically possible as well and is required for the food-thing and the robot-thing to work.
        • Robots. We need robots to build houses, fix things and get natural resources from the ground. These will alse become reality within the foreseeable future, the technology exists, it just needs a bit more work.

        As you probably understand, in this setup nothing will have to be done by us, people. In theory, that is. But one fact is: important things like a houses, food and transport (not the smallest part of the cost of most other things) will become very very cheap. And after that, I don't know.

        • 2 problems.
          1. Software and media is easily copied, but did it become free? Could it someday become free? Possibly. We will go through years, of a battle much worse than RIAA could even dream of over rights to copy physical items.
          2. Lets say number 1 gets worked out. And everything becomes easy to produce. And you can mine the minerals yourself. Land prices will go through the roof, literly. I don't even want to try and think about how expensive land will be. And of course all the rich will then be buying up all the lands so that they can mine it and sell it back to you, and rent you use of property on the land.
    • This system will never work. It's utterly ludicrous. Hmm, printing myself a hard drive using a zillion thin layers... yeah, right, like that will work. Most likely if you can ever get this technology to work it will still be less efficient than an automated assembly line.
      • Re:Great! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DennyK ( 308810 )
        The idea of the current system is not to replicate complex devices like hard drives, but rather cheap, low-performance items like TV remotes, radios, etc. With items like these, the performance and failue issues of the "flexonics" would be much less of a problem. (Circuit switching speed isn't exactly essential when flipping channels, and when was the last time you resoldered a busted capacitor on your $10 AM/FM?)

        I'm sure the cost of a system like this would make it impractical for home use, but it could replace assembly lines for many cheap items. When the costs drop, you may even see them in stores...instead of (over)stocking a couple hundred cheap universal remotes, Wal-Mart will just "print" them, or any number of other gadgets, on demand. And in the future, who knows? Advances in technology may make it practical to use "flexonics" or some derivative for creating more complex circuits. Perhaps one day we *will* be printing our own computer hardware...

  • Horray!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by oateater ( 593228 ) <oateater&nerdclub,net> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:09AM (#5045344) Homepage
    Now I can download that "Real" virtual girlfriend.

    err... ummm...
  • Cool!!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by torpor ( 458 ) <<ibisum> <at> <>> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:11AM (#5045349) Homepage Journal
    Now all we need is a Feed connection to it, and we're in business!

    Damn, I gotta join that Drummer cult too now.

    Woohoo! Great sex for me!!
    • Re:Cool!!! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Burwood ( 634421 )
      Damn and blast! I got here too late to throw out the Diamond Age reference! Seriously, though, anyone have any ideas as to what widespread application and refinement of this technology would mean to the entire labor force? The economic impact of this could be devastating inside a mere 20 years without changing labor's basic place in economics. And if this technology becomes available to people in their homes the way microwave ovens have, we really are looking at creating a Feed system.
      • Re:Cool!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by f97tosc ( 578893 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @03:34AM (#5045619)
        Seriously, though, anyone have any ideas as to what widespread application and refinement of this technology would mean to the entire labor force? The economic impact of this could be devastating inside a mere 20 years without changing labor's basic place in economics.

        Hum. This argument came up shortly after the invention of 'Spinning Jenny', when enraged workers destroyed the first industrial machines.

        Fortunately, they were not very successful in stopping the industrial revolution, and 200 years later we live, relativly speaking, in extreme prosperity, and with similar or lower unemployment rates. This is because whenever old lines of work disappear, new ones seem to appear.

        The key to a strong economy is _not_ to stop innovations, and to maximize the amount of labor needed for a given job. And as for labor's basic place in economics, it should be noted that in present day US, only 10% of the work force or so have industrial jobs.

        Tor The economic impact of efficient production is not devastating; quite the opposite.
        • Makes me think of that Greek guy in ancient times that had invented steam powered machines, but his king did not want him to further work on his invention, fearing mass unemployment under his slaves....
        • by benzapp ( 464105 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @09:37AM (#5046531)
          And as for labor's basic place in economics, it should be noted that in present day US, only 10% of the work force or so have industrial jobs.

          And 20% are paper pushers working in the white color bureucratic world office world, 30% are government workers.. umm working, 10% work hard in the healthcare field making sure everyone can eat as much food as they could ever want. 20% work in the educational/social services establishment making sure everyone is as dumb as possible thus ensuring their own future employment. Everyone else works in some franchise service industry.

          Oh, and lets not forget the 2% of Americans in PRISON.

          The reality is we went from independent farmers in the United States (not in EUROPE however), to factory workers, to jobs.

          Jobs today don't actually contribute anything of value to society. What we have is a gigantic make work program in the aftermath of the industrial revolution. Keep your citizens in school for half their productive life, keep 'em busy in some pointless job, and then shove 'em in a retirement apartment complex for however long they live past 65.

          The economic impact of efficient production is not devastating; quite the opposite.

          This is certainly true. The reality is human ingenuity has made work unnecessary to accomplish anything of real value. The problem we have today is that in a society where we are raised from kindgergarten or earlier to follow orders and be part of a "team", people have to either lead or be led or they cause all sorts of trouble (in the eyes of our rulers). The reality is work is no longer necessary for the vast majority of our citizens and employment/unemployment has little to do with life as it is today.

          I absolutely agree with you that the we should not stop innovation. HOWEVER technology and human ingenuity are making traditional life as humans have known for the past few millenia pointless. Just when technology is allowing for people to spend their lives truly living, we are further turning our people into mindless drones to serve a bureucratic system rather then letting them explore the infinite possibilities of existence on their own.

          Now is the time to give people their lives back. The educational/social services system must be abolished. The industrial economy at least produced things of value, often questionalable. The service economy is nothing more than modern slavery, which the schools gleefully train us to accept. Servitude is for slaves, it is not the foundation of a society or an economy.
          • Welcome to the outskirts of the Singularity.

            This is a mere ghost of what lies ahead. The future will be quite different from the past, as many of the curves have entered the steep part of the ascent (well, with an exponential curve that's a statement that's hard to quantify, I suppose I mean that they are starting to curve upwards when drawn on exponential paper).

            This is not all good. But it's not all bad. What it is, is different. /articles/art0134.html (remove any introduced spaces) gives one projection of what this means, but there are others. The inability to project what will happen is an intrinsic part of the porcess.
  • by jrivar59 ( 146428 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:11AM (#5045350)
    "Printer; Tea. Earl-Gray. Hot"
  • Expensive (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:12AM (#5045354) Journal
    When the technique is perfected, devices such as light bulbs, radios, remote controls, mobile phones and toys will be spat out as individual fully functional systems without expensive and labour-intensive production on an assembly line."

    Not to mention that they will cost several times more than their so-called "labor-intensive" counterparts.
    • Won't this also remove a lot of "labour-intensive" jobs at the same time?
      • If it isn't financially viable, it won't change a thing

        "Look, we have a new device that can make a remote control. Granted, your workers can do the same job for less money, but it's not so LABOR INTENSIVE!"

        Do you think that would convince anybody?
    • Re:Expensive (Score:5, Interesting)

      by exhilaration ( 587191 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:24AM (#5045404)
      Give it a few years - once the technology is sufficiently mature, it *will* be cheaper. If you can eliminate just 20 factory workers making $20k each in the United States, that's a yearly saving of $400k-$500k, based on their benefits, etc.

      Of course, it'll still be cheaper to move manufacturing out of the U.S. You can't beat paying a Mexican or Chinese worker $1k-$5k/year for assembling electronics. This technology will probably be reserved for "high-end" stuff.

      • Re:Expensive (Score:3, Insightful)

        by migurski ( 545146 )

        Once all those manufacturing jobs are eliminated, it had better be cheaper, or no one will be left to buy it.

        • Re:Expensive (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kmellis ( 442405 )
          Once all those manufacturing jobs are eliminated, it had better be cheaper, or no one will be left to buy it.
          Jeez, does anyone understand economics or know history? As things become mechanized and less expensive, other things that are not able to be mechanized remain labor-intensive and scarce in relative terms. This creates demand, jobs shift to these labor-intensive areas, and the transition is financed by the inherent creation of wealth represented by the increased producivity gains in the things that have become mechanized.

          Pampered first-world people whine about how awful and boring their cubicle jobs are, but the truth is that they're doing at least a marginal amount of cognition in these jobs and are not merely doing some repitive manual task. Our big brains are the one thing that we are long way from dupicating in our technology. It makes a hell of a lot more sense, common and economic, to utilize the abilities that humans have that are still unique rather than employing them in repetitive manual assembly lines.

          Look around at the world we live in (in the devloped countries). For example, most of it isn't that great, but there's an emormous amount of all sorts of creative works being produced. In times past, less wealthy times, most of those people (as a percentage of the total population) would never even be given the opportunity. They'd not have the education, and there wouldn't be enough wealth around to pay for it. They're undoubtedly living more fully human lives, with more dignity, than they would have dragging a plow behind their bent backs for thirty years.

          The US now has an overwhelmingly service economy, manufacturing is the smaller portion. Every time factories close down and the jobs move overseas, the lament is that our economy is being wrecked. But our economy is the wealthiest and most wealth-producing economy in the world because of this. We're shifting labor to doing things that we can do better than anyone else and comparative advantage creates wealth--both for us and for those to whom we ship the jobs we no longer want. They're climbing the ladder (some ways) behind us.

          Furthermore, there may be technologies that we'll invent that will allow less-developed economies to jump right over the worst of the industrialization portion. Clean, simple and cheap manufacturing processes are a huge boon. Only people who aren't spenging their time sewing shirts can get educations and contribute to an economy where such advanced processes are invented. This technology may be one of them.

          Finally, given the political will to do so, productivity gains can be diverted from investment into a socioeconomic safety-net. All advanced economies do this to some degree, the US less than most; but my point is that we already have enough wealth generated and a sufficient wealth-creating economy that we could ensure that everyone lives considerably above an absolute (not relative) poverty line. (That won't really work though in terms of personal happiness, as studies have shown that people experience wealth, and poverty, in relative terms.) The work week has been decreasing in Europe for years, and their ability to do this has everything to do with the productivity gains they've made as their economies have matured. The US could do this, too, except that our mindset is always to reinvest gains and to do as little as possible to put a drag on the economy. (Well, except for defense spending and enormous national debt.)

      • Re:Expensive (Score:2, Insightful)

        by MBoffin ( 259181 )
        Even if it does end up being cheaper to produce, don't expect too much of a price drop though. (At least for quite a while.) My guess is companies will charge about the same, and enjoy the increased profits. Slowly, over time, I'm sure the price will come down due to competition.
      • This technology will probably be reserved for "high-end" stuff.

        I expect just the opposite, that you'll find it on magazine covers and on advertisements.

        More than ten years ago I saw some articles describing working, completely optical logical gates. Part of the article suggested that the time to build a full working computer with this technology would be much less than it had been for transistor logic. After all, with transistors the growth to IC and then microprocessors had to be done by hand. All of those masks were done manually and the sicence was developed slowly. Now (even 10+ years ago) we have done all that, we have the CAD software already, and all that was needed was to translate logic design to optical logic. We didn't have to go back to scratch and start over, we could use all the tools we had to build the new technology. So where are the optical computers?

        I ask this here because I see (and saw when I first read about it) that this could be even more impressive than semiconductor inkjet technology. Imagine entire optical computers, complete with display, on a sheet of film. If this technology came to market it would make the semiconductor inkjet look primative.

        • You not only need logic gates, you need to connect them together. You need to be able to make them really small, and they need to be really fast, and you need to do it all really cheap, to beat conventional semiconductor logic. As we're still (according to the people who build this stuff) able to squeeze more performance out of conventional semiconductors for another decade or so, there's no real incentive to throw megabucks at the engineering required to do the above.
          • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @04:00AM (#5045671)
            You not only need logic gates, you need to connect them together. You need to be able to make them really small, and they need to be really fast, and you need to do it all really cheap, to beat conventional semiconductor logic. As we're still (according to the people who build this stuff) able to squeeze more performance out of conventional semiconductors for another decade or so, there's no real incentive to throw megabucks at the engineering required to do the above.

            Connecting them together isn't really much of a problem, you just position the gates so they connect. We're talking about light beams; I think the article pointed out how you could even let the beams cross in the same plane, something you can't do with electrical circuits. Making the gates small enough may well have been the real issue, although the paranoid in me wonders if the technology didn't get developed but is being kept from us.

            The incentive would certainly be there tough. The gates ran at the speed of light, and didn't generate heat. In theory an optical compter could run off room light or at worst a small lamp, could provide it's own optical input and output devices, and should be inexpensive to produce. If you want another economic incentive, imagine this: Software could be delivered on an optical medium that included it's own custom processor designed/optimized for that application. It would go in a stack of optical software that communicated with the storage and primary I/O devices over an optical network built into a predefined location on the media. The whole issue of pirating software changes when the software comes with it's own custom processor right on the media. Software designers can be confident that the hardware will support the application and there will not be other applications taking resources because they deliver it with software, they just need an (optical) network to get to a network printer and I/O devices (and for portable use the optical computer might contain it's own display and input device), or simply hook up to a thin tablet like device. I see economic incentive written all over this.

      • Twenty factory workers can make several million light bulbs a year, for example. And who do you think is going to run and maintain the printing machine?

        This printing-fab process is an attractive fantasy, and may be useful for prototyping, but modern production technologies are EXTEREMELY cost-effective and efficient, and will NOT be affected by this process one bit.

        No offense, but it's quite clear that your experience in manufacturing is pretty limited.
      • This technology will probably be reserved for "high-end" stuff.

        Not for high end stuff, or for low end stuff, but for stuff for which transport and stocking costs are a high proportion of the price. Suppose you need a spare part for your low volume, imported, car. If your dealer wants to give good service, they have to hold thousands of such parts for years, selling them only occasionally - and will therefore charge accordingly. Alternatively, they may not stock it, so your car is off the road for several days while the part is expensively flown in. And after a while, the original manufacturer does a last-time build of the part, and if you need any after they have run out - tough, that car may have to be scrapped. With an "object printer", you can get a one-off done for you within minutes, without the wait.

        Expect this to be used for high-premium customisation as well. Back to the car, suppose you want a custom light cluster (or "limited edition"). Draw it up on the CAD system, print it out - don't spend $20000 on tooling. And when you back into a wall five years later - print another, don't hunt for the tooling and then do a batch of a hundred, throwing away 90 because they don't sell (after occupying warehouse for ten years),

    • Not to mention that they will cost several times more than their so-called "labor-intensive" counterparts.

      Have you any idea how much it costs to do ones-offs? Getting the mold for the plastic parts along would probably cost you over $10,000 (IIRC).

      The only way things are as cheap as they are today is due to mass production. If you want to do a small run, it will cost you an insane amount of money. That's where this printer will pay off.

      And how is it you know that it will always be expensive to produce it this way? Costs will decrease the more it's used, and as the technlogy improves. I thought that it was common knowledge that new technology can be more expensive at first.

      Sometimes I really can't understand the attitude of some people on /.. Here is this really amazing technology...Printing real 3D electronic devices for f's sake. And all you can think up is some poor comment on about how expensive it will be? *sigh*

  • Excellent. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Quaoar ( 614366 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:13AM (#5045361)
    Now I can finally print myself a woman...

    Awww crap, I'm all out of nipple ink!
  • by boomgopher ( 627124 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:14AM (#5045367) Journal
    computers will be able to have babies.

    Then when neural nets become fast enough to allow self-learning - wow...
  • Recursive? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )
    Do we have to pay royalties if we print a printer?
    • Just wait, if mp3s make "exact digital copies" of music there's already someone in the company running in circles about an "exact copy" of a CD, album cover and all.

      On the plus side I'd love to download a new product and print it out, wonder how much piracy there'd be: "pirated PS8, download and print yours today!"

      • Just wait, if mp3s make "exact digital copies" of music there's already someone in the company running in circles about an "exact copy" of a CD, album cover and all.

        Screw making copies of the music, with this we could make copies of the ARTISTS!!! Stuff like that would make the RIAA freak out! :P
  • Who wants to bet? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by saskboy ( 600063 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:17AM (#5045376) Homepage Journal
    I bet that the "toner" for printers like this will be a tad more than the average laser printer toner.

    Anyone want to bet against me?
    • "Anyone want to bet against me?"

      Nope. That'll be the business. First, there'll be people who design patterns to .. uh.. for lack of a better term... replicate. Then, they sell the materials to print the object.

      This could make for an interesting business model. It probably won't be cheaper than going and buying the pieces assembled. However, they can charge a premium if somebody has to have a piece right now right away. Example: You run a factory. A machine breaks and needs a part replaced. You can't take it down for a week to wait for a piece to be manufactured and delivered. With one of these, you can print the more expensive piece as a placeholer until the real one is done. This has been done before.

      I can't wait until these become consumer (or at least small business) level.
  • Not a "3D printer" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:22AM (#5045397) Homepage
    This isn't a "3D printer". This is another "we're going to fab semiconductors really cheap by using a printing process".

    If somebody could actually make that work, flat-panel displays would be made with it. Many people have tried. (Remember "e-ink"? Flexible displays? Same concept.) It's not a new idea; it's an old one that's hard to do. It was first suggested decades ago for solar cell manufacturing. It didn't work even for that, and solar cell fab is very forgiving; as long as most of the cells work and the duds don't short out the array, it's fine.

    Now, if they'd announced "we have it working", that would be a story.

    • by lingqi ( 577227 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:49AM (#5045495) Journal
      I really don't think that's the point, though.

      This is a different way of manufacturing stuff, and in a way closer to the nanotech promise of universal manipulators in its function and operations. (this part is not as important, but i thought i'd point it out - because if the print nozzles get small enough and resolution high enough - what is the difference between this and a univ.manipulator in practical terms?)

      besides, non-electronic stuff can already be "printed."

      there are a few impacts that I think needs to be considered:

      ford completely changed "manufacturing" by inventing the assembly line. Now we are going back the other way of making things one at a time. this is interesting - from a economic perspective if anything:

      there are always tradeoffs in the world (let's focus on manufacturing): let's take, for example, if you want to make a silicon chip for some application; you can either get a FPGA (field programmable gate array) from Altera / Xilinx / whoever, or go for a ASIC process with custom plates and stuff. for big runs ASIC is cheaper, for small runs FPGA is cheaper.

      same thing with buring CDs. you want a few CDs of your stuff? you can burn them or send them to be stamped. under 1000 copies, don't even think about stamping.

      exactly the same in manufacturing - even though assembly line is nice and efficient, there is the infrastructure cost and the start-up cost/delay (especially for big / complex stuff). this is problematic in several ways:

      1) designing for an assembly line sucks because making models of what you are trying to make eventually is a completely different process. making models takes a lot of time, and they are not always 100% reprasentative / difficult to change, etc (why do you think so many uses computers to do industrial design / modelling?)
      2) making changes to an assembly line (say, to correct error / bug) also suck, if in a rigid configuration (what, you mean my gate masks are wrong and I have to etch another one?).
      3) small runs / cheap crap (toys, say) does not warrent a real "assembly line" and a humanized assembly line / having humans make them would be expensive. to solve this problem, many manufacture of cheap stuff offload them to, say, china - where stuff are made by hand in assembly, mostly. This is *still* relatively expensive, prone to humar error, cause bag working conditions, etc.

      being able to "print out" a working model / product solves all three and fits neatly in a segment that desperatly needs, or would at least hugely benefit, from sucha technology.

      I welcome it. It also may mean that instead of building lego robot command toys, my kids will be able to design his whatever gizmo in a computer and just "print it out."

      but when an actual product is as easy to "copy" as a song on a CD - boy we will see some crazy changes in the future! This if anything convinces me of the not-so-distant singularity, and its proximity.
  • by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:30AM (#5045419) Homepage
    According to the article; "But there is a downside. When a flexonic device breaks, it will be irreparable, because none of the embedded components can be replaced. So the technology will fuel the throwaway society."

    Thats the polite term for it. Waste is what it is. And given the current recycling rate, don't expect any relief. Even the author of the article refers to the "throwaway society."

    Over-exposed schoolgirl victim of high-tech bullying []

    • In the long run, technology like this might lead to more eco-friendly industry.

      There's no reason that these things couldn't be made to be very reliable. In fact, they could be even more reliable as there are no solder joints or tired assemblyline workers to worry about, and the parts can't move. The parts can be made with much less material than they would take if you had to ship and install them.

      In the end, it's up to consumers to push for quality over price.

    • Perhaps we can build a device that breaks down the broken components back into 3d printer "ink"?
    • I don't see this technology influencing the trend toward a "throwaway society". We're already there. With the possible exception of some high end electronic products, everything is *already* throwaway. It's cheaper to produce a new product (all that expensive and labour-intensive assembly line production notwithstanding), than it is to pay a skilled worker to repair it. When my clock radio breaks, I buy a new one.
    • OK, I'll play along and pretend that it's cost effective to repair a device like a floppy drive or a CDR drive or even a hard disk now. Not to mention the kinds of things like the article suggested such as a TV remore. So lets pretend that when my $4.99 TV remote craps out I get it fixed, where if this thing breaks I have to replace it. So what happens when I get my TV remote fixed? Someone takes out something, perhaps a $1 IC, and puts a new one in. What do they do with the old dead IC? They throw it away! So If I can print the remote for a buck or less, and throw the old remote away when it fails, how is this any more wasteful than throwing away a part that faied? The TV remote becomes the part.

      The truth is, of couses, that a TV remote is never repaired. It's always discarded, and unless these printed devices were much more prone to failure it will be less wasteful to use and discard them than current devices. Early devices may not hold up well, but I expect before the technology is used to make TV remotes that problem will be resolved.

  • by rosewood ( 99925 ) <rosewood AT chat DOT ru> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:35AM (#5045442) Homepage Journal
    I dont know the specs or how detailed it was, but they had something that did 3d printing at Boeing. I saw it there when I went I took a tour for a class here in Wichita, KS. It was pretty cool. I watched for 2 minutes as it built a plane model someone was working on. The guide was a little mad at me and said I should be seeing whats comming off that printer but since it was building the lower half, he and the engineer agreed I was harmless.

    Ill never forget that weird design, looked just like a dinner plate. I kid, I kid.
  • Missing the point (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Have Blue ( 616 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:43AM (#5045474) Homepage
    Of course making calculators and light bulbs with this device is stupid and unprofitable. The real power of this device will be to allow designs and products that cannot be manufactured by any other means. Eliminate the parts of the product that are only used to hold the pieces together. Eliminate complexities and potential sources of problem from manufacturing components seperately or by seperate processes. Consider a cell phone made by this method... It would be a single chunk of plastic. Completely customizable color and shape and button layout. Waterproof, impossible to tamper with and nearly indestructible (the circuits are embedded in the plastic and the buttons are just flexible or touch-sensitive areas of the sealed shell).
    • You mean kind of like what companies are already doing when they encase electronics in epoxy or other plastics?
    • Short term, the real power of this device is to allow rapid prototyping.

      Long term, the power of this device is the ability to render both shipping and warehousing redundant.

      Now, if it can recycle what it makes, that would really make it killer tech.
  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:44AM (#5045477) Homepage Journal
    One great application for this, if it works, is in helping to bootstrap extraterrestrial habitation. The problem is not to get all of the stuff there (Mars, wherever), but to make new stuff once you are there because you can not possibly afford the delta-V to bring everything. Without this sort of technology (or nanotech, about which I am dubious) once there you are limited to fabrication of early 1900's technology.

    But it's a while before we see a device like this replicate itself. That is the turning point.


    • But it's a while before we see a device like this replicate itself. That is the turning point.
      Interesting. So, if it does come to this point, and can replicate itself under its own power (i.e. gathering the materials itself), could it be considered alive?

      My biology is a little rusty, but this seems like a big step in the direction of being defined as alive:

      from l []

      (1). Organisms tend to be complex and highly organized. Chemicals found within their bodies are synthesized through metabolic processes into structures that have defined purposes. Cells and their various organelles are examples of such structures. Cells are also the basic functioning unit of life. Cells are often organized into organs to create higher levels of complexity and function.

      (2). Living things have the ability to take energy from their environment and change it from one form to another. This energy is usually used to facilitate their growth and reproduction. We call the process that allows for this facilitation metabolism.

      (3). Organisms tend to be homeostatic. In other words, they regulate their bodies and other internal structures to certain normal parameters.

      (4). Living creatures respond to stimuli. Cues in their environment cause them to react through behavior, metabolism, and physiological change.

      (5). Living things reproduce themselves by making copies of themselves. Reproduction can either be sexual or asexual. Sexual reproduction involves the fusing of haploid genetic material from two individuals. This process creates populations with much greater genetic diversity.

      (6). Organisms tend to grow and develop. Growth involves the conversion of consumed materials into biomass, new individuals, and waste.

      (7). Life adapts and evolves in step with external changes in the environment through mutation and natural selection. This process acts over relatively long periods of time.

      If a device like this does come to the point where it can replicate itself, then it would seem to satisfy points 1, 2, 3, and 5 IMHO.

      Who is going to play mad-scientist and program in 4, 6, and 7? Would such a device be "alive"? The lines will blur...

      Just some rampant speculation...cheers. :-)

  • by gilrain ( 638808 ) <gilrain@lunarpolicy. n e t> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:45AM (#5045484) Homepage
    I imagine the real bugger with this, assuming the technology ever works and takes off, would be the cost of the file you print from! Imagine the complexity of the information required to print a working gadget, like that. And there'd also be some charge for the labor needed to design the file in whatever CAD-esque program becomes available for it.

    What would be cool is the open source community eventually embracing it. Imagine scenarios like this:

    Hm, can't find a friggin flashlight when I need one. Guess I'd better print one out...
    Can't afford the one from, cool as it is... What to do?
    Ah! Of course! Download the open source flashlight from and print it out.
    • I imagine the real bugger with this, assuming the technology ever works and takes off, would be the cost of the file you print from! Imagine the complexity of the information required to print a working gadget, like that. And there'd also be some charge for the labor needed to design the file in whatever CAD-esque program becomes available for it.

      Why? Every industrial product already exists in a CAD file. The process of converting it into a 3D representation is no more complex than your printer converting PostScript to a printed page. The hard part is the actual printing in 3D.
  • A food printer.
  • by silentbozo ( 542534 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @02:51AM (#5045502) Journal
    How long before collections of open-source hardware starts circulating? Anyone want to design a reference railgun? :)
  • star trek? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dethl ( 626353 )
    hrm, we're coming ever closer to many more star trek be able to "print" a device of my choosing is could be nice to make the parts printed interchangable...print off pieces, put them together, a functioning device...and if something on it fails, replace that certain piece. Note that as with all technology, everything starts out expensive...maybe the machine itself will become dirt cheap like regular printers (except the companies will charge an arm and a leg for the "ink" still)
  • can't wait to see what they charge for an ink cartridge in this baby...
  • One Word... (Score:2, Insightful)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Current industrial production methods are pretty advanced and efficient. What would be nice is a _drastic_ drop in the cost of the 3D rapid prototyping printers. That would be cool. Think about it, design & print your own cool stuff. Great for hobbyists that want to have "print" the body of an RC car or whatever other models (use yer imagination). Or maybe you can "print" out a copy of a book properly bound and all (if the DMCA gets overturned).
  • coulda used this a few years back.

  • What I'd like to see along these lines is a printer that can print out 3 dimensional CPUs or RAM devices. With the third dimension available, the number of transistors and interconnections per unit volume could be much higher than it could ever be in two dimensions. Of course there would be problems with heat dissipation, but I think they might be solvable (use superconducting materials, or leave holes in the cube for cooling fluids to flow through, or etc).
  • Would this be a Von Neumann printer?
  • Thank Bucky... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @04:00AM (#5045673)
    R. Buckminster Fuller [] would have loved to see his dream mature. Bucky wanted to give a metal lathe to every other person...with the agreement that the first thing they would make would be another lathe for the remaining half of the population.

    This one is for you, R.B. Thanks!
  • by sifi ( 170630 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @04:28AM (#5045724)
    A 3D printer is always going to be more expensive than a production line (why don't they use laserjets to print books?).

    However it could be extremely useful for fabricating spare parts where it would be time-cosuming/costly to get them (on a battle field, in space etc.)
  • The printers will be cheap, but the toner cartridges will be expensive.
  • Interesting (Score:4, Funny)

    by Daath ( 225404 ) <lp@coder . d k> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @04:46AM (#5045754) Homepage Journal
    The pen is mightier than the sword.
    The pen can now print a gatlin gun!
  • Yay! Replicators! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeremy Lee ( 9313 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @04:54AM (#5045767) Homepage
    Since this is something I've known was coming (and no-so-patiently waiting) for a couple of years now, I feel I can put this in context and draw a few conclusions.

    Everyone wants a Replicator. The things we see on Trek, in Science Fiction, resonate with us so deeply because it's all stuff we really, really want. That's the best purpose of SF, to show you a nice shiny concept and have you go "Yeah. I'd love one of those." and then (for some people) spend surprisingly large amounts of time trying to make it happen.

    Go back through history. We've always wanted Magic in our lives, and any technology sufficiently advanced...

    Matter Replicators are coming. The technology began when we started carving things from wood, and will reach it's zenith when we finally get true nanotech in maybe a century. But there are many milestones along the way.

    One we've been living with for a decade now is the Laser Printer, which is essentially a personal Replicator for books. This is an improvement on the old Gutenberg press, which was the industrial equivalent. Never forget that... the modern laser printer would effectively BE magic to Gutenberg. One look and he'd probably break down and cry with awe and joy.

    Of course, then he'd get very angry at the entire copyright situation we've put ourselves in. He'd marvel at our stupidity, inventing a machine that can churn out books faster than you can read them, and then Not Allowing ourselves to use it.

    Most of us now own a device that can, in minutes, 'burn' a data storage media capable of holding more information than exists in the human genome. How cool is that? What we did for books, we also did for audio and video media. And then the same copyright issues closed in to hold the technology back.

    Again, CD burners started as multi-thousand dollar devices that only companies could afford. Microwave ovens followed a similar course into our homes. (though being devices that only convert food from cold to hot, they strain the replicator analogy a little)

    We are slowly surrounding ourselves with specific-purpose replicators, while trying to create all-purpose ones.

    It seems fairly obvious to me that these multi-thousand dollar 3D printers used by industry will eventually drop in price, and soon enter the home, to be played with by hobbyists around the world. And the moment that happens, be prepared for some rather large changes.

    First, expect to see the whole Intellectual Property issue hit another level. Controlling the reproduction of physical objects is what the Patent system is best at, remember? Imagine a world where your personal replicator will only produce licenced objects after the appropriate payment has gone back to a commercial entity. There are a lot of powerful people who want that to happen.

    Then consider the other side, some guy in Guatemala who designs a series of 'patterns' that, if you print them in your 3D printer and assemble the parts, makes another 3D printer. An 'open' printer. When that happens, a wave of change will sweep across the world like nothing we've ever seen.

    The first 'industrial revolution' created factories and warehouses and supply chains. The second one (coming soon to a theatre near you) will mostly tear it all back down.

    Replicators will change the way we percieve physical 'products' in a way we can't predict right now. Will we start keeping most of our 'things' in data storage, printing them out (and then recycling the materials) at need, so our homes are nice and empty? Will we become pack rats, filling our rooms with pointless crap? Probably both.

    Any new view which sees physical products as transient and temporary will be another blow to capitalism, (and materialism, for that matter) which is only kept honest by the transfer of 'real' commodities. What happens to the law of supply and demand when scarcity suddenly cannot possibly exist for a large class of consumer products? We may be facing the end of capitalism as we know it. The only way to keep it in it's current form is to engineer scarcity back into the model, which as the copyright wars show us, is only possible through totalitarian control of each consumer's tools. I don't think we want to go there.

    Yes, 3D printers require processed raw materials (the polymer inks) which initally will have supply/demand issues, but those will dissapear quickly as millions of individuals prototype and play with recycling machines, or automated chemistry sets. In the medium term we might even co-opt nature's replicators and make a few strains of yeast which excrete the relevant polymers (or precursors) after eating recycled waste. There are many paths.

    None of this can happen without computers and the Internet, and without the intellectual freedom to use them.

    The great thing is, it seems to be pretty much inevitable. Whatever the precise mix of technologies turns out to be, these devices are going to forever change our relationship with the physical world.

    I'm ready. Are you?

  • ... a cup of Earl grey, hot?

  • Virus Bait (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kreyg ( 103130 ) <<kreyg> <at> <>> on Thursday January 09, 2003 @05:39AM (#5045848) Homepage
    Just because I'm a pessimist...

    So, any ideas on what will be the first virus payload that targets such a device? I can just imagine the mayhem that would occur if such a thing were to become a common appliance.

    Ooh, I know, print an autonomous spycam that networks with any other such camera or wireless network in transmission range. Easy enough to build, give it some insect-level AI and you might never know you were infected.

    The ability to deply a wide variety of physical objects into my home at will, for anyone able to break into my computer. Hmm, I think I'll be leaving mine off, unplugged and locked up in the basement unless I really, really need it.
  • by md81544 ( 619625 ) on Thursday January 09, 2003 @07:30AM (#5046042) Homepage
    This prompts some interesting questions for the future, with implications are worth considering.

    Imagine a 3D scanner, capable of determining how an object is made (let's say, a Rolex watch). The technology presumably is feasible, what with Xrays, NMR etc. Given sufficiently advanced technology, this scanning could go to the molecular level.

    After having scanned it, and stored the 40Tb "image" on my hard disk, with a *more advanced* 3D printer, I could theoretically churn out exact replicas.

    Are we going to see the crackdown we're currently seeing with Digital Media extended to solid objects?

    And what would happen if you scanned a live animal? Would the copy you create live?

    Oh my brain hurts with the implications

    * * *

  • While im sure it wont be CHEAP.. but in time costs come down for everything.. perhaps to the point of being REASONABLE..

    Not quite a replicator, but good enough to start with..

  • The printers will be sold cheaply but the printing "ink" will be sold at a premium. Oh yes, they will be "winprinters" and have windoze-only drivers.

    DRM built in will prevent you from fabbing virtually anything that could be considered to have been patented, trademarked, or copywrited.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling