3D Printing – Beam me up Scotty

6 12 2011

I had a few comments that my last blog was a wee bit on the heavy side. So I thought I would lighten things up a bit before Christmas.

On hearing that the latest Mars rover “curiosity” had started its 8 month journey to the red planet, I got to thinking that we haven’t really come a long way, in space exploration, since I was a kid. I remember sitting, glued to the TV in total fascination as Neil Armstrong did his famous moon-walk.

Not long before the moon landing, my family bought a colour TV. The salesman proudly told us that it was the 9th colour TV in Aberdeen (my great grand-mother moved in with us – she bought the TV to keep herself occupied). It was such a novelty that we would have the whole neighbourhood crammed into our lounge on a Thursday night to watch High Chapparal and Star Trek. Since then I have often thought how great it would be to have a replicator machine (as seen in the canteen on board Star Trek) to dish up any meal (or drink) on demand. I never really thought that we would see anything like it in my day………but maybe we will.

The visual communications industries, including print, have definitely not slouched in progress. Certainly TV’s have come a long way from the majestic 25″ model that graced my family lounge in the late 1960’s.  That TV was valve driven and housed in a cabinet bigger than the desk I’m sitting at writing this blog. It was installed by piano movers. Today a 50″ LED screen can be moved by one person (if they had arms long enough). I seem to remember the crew on the bridge of Star Trek all staring at a large flat screen………probably around 100″ – no longer science fiction.

Other devices on Star Trek seem to have entered into our daily lives too.

Scotty "I'm not sure what happened last night - but get me out of here"

Jim’s “communicator” is suspiciously similar to a flip top mobile phone. In fact the communicator seems positively clunky and crude compared to the latest phones……………….and no one can deny that all the captains, Jim, Jean Luc, Janeway – all read their favourite novels and reports on i-pads (or was it an android device).

Other things like automatic sliding doors seemed to have crept into daily life very quietly. I wondered in fascination , as a child, at how the doors on the Enterprise seemed to know Spock and the crew were coming………..now, if a glass door doesn’t open on its own accord for me, it takes me a few seconds to figure out how to open the bloody thing…………..either that or I walk into it.

Well the print industry has definitely kept up with the space age. We can now, through digital print, print every copy with unique elements of images and text. We can print one-off books and posters in full colour. The famous Star Trek replicator may, in reality, be a new 3D printing press.

3D printing or “rapid prototyping” came out a few years ago and, at that time, I saw a device that used a type of melted plastic, extruded into rough shapes and cleaned up with lasers. I thought then that it could be the beginning of a “replicator” and my comment was “It will be at least a decade before it can produce  something intricate and another decade before they can do it with some sort of solid material.” In other words I thought it was just a neat tool used for creating plastic prototypes.

Take a look at this article

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHnMj6dxj4&feature=youtu.be

It depicts 3D printing in action. There are a now a few manufacturers of 3D printing or fabrication machines. Trek bicycles (I want one) use a 3D press to manufacture new parts for research and development. They can “print” all the parts a new bike and put it together for fit and feel in a matter of weeks – where they took months, or even years, to completely revise designs in the past.

The health sector has really taken hold of this technology using it to produce precise orthotics for shoe inserts, dental implant and prosthetics. Mindblowingly, they are starting to explore the possibility of printing human organs, layering cells upon cells to build up (or grow) a completely compatible organ for transplants http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/09/3d-printing-blood-vessels/42608/

"McCoy - I want one of those i-Pad 6's for Xmas"

Short term, 3D printing will prove to be very beneficial for designers (of just about everything) and may kick off a mini revolution in small industry. This is because 3D printing uses “additive manufacturing”.

Traditionally we have employed a wasteful method of subtractive manufacturing. Say we want to build a car –  we basically manufacture each part out of a block of steel and shave off bits (or subtract) until we have the correct shape. The 3D method builds up (or adds) each part, layer on layer without wasting the raw material. Obviously as resources grow more scarce in the future – additive manufacture methods will be more favourable.

This could lead to the ultimate in print on demand……….my Star Trek replicator. Heading up to Xmas it would be really handy to print up a turkey, ham and maybe a bottle of Speyside single malt.

Feel free to make comments or contact me if you want to discuss any topic or visit any of our plants.

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One response

18 10 2013
consulting marketplace

Good post. will come back to this blog again

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