A New Chapter

16 06 2015

Time for a changeSONY DSC

Its been over a year since  my last  blog and there are many reasons for that. Well, safe to say- this post will be the return of the blog and will see more than a few changes around format and content.

The first big change is, that after over 12 years at Wickliffe, I have jumped ship and now look forward to sailing on a very different boat called printing.com. I will have to admit that when I resigned from Wickliffe I was not sure that I would be staying in the Printing Industry. Luckily, I was exposed to the energy and ideas of the printing.com team and am now, once again, very excited about the future of print in Dunedin and Otago. Best of all  – I get to stay and work in Dunedin, while my two live-in divas go through their pre-University years.

The printing.com print supply model is a unique take on the printing market for New Zealand. printing.com focuses entirely on providing every region  access to the best of quality print and services through a mix of good advice, people and web portals.

We are NZ’s very own wholesale printer. We batch , or gang run, print jobs from all over NZ every night – effectively allowing for the various jobs to “share” the set up costs…………which lets small businesses choose better quality print at lower prices.

The global print industry has seen the overall volume of print almost halved compared to 10 years ago. In the US and Europe much of the volume handled by small printers has moved to large online web-to-print services that can gang up multiple business card, leaflets and other print products. Small shops still exist for customers who can’t wait for more than one day or have more complex jobs. Our goal is to provide the best of both worlds – a low cost web-to-print service as well as a local digital shop for same/next day requirements.

So whether your preference is to order remotely on-line from your office in the paddock or sit down with a real person in your local town, we have the people and tools for you. Check out the group tab for nationwide site locations and our web site for online tools.

Well then – I guess that’s enough selling already (just call me or come into the store if you want to find out more ) so lets get into some proper blogging and print info.

3D Printing

It seems 3D printing is on everyone’s lips at the moment. There isn’t a week that goes by when I’m not asked by a customer to explain 3D printing.

Technically its a bit of stretcher to call this technology printing – but nevertheless it is a fascinating subject because of where the technology is heading and the potential it holds for all of us.

As far back as the 1980’s additive techniques have been used for prototyping. The term “additive” means that if I were to build a prototype for my mountain-bike chain ring/cog I would build one up out of layers of material, such as plastic or paper (we can start to see where the relationship to “printing”  comes from), until I had the finished product. The traditional “subtractive” method of prototyping was to file or cut the prototype out of a block of wood, plastic or metal ie. keep on subtracting material until you end up with the shape or form that you desire.

I wrote a blog 3 years ago (see “3D Printing – Beam me up Scotty” July 2011 in this blogs archive bar) which is still relevant if you want to check out where 3D printing evolved from. So what has changed over the last three year to make everyone start talking about this again?

Well, a couple of years ago the first consumer versions of 3D printers started to appear as people imported them. In fact, the sales of 3D Printers have grown 30% year on year for the last three years. Prior to this 3D printers were only available to the likes of large manufacturing companies and Universities. The first consumer models were extremely slow, the resolution was poor (the models made had a lumpy or rough finish) and you couldn’t make anything much bigger than a matchbox.

Some of the Maker Bot dometic 3D printer models available today

Some of the Maker Bot domestic 3D printer models available today

Buyers of the first consumer models were often disappointed to find out that they may need extra 3D software and perhaps a 3D scanning device if they wanted to copy something. However, that is all changing as some big player are entering the 3D consumer market and competition is heating up. You can already find 3D printers at outlets such as Warehouse Stationery and it won’t be long before most of the big retail stores are offering new bigger, faster and more capable devices for domestic users. Right now the domestic versions will set you back around the price of a large curved screen TV.

I recently read about a new consumer model marketed by Ricoh which stands at almost half a meter high – so just like TV’s they are getting bigger and smarter every year. If you want to see what they can do (and how much it will set you back) just call your local Ricoh or Xerox rep – they have many excellent samples to show you what these can produce.

So why would you want one of these 3D printer gadgets?

Most blokes will not need an answer to this – its the same answer to why do we need the latest bluetooth/noise cancelling  headphones, curved screen TV, iPad and most of the power tools in the shed. Other than that, to be honest, they are really for hobbyists – model makers, jewellery and arts and crafts. They make great back- scratchers, massage rollers, replacement toy parts, ornaments, garden gnomes, phone cases, chess sets etc.

Of course the larger more expensive industrial models are already involved in producing custom prosthetics and other custom fitted devices such as hearing aids , machine parts and a number of other interesting innovations. 3D printers will continue to be extremely valuable for prototyping – but I doubt they will be fast enough for mass production at any stage in the near future.

The Future

At the moment most domestic devices are limited to the use of extruded plastics and polymers. However, the applications will move quickly as new materials are able to be used as the base material in these devices.

There has been some major progress in the use of amino acids and living cells as base material. This could enable the 3D printing of food and even replacement human organs in the future. This sounds far fetched but the Chinese, who are pioneering this aspect of 3D printing, are already experimenting with skin tissue, kidneys and liver replacements.

The Scots are already having some success with 3D “printing” chocolate and pasta. Some advances have also been made with the use of molten metal to produce metal prototypes – although it is still easier to 3D print the moulds for metal prototypes and then cast them  – as has been done for centuries.

With all these advances it is not a huge leap to one of my favourite dreams – the Star Trek replicator. I fondly remember watching the old TV series as a child – in awe as the Enterprise crew ordered whatever they wanted from the replicator device. Seconds later their favourite meal or drink was “replicated”. Back then I would have replicated a phaser or the latest toy – now I would be happy with a good red wine or a single malt.

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2 responses

16 06 2015
Anna Sawers

I better not let my husband read your blog. He is already building all sorts at home in the way of electronics and I’m sure a 3D printer is next on his list. Great blog Paul 🙂

16 06 2015
southernprintman

Hi Anna,
I saw Verne (I think it was him) looking very dapper in his cap at the exhaust shop this morning. Hope all is well – will pop in to catch up soon.

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