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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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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