Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Future's So Bright, I Got To Wear 3D Printed Shades

A revolution will soon be upon us. Guns and bombs won't be used--at first.

It is sneaking up on us. It's not quite here, yet all the basic elements exist. With a little tweaking and some advances here and there, the technology will be in place. I would say less than ten years and, perhaps, much sooner than that. Events are accelerating, artificially compressing time. Let's face it - shit happens faster now.

Paper or plastic? The correct answer is clear now. 

There is a segment of society that will benefit more than other segments, and it does not necessarily involve the wealthy. The creative, adventurous elements of our society will be driving this change; and there are two technological fronts precipitating this revolution--robotics and 3D printing. Using these two things, an individual can make products of his imagination real. The 3D printer will be his parts source and the robot will be his assembly line.

Courtesy of Steve Jurvetson. Some rights reserved.
Baxter the Robot

The robot that can do it, Baxter, is already on the market. You can teach it yourself by showing it what to do, and it won't accidentally kill you. The catch is the price tag, about $25,000.00. Half or less for a used model. The 3D printer has a ways to go, too. Speed has to go up, cost has to come down from the multi-thousand dollar range.  Printing in metal (yes, it can be done) also has to step in with a consumer product, but the technology exists. When the price of these machines reaches a point at which the average individual might say, "Hey, I can buy one of those!" then Katy bar the door. The combination of the do-anything robot and 3D printer will be a volatile mixture that creates a blast of grass roots creativity and manufacturing. You'll have mom & pop businesses selling customized one-offs, competing with companies in big boy pants. After the initial investment, it will allow creative individuals to pump out a different product a week for the cost of some plastic and electricity and design time.

MakerBot II

In the old days, if you had an idea for a product, it would involve several plastic molds at $10,000 apiece. A minimum production run of several thousand pieces and a patent to protect it. A hundred thousand to a quarter million dollars might be involved to find out if a product is a winner.

Actual 3D printed 3D glasses

You now have the option of protecting your idea for a year with a U.S. provisional patent for $130; long enough to find out if you need to spend more if it's a hit. Let's say your product is plastic. Your used Baxter robot ($10,000) assembles and packs for you while your 3D printer ($500-$1500) pumps out parts. You're a manufacturer for less than the price of a used car. If there's only a few parts, fire the robot and assemble it yourself. Now you're a manufacturer for less than the price of a really nice refrigerator.

The definitive answer to “paper or plastic?” is here! 

Now back to the guns and bombs. China's business model could be doomed, as well as every other country's business model dependent on low wage workers to pump the treadles of their engines of wealth. Free societies with large middle class and good education systems will benefit the most. How this will change the world order, who knows. But it could eventually involve conflict as segments of society employed by large corporations are laid off because of the competition of millions of mini-manufacturing facilities all over the world. These worker's economic status will be endangered, and there could be some ill will involved on their part.

What would you make if you had a 3D printer and a robot to put together the parts?

I don't know about you, but I would seriously think about making 3D printers and robots.


Glen Hendrix
author Transmat World

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