Sunday, March 23, 2014

3D Printing Good Enough to Eat

I ate this tasty little sugar confection at TED this year, at the 3D Systems display. It was made by their 3D printing* machine specialized for making edibles. If you look carefully, you can see that kind of structure could not be made any other way than through 3D. 

There were other intricate edibles on display in these fancy cake stands.

There were examples of once-impossible objects in other materials. As Avi Reichental, CEO of 3D Systems, said in his talk, not only is such complexity now possible, but it's free!

3D Systems machines range from $10K to $1M. The man beside at the display was visibly drooling over the $10K machine. Lest you think such hankering is unrealistic, recall the infamous statement of Ken Olsen, CEO of minicomputer manufacturer Digital Equipment Corporation, "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."

Avi Reichental gave an interesting talk on the implications of 3D printing. When you have such machines, accessible in price, which can go from design on the computer right to manufacturing, in the hands of one individual, you have really democratized manufacturing. Manufacturing can be accomplished in small runs, rather than requiring enormous scale for cost-effectiveness. This can contribute to the repatriation of manufacturing to countries with high labour costs. There's even a new word for that - reshoring.

Today's Maker Fairs are like the early computer conferences with their eager computer tinkerers. Now such individual capability for craftsmanship can come to the an individual in a totally modern way. Reichental recounted the proud artisan his cobbler grandfather had been and ended by saying "I am a cobbler too".

* For anyone not familiar with 3D printing, it's defined in Wikipedia this way:
3D printing or Additive manufacturing[1] is a process of making a three-dimensional solid object of virtually any shape from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using an additive process, where successive layers of material are laid down in different shapes.[2] 3D printing is also considered distinct from traditional machining techniques, which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting or drilling (subtractive processes).

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