Monday, March 10, 2014

3D Printing Adventures


I've felt all my life that Henry David Thoreau was speaking directly to me personally when he wrote about following the beat of that different drummer. I've diligently followed that wisdom since first encountering it as a schoolboy; to the eternal dismay of my parents who had my life all mapped out for me in tidy five year plan increments.  It helped a lot that my release from the educational system neatly coincided with the emergence of a new social culture in 1967. 

It seemed at the time like everyone was wanting me to pick a life just like theirs; yet when I saw how unhappy they all were it didn't make any sense to work that hard just to be so unhappy; so I've been following that different drummer ever since, with mixed results to be sure, but by far more good than bad.  Turns out that drumming sound is actually your own heartbeat, and we all know we just can't go wrong following our hearts!

It never seemed very logical to me that a man should devote 30 years of labor building somebody else's dream; just for a drinking problem and an early grave; no matter how many others were doing it.  My philosophy has always been to set about doing what makes my soul resonate, following my heart, then find means to an income to support it.
Again, mixed results, but more good than bad.  In the fullness of time this philosophy led me to working in the human potential movement, and vibrational medicine which became my chosen career.  In the latter part of 1998 some researchers in the field of Bio-feedback created the first computerized full color aura imaging system, and naturally I just had to have one despite the ten grand price tag for the system.  As I was trying to line up the creative financing angle; my closest friends kept warning me not to invest so heavily in computers with the dreaded Y2K looming on the horizon.  I of course ignored them all, bought the system in 1999 and began doing business as The Little Shop of Auras...with the marketplace all to myself for over a year before I saw someone else with one. 

Seven years later I retired, & sold my business so I could focus my energy in other directions for a while; but always keeping my eye open for another great ride like the one I got from the aura machine.  If I had to pick one factor which kept my little aura machine humming for so long, it would have to be my long time friend Ivan Taylor who is unsurpassed in all things relating to computers and emerging technologies.  We share several areas of common interest and like everyone else, when we run across something cool we send it to each other.  A few years ago I saw a film which featured something called a rapid prototyper which quickly manufactured any item programmed into it.  Last year when I began seeing news stories about 3D printing, I'd send them to Ivan, and vice versa.  The more I learned about this technology, the more intrigued I became with it; seeing the many applications for it in everyday life. 
The concept of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing isn't all that new actually, as it was first developed in the mid-80's.  It wasn't until about 2010 that the technology became reasonably affordable for non-industrial users, like you and me!  Remember The Jetsons, with their futuristic home full of robotic appliances?  Well, 3D printing is the first step in that direction, household robotics.  OK, the second step if you count the Roomba vacuum cleaner.  Like it or not, robotics is the trend of the future, it's here to stay.

On several levels, this idea of 3D printing began to ignite a dormant fire within me, and before long I knew it was the next ride I've been waiting for, and the decision to buy one kinda made itself.  Step two was all about convincing Ivan to be my business partner and resident wizard.  I knew his head & heart would be up for the challenge, but wasn't sure if he'd have the time between being married, his regular job, and an impressive assortment of extracurricular activities.  I'm one of those folks who have become computer functional without being terribly computer literate, so I explained to Ivan that if he signed on with this venture, he'd be pulling the majority of the load.  He just grinned like the Cheshire cat, and we were off to the races, doing business as Skull Works 3D Printing.

"By the year 2030 home robotics will be the fastest growing industry in America."
                                                                                                 ~ Bill Gates~

We purchased the latest model of the Makerbot Replicator, a couple of months ago for about half of what the aura machine cost; and somehow managed to create space for it in Ivan's computer lab.  The thing is absolutely mesmerizing to watch, almost hypnotic sometimes, as it builds an object layer by layer.  The only sound you hear is the faint whirring of servos and tiny motors as the robot goes about its task.  When it stops, you open the transparent door, and remove your newly created object, whatever it is, and the list of possibilities is limited only by the imagination.  Depending on the size of the job, and other variable factors; print time ranges from several minutes to several hours. 
I can already hear many of you asking what practical everyday use is it to have such a machine sitting near your computer at home?  Well, just for starters you can build your own replacement parts for things like broken knobs, light fixtures, tools & utensils, cell phone covers, GoPro camera mounts, and such; not to mention custom boxes of every design & description, toys, gifts, and even things you dream up all on your own.  Every aspiring inventor needs a 3D printer!
The website thingiverse.com/ is an excellent source for design plans from which to print 3D objects, as well as being a portal into the 3D printing community online.  The Makerbot can also scan any 3D object, then print it out perfectly, although the 3D scanner unit is a spendy optional accessory.   There is a growing interest in custom 3D portraits, and statuettes; where a persons face, or upper bust profile is scanned, then printed out.  Imagine a 3D family portrait sitting on your desk instead of that flat photograph!  That's what is so amazing about this technology, the possibilities are nearly limitless, and it seems every month there are new developments sprouting up, like 3D printing in metal as well as plastics!

Since Ivan lives some 40 miles away, we get together once a week, mostly to keep me up to date on what's going on with everything.  Every week he brings some samples of what he's been printing, and every week the objects are more complex, and interesting.  Then last week he shows up, with just a handful of small gears, bushings and other unrecognizable bits & bobs from the current project. Curious, I asked "What Project" to which he replies, "the Makerbot is replicating itself, so we can set one up in your house too!  As it turns out, everything needed to construct one is "open source" except for a few components which total under a hundred bucks!                                                                
Already there are numerous applications for this technology: in addition to concept models and functional prototypes, 3D printing is being used in fashion, footwear, jewelry, engineering, dental, automotive, and aerospace, as well as the construction industry.  I was just getting used to the idea they can now 3D print a house in less than a day, when the news comes out about the medical industry 3D printing a human liver, and other tissues, not to mention prosthetics like legs & feet.  As I said, limited only by the imagination. 

The market for 3D printers and services was worth 2.2 billion dollars in 2012, and that is up 30% from 2011.  Looks to me like Bill Gates knows what he's talking about!  I think that statistic also nicely answers those who claim 3D printing is some kind of fad, like pet rocks or Mohawks.  There were those who said the same thing about television, and just look how wrong that was.   When computers first came on the scene the cost pretty much precluded the average person from owning one, but now you can get one for under $300 bucks; and it will be the same for 3D printing, and home robotics in general. 

While our second 3D printer is being replicated I'm trying to get up to speed on things so when mine is done it can be put to work right away; although I may not be all that critical to the equation, as Ivan tells me he can view the progress & give them instructions via his cell phone.  Ain't technology grand?!  Taylored Technologies seems to have hit the ground running; as we currently have a back order for building another printer after mine is finished and a few smaller jobs on the docket as well - so presently we're only accepting smaller jobs which aren't time-sensitive.  Interested parties can email inquiries to:  Ivan Taylor at ivantaylor01@gmail.com

There are of course several different 3D printers on the market from various companies, from the ultra basic, to the truly sophisticated.  Then again for those with the know-how and desire; you can build your own 3D printer from parts available at any radio shack store if you have a month or two to assemble it.  There's a place online called RepRap which is a great source for 3D printer parts, and instructions for building your own printer.  All of the software you will need is available from Blender free 3D Software on the web.

No matter how you go about it, sooner or later you will probably have a 3D printer hooked up to your computer.  As with all end user technology, this is just going to keep growing better and better.   As time goes on, 3D printers are only going to get smarter, faster, and more affordable than they currently are, so dust off the old imagination and start thinking of the things you want to build that maybe only exist in your mind.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks but they're wrong.  This time when the different drummer led me to that next ride, I not only found something where the customer comes to us rather than the reverse, I also got someone smarter than me to do the hard stuff!  Not bad for an old dog.

Until Next Time ~ Dream Big!



http://www.fool.com/investor-alert/stock-advisor/sa-3d-so-ctrl/?source=esafbfba0860018

http://3d-printers.toptenreviews.com/

http://store.makerbot.com/replicator2x

http://www.blender.org/

http://reprap.org/wiki/Useful_Software_Packages

http://3dprintingindustry.com/2014/01/22/worlds-first-3d-printed-house-begins-construction/

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/06/fighter-jet-flies-with-3d-printed-parts

http://www.forbes.com/sites/rakeshsharma/2014/01/15/1255/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/news/10629531/The-next-step-3D-printing-the-human-body.html

http://blog.ted.com/2013/02/07/7-talks-on-the-wonder-of-3d-printing/

http://www.thingiverse.com/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5AZzOw7FwA


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