About Me

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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Thursday 31 March 2011

A Perfect Storm is Required for 3D Printing to go Mainstream - The Wind is Picking Up

Ok, so we have been here before, many times. Talking about what needs to happen for 3D Printing to "go viral" to use the term that is currently on trend. 

And before you question this post going over old ground, I'll tell you why I am cogitating on this. It seems the debate has subtly moved on from the "will it/won't it happen" discourse, where two clearly and strongly argued points of view were professed. Essentially, the "Aye's" seem to have it, because the general assumption now is that it will happen, but the debate centres around how and when. It is the 'how' question that throws up many different angles, which all need to come together at the same time to create the 'perfect storm' referenced in the title of this post.

Also, it should be noted, there are still a number of full-on dissenters out there, but their voices are receding and they are in a minority. 

So on to how and when. 

How will 3D printing penetrate everyday life? Many of the machine vendors and their allies are still pushing for '3D Printers in every home'. Obviously they have an ulterior motive here, because if/when demand like this does materialise, volumes of sales and their bottom lines will shoot through the roof. Realistically, IMHO, I think that 3D printers in many homes is entirely feasible (it will never be every home) — but this is no where near imminent. I think that I have said it here before, it probably will not happen in my lifetime. 

Before it can happen though, people have to want it, they have to understand it, and, more importantly, they have to want to understand it because they believe that they "need" it. Beyond the 3D printing itself, we really do have to take a step back — in the process that is. How many people, in general, can design in 3D? Proportionally, very few indeed. Based on the fact that 3D designs are the prerequisite for any 3D printer; education and ‘desire’ has to start here. Until there is a profusion of 3D designs, for which the designers (for designers read anyone) require an output, things will not move forward any quicker than they are now. As an analogy think about computers and 2D printers. 30-40 years ago computers were emerging as workplace tools for a few companies, the numbers increasing exponentially with time. Moreover, 2D printers did not become "must have's" until computers did. As the number of people that were familiar with computers and different software programmes in their workplace grew, this was mirrored by the uptake of computers — and printers — for personal use. I don’t know the precise figures, but I imagine the recreational use of computers is at least as great as their commercial use today. I believe a similar path will be traversed with 3D printing. But until lots of people can — and want to — design and create in 3D there will be absolutely no requirement for 3D printers in large volumes.

But that still leaves us with the philosophy of the killer app [Post of 18/1/10] — the first application of 3D printing that provides the reason to want to have it locally. New applications seem to push out a little further into mainstream consciousness each time, but nothing has emerged to date that has blown it out of the water. 

There is a growing argument, one that I back 100%, that the best way to get 3D printing into the mainstream is to start with schools. Get 3D design software and 3D printers into every school and college. The kids will eagerly learn to understand it, they will subsequently want it and one of them will probably come up with the killer app to finally bring on the perfect storm.


There is also another school of thought, the other side of the 'how' debate, which advocates the internet as the medium by which 3D printed objects will become mainstream — my old boss is on this side of the argument, and I am sure he won't mind me quoting him! You can have it in his own words, rather than me paraphrasing.

Duncan Wood, Rapid News Communications: 

"I think that the idea of a printer in every home is never going to happen ....... What I think will happen is that every home will have access to 3DP/AM via the online space, just as soon as every home gets the internet, then we'll see an explosion in 3D printing use. Choosing unique customised parts, gifts and designs will be the way people access it, choosing from the range of technologies available, not just the cheapest one they can afford to purchase out of their own pocket." 

Now, I don't dispute this as a growing and potentially huge application for 3D Printing, particularly if you take this a step further and consider the additional possibilities offered by replacement products and parts (eg dishwasher parts, kettles, toasters and so on). But, IMO, this will be an interim measure, a solution that will grow in it’s own right as a precursor to the perfect storm when 3D printers will become a common commodity.

Thursday 24 March 2011

"It's Not Technology - It's what you do with it."

Love this ....


Follow little Dot's little adventure!

It takes me back in time, because it's exactly the type of thing I watched as a small child. The irony being, that this would have been impossible 30+ years ago. The models of Dot were made on a 3D printer — I know which one, but not sure if it's common knowledge yet, so going to err on the side of caution, because hopefully I will be writing it up as and when marketing rights are in play :-)

It's a strange mix though, nostalgia and awe!

Friday 11 March 2011

My Life Begins Tomorrow — Allegedly!

However, if one more person tells me that is so and/or that "40 is the new 30" then a screaming episode may not be out of the question.

40 is 40, 30 was 30 and 18 was 18!! Incidentally, Robbie had it so right, youth is TOTALLY wasted on the young.

Truthfully, I actually do not feel the need for my life to begin — or change in any way — my sincere hope and prayer is that it will continue as is, with a healthy balance of joy and angst, and even those "nothingy" days when little happens except life in general.

I cannot deny that there is a degree of trepidation, mostly prompted by questions along the lines of; "Mum, what's it like to be old?" The answer to which was; "I'll let you know when I am."

This satisfied me, not so much my six year old son who has not held back on voicing his conviction that 40 is positively geriatric. I don't blame him of course, as I am not quite so old that I have forgotten memories of similar sentiments at an early age also.

I would like to think that I am approaching the aging process in much the same way as my own mum — a much respected and appreciated role model of mine — with grace and elegance, an appropriate sense of style and minimal intervention (just a great dentist and hairdresser).

I get that this is a milestone, but it is one that, if I was the only person in my life, I would happily and quietly let pass by without fuss. Fortunately, I am NOT the only person in my life, and THEY want the occasion to be suitably marked.

And so it will be — party on!

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Airbikes, Airtime & Airy-Fairy Claims

The interview with EADS on BBC's Breakfast programme yesterday, with the full Airbike demo, had me instantly reaching for my phone to tweet. Got the company Chief Exec's name wrong as well — just to clear that one up, it is Robin Southwell not Robert Southwell. Sorry Robin. The TV was on in the background as I was trying to get the offspring off to school, and no amount of 'shushing' and 'be quiets' could mute said offspring long enough for me to get the full interview and unfortunately the news is not available on BBC iplayer.

However, I got the gist and have reread much of the content many times over in the EADS press release that has appeared all over the place today. Many great positives to draw from it but plenty of things to hum and ha about too.

By far the most favourable outcomes of the Airbike coverage on the BBC was the great UK-based publicity for additive manufacturing (AM), from an inspirational brand, with an eye-catching demo piece, that will appeal to the masses — despite the wobble as the BBC presenter cycled across the studio at the end of the slot.

Other elements of the interview got me twitching though, and pulling faces that my six year old would be proud of. EADS is a huge global organisation, of which Airbus in Bristol is one part, and its corporate politics — which I have witnessed first hand — are staggeringly bureaucratic. I can see the logic for putting the Chief Executive in front of the cameras from a corporate point of view, but I don't think it achieved the best results. It was obvious to me that Mr Southwell had been primed, but it was also clear that he did not really understand additive technology or the industry that has sprung up around it. Don't get me wrong — EADS are doing great things with AM, seriously great actually. But it is not the only company doing it, and the way it was promoted as "new technology in the UK" was misleading at best. EADS is pushing the boundaries of AM technologies — particularly laser sintering and direct metal laser sintering — in terms of capabilities and materials development, which gives them ownership rights to some excellent applications, but not this sort of claim to the technology itself.

There was also some naivete demonstrated on the potential of the technologies, with it being vaunted that  this technology will be in shops and homes within 10 years. This is nothing new, but you know when you just get that sinking feeling, not to mention a headache, because you have been banging your head against the same wall for so long!

And on to the ripple effect of publicity that has gone live today with many media platforms picking up on the story and publishing it all over the web. The likes of BIKEmagic and Popular Science, that may not have been confronted with AM before, can be forgiven for relaying the PR copy verbatim, but there are some that really should know better!! Eureka and The Engineer regularly report on AM and 3D printing, and therefore have the know-how and the editorial staff to correctly position the information with which they are provided.

However, the old addage that, "there is no such thing as bad publicity" will hopefully be true here, and the results will be all good. I hope so.