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 October 2013

Manchester Police Raid Sparks the Whole 3DP Gun Thing Off …… Again!

Last Friday morning as I was juggling packed lunches and social media for 3DPI, while attempting to throw a piece of toast down my throat, the voice of a local BBC news presenter interrupted my endeavours, announcing that Greater Manchester Police had seized a 3D printer and what was believed to be plastic gun parts during a sting on organized crime in the city.
My heart sank — here we go again!
What unfolded — across different national UK news channels and social media reactions — throws up a number of issues, all equally frustrating, that just aren’t going to go away any time soon
The initial frustration comes from (badly researched) mass media coverage of a sensational headline. Turns out Sky News broke the story originally with “Police Find First 3D Gun-Printing Factory”.
And we wonder why our children struggle to differentiate between fiction and reality! Until global broadcasters can manage to do it, they are always going to find it difficult.
In reality, one MakerBot Replicator 2 3D printer was seized, along with two suspected plastic gun parts (turns out that that they were not parts for a working gun) and, more notably, but barely touched on in the TV coverage: “£330,000 worth of drugs, £25,000 in cash, weapons such as high-powered air rifles, seven high powered cars and 50 tonnes of counterfeit goods worth at least £2m.“ And, more than 50 suspected gang members have been arrested in connection with the seizures too. So, some potentially dangerous criminals are now in custody and a wide range of illegal and dangerous paraphernalia is off the streets thanks to some decent police work. 
But where does the focus lie? On a 3D printer, that may or may not have been used illegally. Chances are, in all honesty, that the owner(s) of the 3D printer probably did want to try and print a gun — they are probably stupid enough and amoral enough to give it a go. But, there is absolutely no proof of that and for me, this takes away the merit of what the police have achieved here.
And, while the police have taken a battering for this, because they over-reacted, like the public at large, the police are forming opinions on 3D printed guns that are largely inaccurate. In the UK it is hardly surprising they want to err on the side of caution. But then, that can result in the debacle that unfolded across the course of the day. By Friday night it was no longer being broadcast. Some responsibility does have to lie with the police force in this case and the others like it that will almost certainly follow — they need to be better informed and react accordingly. But the biggest problem by far, IMHO, is the mainstream media, its reactionary and sensationalist tendencies and total disregard of truth in favour of ratings. 
And then we come back to Cody Wilson, who gave Sky News an interview off the back of this story. His original 3D printed Liberator gun, and the subsequent widespread release of the data files across the internet will forever be the origin of any sort of furore around this subject. And isn't he just basking in the "glory".
As is his wont, he used the opportunity to proclaim his “crass, irresponsible and self-serving rhetoric” as I called it on Friday morning on twitter, when I was struggling to contain my anger. And even though it has now dissipated, I will stand by that description! His calm, patronizing and smug tones (and smile) as he denounced British culture and typical attitudes to guns I found so odious and prejudiced it was hard to keep my breakfast down. His conviction that Britain’s “future will have [guns] as a feature, irrevocably, from now until eternity” is not entirely wrong, it’s unlikely we’ll ever eliminate gun crime completely. What I find objectionable is his delight in contributing to this fact along with the desire to “Republicanise” us somehow, implying that we are not entitled to want and/or try to keep guns off our streets. In believing that we are entitled to want this, according to Mr Wilson, we are engaging our “fat middle class conscience.” We’re also “too comfortable” with “our eyes half shut” to even comprehend the vision of anarchic freedom that he proudly espouses — a freedom that whether he can see it or not, means that more people will die, sooner than they should. 

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Super Sirens, Sneezes & Soap Boxes — Some reactions to 3D Printing 'Bandwagonism'

Watching the host of new start-up companies emerge around 3D printing draws conflicting reactions from me, I find. It is, of course, primarily gratifying to see the technologies blossom and evolve, appreciated as they are by a much wider user base and audience than ever before. And yet, at times, it’s disheartening too. The inevitability of individuals and corporations pouncing on the tech is a given, but you’d think a little common sense, a degree of research, some background checking maybe, would go a long way in determining success. Apparently not — some (probably a minority of) companies seem to think that using 3D printing terminology fused with some superior (not in a good way) marketing speak will do just fine!

I generally like to keep things up beat, but that’s not always possible. I’ll deviate from the happy when necessary and today it is necessary.

What’s prompted this post ….. well, let me tell you!

As the stream of press releases and requests for coverage on 3DPI come in from the host of newbies, it is often hard to differentiate between the often similar business models. This, I should add, does not make them unviable per se, it just means they’re fighting for business in a crowd — a big, and growing, crowd.

With the majority there is nothing wrong, and as an Editor I do try to be fair and bring the range of products and services in front of 3DPI’s growing audience as objectively as possible. Where objectivity breaks down, it is usually replaced by exuberance — the team of writers we’re building there are loving the tech and the apps. For the new 3DP start-ups media coverage is essential to help them on their way — they may succeed, they may not. The hard work needed for success is down to them, but if I can help, I will. That’s just the way I am.


Sometimes, something lands in my in-box and warning bells go off — and by bells, I mean super sirens.

That’s what happened a couple of days ago when I received a communication from MyO3D.

The marketing ‘bumpf’ (that’s a Rachel word but suitable here) around the core message — another design repository — hailed the first ding dong. It was trying way too hard. But when I read the following, that’s when the sirens went off big time:

"Some may recall the sheer size of the first computers, taking up entire rooms and possessing less power than the phone in your pocket. A similar evolution has been seen in 3D printing; the huge, strictly industrial printers with limited uses [My emphasis] may as well be dinosaurs compared to the compact 3D printers of today, with some being even cheaper than high-end desktop and laptop computers.”

I mean, REALLY???

This just smacks of little to no real knowledge and/or understanding of the industry that they are seeking to operate in. However, me being me, I wanted other opinions, back up if you like. So I sent the quote and link to some of my go-to guys. It seems I hadn’t over-reacted.

This is the order the following came back to me:

Anyone who compares the perceived capabilities of consumer 3D printers and professional 3D printers in this way has simply no business writing on the subject. Absolute drivel.”
Phil Reeves, Managing Director, Econolyst.

“I have sneezed on my keyboard and accidentally produced better websites and concepts than that - it's about as hollow as most 3D printed objects.”
Richard Horne, aka RichRap3D

Ok so the dinosaur analogy is obviously complete rubbish. A more accurate comparison would be to say that industrial machines are cars and cheap compact 3D printers are soap box go karts. Yes cars are more expensive and yes they are bigger but in terms of functionality they leave the go karts behind in every sense of the word.

The author of this thing obviously knows little about the technology and understands less than that. The idea behind the site is yet another way of making money off the efforts of others while contributing little. I’m sure it will be used by some idiots who would quite frankly be better off spending their money on skin cream and deodorant rather than paying for files of chess sets and business card holders with moving parts.”
Jeremy Pullin, Renishaw

The inevitability of business “bandwagonism” and the urge to make fast/big bucks is a story as old as time, but it doesn’t make it any less sad ….. or disappointing. This is not the first case, and it most certainly, unfortunately won’t be the last either.

FYI, I did send a reply to MyO3D, challenging this comment and inviting a response. I’ve had no reply.

Thursday 7 March 2013

Definitions & Terminology Have Always Been Problematic in 3D Printing — Now it’s All About the Genre

When I first started writing and editing about rapid prototyping way back when – one of the major benefits of using the tech for prototyping applications (which, incidentally, does still stand today) was time-to-market. That’s to say getting a successful product to market first and maximizing the business returns of doing so. I remember writing about the impact of being first and the ‘me-too’ products that followed. There were often debates about whether being first or being an ‘improved me too’ product was best. Obviously you had to factor in branding and marketing and the quality of the product.

It has struck me recently that this is where 3D printing actually is now – with the printers themselves and the services and ancillary products springing up around the sector too. There are really rather a lot of them now. And it probably goes without saying that not all of them can survive. I’d say we are not too far off saturation point either – the pinnacle of the hype cycle, and we surely must be there or there about, has seen hoards of individuals and small start-ups create original and not-so-original 3D printing business models around the potential, the reality, and at least some of them, the hype. As the trough of disillusionment beckons, we are likely to get clearer visibility on the companies that will be in this for the long haul and the many more that won’t survive and will move on to bubbles new.

It is even getting quite difficult to categorise the genres of the business as they grow and/or emerge — I used to be able to differentiate really easily — hardware, software, service and materials. With some companies doing more than one thing, still easy. Now, though, there are hardware manufacturers that offer services; services that resell hardware; services within services; 3D Content repositories — some with 3D printing services or affiliated to them others without; as of today there are also services that offer APIs; and, of course, one or two that try to do it all – not quite sure what I’m going to call them.

It’s getting messier and messier. I’m not a fan of mess, generally, but this is all quite good fun as I try to figure it all out and label everything in an appropriate and understandable way — mostly for me, which will maybe help you!?  

I’ve also just been made aware of another, let’s call it service, launching this month (no specific date).  Been asked to hold off on covering it for a day or two, but news to follow early next week.

The upshot is that 3D printing is exciting, it offers much and will continue to do so, I believe. The companies that try to do business around it however, will need to be flexible and accommodating to survive the ups and the downs as they happen. 

Monday 4 February 2013

A Timely Dose of 3D Printing Reality?

Anyone that knows me or follows me here or on any of the various social media channels that I haunt, knows that I think 3D printing is a pretty great technology. It's true, I absolutely do. From the earliest days of rapid prototyping I have grasped, promulgated and maintained the potential of the technology most of us now call 3D printing.

I have never doubted that this technology is capable of amazing things, and today we are seeing more and more proof of what it can do. From ground-breaking medical applications that have changed individual lives for the better and industrial applications that are challenging century old 'laws' of manufacturing through to the singularly aesthetic with new forms of art and design, 3D printing has made a difference.

 In the future I believe it will do much, much more.

However, I am guilty of adorning rose-tinted glasses from my view point. It's been levelled at me before, I dare say it will be again. As a commentator and general by-stander, I do like to think I understand the reality of the 3D printing processes, what it involves, particularly the industrial grade systems that process powder  — it is a time consuming endeavour that requires highly experienced operators and it is NOT anywhere near a plug and play activity. Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, even a cursory glance at the 3DP forums frequented by hackers and makers with their own entry-level 3D printers will inform you that commitment, patience, trial & error and sometimes just sheer devotion are necessary traits to PIY (print-it-yourself).

So what has prompted this recap post about the realities of 3D Printing?

A rather brutal, but it has to be said, welcome dose of reality from 3DPConfidential. Highly recommended reading, if you haven't seen it already. If you put the ranting nature of this post aside for a minute, coming as it does from one, disillusioned employee of a 3D printing service provider, there are some stark points addressed in this post that should really make his employers sit up and take notice. And indeed, any leaders of companies that are building their business model around 3D printing.

First, a service business based on 3D printing needs to address the people-technology interface. If experience and expertise are overlooked — which they often seem to be — it will ultimately be to the detriment of the brand, which, in this case the '30-somethings' are working so hard to build. Branding is important, of course it is, but it is only skin deep. If there is nothing of substance behind the brand it surely has a short shelf-life?

Second, there also seems to be an issue with priorities — the web development vs the in-house printing capabilities. Juggling business demands necessarily involves prioritising, cost saving and balance. If this post is right though — it seems the balance is all wrong within this particular business.

Back to the nature of the post and the person behind it. I have no idea at all who the individual is, they absolutely need to keep their identity under-wraps to keep posting. I can make an educated guess at the organisation, but without hard evidence, I'm not for sharing here. The post, though, is obviously written by someone dealing with the realities of 3D printing day in and day out, someone on the frontline that makes 3D printing work for the "'community' of designers, online shop ownder and creative 'collaborators'" as testified by hands ingrained with nylon powder. The reference to "kids" in their thirties, while a tad patronising, would also suggest this person has age and experience under their belt. All of which points to someone worth listening to and learning from.

I have heard many others [all front line users of the tech] talking along similar lines in my time, but never anything this public. Whoever 3DPConfidential is, I admire their temerity. One can only hope that the powers that be sit up and take note?  

Tuesday 22 January 2013

3D Printing Mobile Developments and Motivation

When the news broke just before the weekend that Nokia was embracing 3D printing in an outward facing way, that’s to say for its consumers (of the Lumia820) rather than in-house for its own product development processes, it went viral pretty quick. The excitement was almost palpable.

It was a notable development particularly because it is a large OEM, albeit one that has lost a great deal of market share to Apple and Samsung in recent years, that has taken the first step towards customization enabled by 3D printing. It’s really just a baby step, but it is headline grabbing (something the company needs) and Nokia will go down in history as one of the first big companies to do it. While 3D printed phone covers have proved to be one of the consumer success stories for the tech to date, it has been largely in the hands of 3rd party service providers.

Talking of which, I found it particularly interesting that two such 3rd parties — i.materialise and Sculpteo — picked up on the news pretty quick, downloaded the files and produced some test prints. They were quick to share.

I found myself wondering about the motivation, with a couple of conclusions. As specialists in this field, who better to test the process and the 3DP files offered by Nokia — and more specifically, the results. They have the expertise and knowledge of 3D printing that is still a prerequisite for successful results and imparted that to the community and world at large. On the other hand, this ‘sharing’ was also a great way of advertising their services and their ability to produce the Lumia820 covers for all those that want them 3D printed but don’t have their own 3D printer — and let’s face it, that’s probably most of Nokia’s customer base!

i.materialise’s “myth-busting” post on this is here, while Sculpteo’s somewhat more positive take on it is here