Sunday, November 25, 2012

Embedded Electronics and Rubber: More is Better

One of the most limiting factors of 3D printing is the material. While designs and ideas can be freely transported on the internet, material will always have to be physically there. And of course not any material will work for any project, simple plastics can only go so far. That is why the true expansion opportunity of 3D printing lies in material development. In the past week there have been two announcements that may prove to be major in expanding the potential of 3D printing:
Source: The University of Warwick

1. Embedding sensors on the cheap

Dr. Simon Leigh (right) out of the University of Warwick (MSL & AM Lab) has used conductive plastics to create sensors within 3D printed objects to create everything from simple game controllers to cups that can detect how full they are. The material is a relatively inexpensive plastic composite, dubbed 'carbomorph', that allows for electronic tracks and sensors to be added. The process is nice because it is simple and compatible with current 3D printers. While printing electronics is not new (see here for the press release for a joint project between Stratasys (SSYS) and Optomec Inc. from March this year) making it cheaper would greatly expand the potential it has to impact the 3D economy. Moving forward the project will try and print more elaborate electronics. (For a more comprehensive article on the details of the project, click here, For an interview with Dr. Leigh see here)

a) the CAD design of the printed interface device and the simple circuit used to detect inputs, b) a photograph of the printed device, c) a macro image of the printed sensor pads (scale bar 5 mm), d) the capacitance of each printed sensor pad plotted against time e) an enlarged portion of the graph from part d showing the cross-sensitivity of each sensor pad.  Source: The University of Warwick

2. Rubber to the Road

3D printing materials are rigid, that is until now. Objet announced earlier this week the release of 16 new materials. Bringing their industry leading materials count to 123 (press release). The new materials take the standard plastics that are on the market and manipulate their toughness and elasticity. This expansion allows for the realm of 3D printing to expand in ways that were not previously considered, such as "soft-touch coating, non-slip surfaces, knobs, grips, seals, hoses, and footwear" (See here for a gallery of other possibilities)  that can add that extra comfort and functionality to a your 3D printed dream. This announcement reinforces my point made in an earlier post that when/if the Stratasys-Objet merger goes through the new company will have a strong position in the material development sector of the 3D economy which promises to be huge!

Headphones printed in one session with padding
 around the ears and at the top of the head
Source: Objet

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What did the 2012 election do for 3D Printing?

So for those that have been living under a rock there was this little thing called an election last week. I'm sure there were a lot of aspects of the 2012 election that will influence the 3D economy moving forward, but for now lets look at what the presidential election did.

As we saw the election came down to Ohio. In a previous post I highlighted the recently created National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute and how Obama created this 3D printing development center to apply the technology to American manufacturing. At the time I wrote that post I wasn't considering the election in Ohio, but in retrospect locating of the plant in Youngstown, Ohio was also good for the Obama campaign as they fought to solidify they're image as saving manufacturing jobs in the region (see the White House release). There is no counter-factual to say what would have happened if there was no election, but the 3D economy is a clear winner in this potentially politically motivated move. I will leave the judgement of whether it paid off to you.

via Politico
On a less serious note, the election also gave rise to candidate themed 3D printed products. Makerbot launched a last minute poll using file downloads of candidate busts as votes. I can't say these are exact replicas, but the idea is fun. The results: Obama 394, Romney 146.

Obama on Thingiverse

Romney on Thingiverse

and there are earrings on Shapeways by Gilligonia (They also come in "Barack Michelle" and some other fun combos)

See here

See here

Friday, October 26, 2012

Horse's Mouth: Panda Robotics stops Kickstarter

Panda Robotics has just announced that they will be closing their Kickstarter early and seeking private funding. This is sure to bring mixed emotions in the 3D printing world. The text of their statement is below (or here):

"A lot has happened during these three weeks of our Kickstarter campaign. We have been blown away by the overwhelming support we have received from everyone. We have been able to witness first-hand – for the first time – the sheer excitement and enthusiasm that exists for a 3d printer for the masses. We’ve been featured on BNN, the National Post, CTV News Network, TechCrunch, The National, and a myriad of blog posts and tech articles throughout the Internet. We had no idea any of this would happen, and at times it felt a bit surreal. We had to shake ourselves, and wonder “is this really happening?” All of this makes us feel that, just maybe, we could be that little engine that could. 
Via Panda Robotics
But amidst all the excitement, we’ve had to make a very difficult decision. It breaks our hearts to do it, but we’ve decided to end our Kickstarter campaign early. Please let us explain why. 
In the past weeks, we’ve received requests from institutions like universities, resellers, distributors and individuals who want to buy final PandaBots in bulk. This is wonderful, but we don’t want our Kickstarter backers, those who put their money on the line for us, to settle for a beta product so we can build a better product for all those who waited. Our wish is for our backers’ experience with Panda Robotics to be free from the inevitable concerns that arise from beta products. This will ensure you will be able to save your money and purchase the PandaBot when the final product is ready. To achieve these ends, we are in the process of seeking alternative forms of funding in order to manufacture and certify the production run.
It goes without saying that we are truly grateful to all our backers on Kickstarter. Thank you. It really is your belief in us and your support of our vision that makes us want to succeed. The last thing we want to do is to let you down. We will be providing to all of our backers a Panda Robotics t-shirt and a Panda Robotics sticker as a thank you for supporting us during our Kickstarter campaign, plus a $200 coupon that can be applied towards a PandaBot after we have gone through final certifications and can promise you a product you'll love and enjoy for a long time. 
For now, please stay with us. We can't do this without you. We’d love to share with you our progress over the following months. 
Please follow us on Twitter(, join us on Facebook( or contact us with your email( and we will add you to a mailing list for updates. 
With all of your support, we hope to have production PandaBots available for you in the first half of 2013."

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nathan Myhrvold: Patenting the "Unpatentable"

In the 3D economy of the future the issue of patent rights will definitely be a highlight over and over again. Enter Nathan Myhrvold (Right), the former CTO of Microsoft, whose company, Intellectual Ventures, was recently awarded a new patent on “Manufacturing control systems”(see image above), commonly being interpreted as Digital Rights Management (DRM) for 3D printing. Think of it as CD protection from burning or protection on music you buy on iTunes pre-2009, but for 3D blueprints. But besides the basic 3D printing with plastics this patent may also apply to printing food and organs (technologies I have highlighted in the past, here and here)

Some have called Myhrvold and Intellectual Ventures patent trolls (here, here and here) because they hold thousands of patents and spend a lot of money prosecuting those that are infringing on their intellectual property (IP) rights.

Many have gotten angry about the restrictions that this will have on the growing 3D economy. The truth is that a DRM system will incentivize development in the technology, so that those who want to develop 3D printed blueprints for sale to the general masses can still do this without the risk of of loosing profit and  get returns on their investment of time and money. And for those that are hard-core printers Ryan Whitwam at ExtremeTech put it best:
"Every DRM scheme implemented so far has been cracked in some way. It’s really a cruel joke on the average user — while DRM stymies their digital life, those that actually might be engaging in shady behavior will be able to print all the patented objects they want. DRM won’t actually solve any problems — it never does — but it might be an inevitable part of 3D printing’s future."

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Manufacturing Holy Grail: Will it work?

With the economy still not recovered governments are continuously putting out reports about what they will do to fix it. The strength of these commitments are questionable because once the economy recovers the governments will inevitably no longer feel the pressure and may lapse in their gusto for improvement. Across the world these reports are starting to see calls for more 3D printing and the results take different forms:

1. EU: In a recent paper leaked to Reuters, the European Commission called for region wide investment in new technology, like 3D printing. The paper goes as far to set a goal of "raising manufacturing from 16 to 20 percent of EU GDP by 2020" using such methods.

2. US: The Obama Administration announced in recent months the formation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) in Youngstown, Ohio. This public-private endeavor consists of "70 small and large companies, universities, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations" that will work together to develop advantages in (additive) manufacturing that the US has lost over the years in the nation's historic Rust Belt. 

"Last week the Department of Defense (DOD) chose the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, from among 13 applicants to manage the institute, which will tap talent from the tri-state area of northeast Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. DOD is putting up $30 million over 3 years, and four other federal agencies have promised to contribute another $15 million. Companies in the consortium have agreed to provide $40 million in matching funding." (Check out here for more cool details)
(A quick note: NAMII is scheduled to host its first official meeting today)

3. The World: Who will be next????

The question then becomes will the EU and US be able to maintain this lead in support of 3D printing and will it even matter when other governments themselves turn to 3D printing? Although we like to think so, the US does not have the monopoly on innovation or technological prowess. 3D printing offers an opportunity for advancement, but once the technology is developed there is nothing stopping it also becoming a workhorse in cheaper labor markets. This transition may take decades because, for the time being, transportation costs and convenience are enough to prohibit remote 3D printing from being too desirable. But as everyone gets excited about 3D printings [for good reason] there should be no misconception that this will be the end of global trade in manufactured goods. While it may help in the short and medium term, in the long term we will most likely be back in the same place economically. Like space travel and nuclear fusion, 3D printing is a technology worth pursuing, but it will not change the fundamental competitive nature of our world. The hope then becomes the perpetual need to find the next "big" technology, but for the next couple decades 3D printing will be shaking up the world.

[UPDATE: 10/20/12 (via and Xinhu News)

3a. China: The Asian Manufacturing Association (AMA), Chinese government and other 3D printing organizations held a 3D printing technology seminar October 15th to discuss the state of the industry in China and prospects in the future. Representatives from China's Ministries of Raw Materials and Industry were among those represented. The main result was: (from Xinhu News via Google translate, I didn't change anything in order not to misconstrue the message.)
"The experts agreed that the 3D printing technology as a major technological revolution in the manufacturing sector... At present, China in the field of 3D printing technology core 3D company with the United States, Israel Objet international giants basically at the same level. However, in terms of material and software development, equipment, there is a gap, but also need to attract the attention of the competent government departments and major technological special project grant support....Advanced manufacturing park in Asia Asian Association of Manufacturers is currently being planned, will be 3D printing technology as a leading industry to support and intensify in the near future to set up the national 3D printing technology R & D base and industrial demonstration bases."
What is clear is that China is realizing where they are behind in 3D printing and is also working on encouraging their industry.]

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Copy-right or -wrong: Catan and Guns

Picture of Catan set from articles in Jan. 2011

So lately there has been a lot of discussion of 3D printing regulation and its possible implications for the industry, whether from government or larger corporations. This comes after Stratasys recently seized a printer that was leased to a man that was working to create an open-source gun.  This goes to show that my previous prediction about weaponry being the catalyst for regulation of (and a spotlight on) the 3D printing industry may turn out to be true (see my previous analysis of WikiWeapons here).

Get this Catan border frame on Ponoko here
Get 3D tiles like this on Shapeways  here.
Get these pieces on Thingiverse here.
But this is not the first time that the regulation and censor has come up, another example is my personal favorite board game Settlers of Catan. In searching around the web you find a number of Catan related objects, like border frames, 3D tiles, and building pieces. What they all have in common is that the augment the original Catan set in some way without being in the same price range or completeness of the original Catan board. But back in January 2011 there was much talk (here and here) as a Thingiverse user, Sublime, posted a complete Catan set (pictured above). Fast forward to October 2012, a search on Thingiverse yields no such user or plan, which leads me to believe that after some dispute (possibly legal) IT WAS TAKEN DOWN!! [SEE NOTE FOR REVISION 10/16/12] This does not mean that Thingiverse (owned by Makerbot) is bad, it just exemplifies the exploration of what will and will not be "acceptable" in the 3D economy. The current definition seems to be that if it complements or supplements it is OK, but if it is a complete replacement that is another story. As many predict, the 3D economy will have many growing pains as lawyers and regulators work with developers and innovators to shape what the future will look like. One thing is for sure, it will not be easy, already there are more projects (here) like Sublime's creating Catan mock-ups, but the question is if they get attention will they also be taken down?

Check out this timelapse video of the printing of all the pieces for a Catan board below:

UPDATE 10-16-12: Thanks to Criedieki for pointing out that Sublime has moved all of their Catan products to github (here)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Going Super-Green: $0.10/kg!

The recycling movement has come so far since its early days, but even so there are still many who do not recycle on a regular basis or to the furthest extent that they can (I admit I may be in this category). Part of the reason for this is that the incentives are not appropriately aligned because to many the costs of recycling (time and effort) out-way the benefits (that fuzzy feeling in your heart or a couple cents per bottle). This is not passing judgement on those that do or do not, but I think everyone can admit that if they got money (and not 5 cents) for recycling they would do it more.

Enter 3D printing, the material that is commonly used in 3D printing is also the same material that is found in many of the objects that people use in their every day life, from milk jugs to water bottles. So if there were a way to turn all of those plastics into filament (3D printer "ink") it would be great! Well I am not the only one who has thought of this, Tyler McNaney's new company Filabot is working on a supplemental device to a 3D printer that can turn your empty bottles into the filament that could become your next mug or who knows even a chair! (For a list of the materials it could produce and what they come from click here)

With this new method of recycling the next question is how much would a Filabot owner pay per bottle to someone who wants to recycle? (how much would that much material be worth after you take away costs?) So...

(A) Filabot power usage: 600 Watts (creator's statement on forum) [= 0.6 kW]
(B) US Average price of Electricity: 10 cents per kW-hr (US Energy Information Administration)

(C) Amount of filament made from 1 milk jug: about 0.07 kg (0.453592 kg./lb.*40 lbs/250 cartons: cartons milk carton boat from WOOF
(D) Time to process 1 milk jug:  = 0.07 hrs (1 hr/kg creator's statement on forum therefore =(C))

(E) Cost of processing 1 milk jug : 0.6 kW * 0.07 hrs * $0.10 per kW-hr= $0.0042

[(D)/(C)] = (F)
(F) Cost per kg of HDPE from Filabot:  $0.0042/0.07 kg=$0.06***

So if it costs less than $0.10 per kg to make filament for a 3D printer then we enter a world where the supply costs become minuscule and profit margins can increase or make up for low wage costs abroad. For some frame of reference filament can cost upwards of $10/kg depending on the material++ (see here and here)
Additionally, the amount of money that could be awarded for recycling milk cartons (and other things) could be increased. This back of the envelope calculation just shows the power that the 3D economy will have once the supply chain and the production process gets linked up. [I understand these are rough calculations, if you would like to submit your own version for HDPE or other materials add it to the comments, please cite sources]

***NOTE: The time is approximate because there is additional time needed to prepare the plastics because currently mixing plastics can result in problems.

++REVISION: After further research the best estimate for the cheapest form of HDPE out there is bulk purchases of pellets for $186 for 55 lbs. Which results in  about $7.50/kg (($186/55lbs)/(0.453592 kg./lb.)) which translates to more than a 98% savings when using the Filabot.

Friday, September 21, 2012

3DFinance: What will the Stratasys (SSYS)-Objet merger mean?

Earlier this year it was announced that Stratasys (SSYS) is seeking to merge with Objet. Last week at a shareholders meeting that merger was approved by more than 99% of SSYS shareholders. This is a big step toward a successful merger that is set to take place over the rest of the year. When this first happened I thought that this meant that the stock would take off, but a few days into the week and it is obvious that this is not the case. There has been a large decline in the stock price.

This merger my be set for a rocky road ahead because it is close to 50-50, so it may be some time until the new company it stable and moving forward after adjusting to the new dynamic. Additionally, the new company no longer meets the requirements for inclusion in the S&P SmallCap 600 and has already been taken off which may be part of the reason for the decline. Still I think it would still be a good long-term investment for a number of reasons:

-Stratasys has been awarded the highest possible Composite Rating (99 of 99) by Investors Business Daily which measures "overall technical and fundamental strength".

-The new Stratasys will be the market leader in multiple types of printers, PolyJet, FDM, and SolidScape, and well ahead of most of the competition.

-Objet brings a very valuable segment to the company, namely multi-materials development. Objet prides itself in its 100+ products. As the 3D economy develops there is no guarantee about the returns on product designs, but the company that patents the materials will do well.

At the moment I think it best to wait until the stock bottoms out before investing more.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any of the stocks mentioned above. I am not a finance professional and before you blow away your savings on my advice consult real financial professionals.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

3D Printers in SPACE!!!

One of the biggest benefits to 3D printing is efficient transportation of materials that could be used to make a variety of things. This makes it the ideal technology to be coupled with space travel. Already, there is much talk to the potential that the technology has in space. Not only is it a more efficient way to get large possibly bulky and cumbersome objects up to space, but it is also ideal for a situation in which the exact specifications of the tools and parts needed is not known at liftoff.

via USC
Earlier I wrote about a company called Contour Crafting, they are working on large scale 3D printers that could build a whole house in 24 hours. This idea can be taken even further and researchers at USC NASA-funded professors Behrokh Khoshnevis, Madhu Thangavelu, Neil Leach, and Anders Carlson are working on being able to convert lunar-soil into a building material that could be used in conjunction with Contour Crafting technology to build living quarters, landing pads, and more on the moon! Using local materials would then break down one of the large barriers to colonies on moons, planets, and asteroids. (Thanks to this Design News article for the heads up)

"Spider fab concept"
CREDIT: Tethers Unlimited
Another idea is to combine 3D printers with existing satellites and robotic technology in order to collect and gather all the space junk to be reused to build new satellites and spaceships. This idea is being pushed by both the government and private sector as a cost savings and innovation opportunity.  Recently, the "SpiderFab" concept by Tethers Unlimited was awarded a grant from NASA to work on this technology.

While space colonies and recycling satellites may be far off, 3D printing in space is not an idea for 100 years from now. Already there is work to get the technology operational and onto the International Space Station in order to print replacement parts. Founded in 2010 "Made In Space" is developing the technology for 3D printing in zero-gravity.

NASA has carried out parabolic flights that mimic microgravity to test "additive manufacturing" – a process that allows for on-call fabrication of spare parts. Work is under way to pursue hardware and procedural changes to make equipment more robust and astronaut-friendly.
CREDIT: Courtesy of NASA/Karen Taminger

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Shapeways: The Amazon of 3D printing

Check out Shapeways and all the custom products it can make. This NYC based start-up has one of THE largest banks of pre-designed products and products that are available for customization. Order online and it will be made and shipped to you which is amazing this early in the 3D economy. From the artsy to the functional there is something for everyone and as it moves more mainstream a greater variety of goods. They also have tutorials on 3D design and links to programs at different costs that are good for getting started.

via Shapeways' blog

Friday, September 7, 2012

What WikiWeapons means for America

The other day I posted a link to a story about a man who printed the main component of an AR-15 on a 3D printer (See pictures above), well recently this idea has spread and given birth to a project titled WikiWeapons by a group called Defense Distributed. This group is raising money to develop the 3D printing blueprints for complete weapons.

If any issue is going to bring 3D printing to center stage in the political arena it is this one. At stake is the future of both second amendment rights (the right to bear arms) and intellectual property rights (a constant issue in 3D printing) in the 3D economy.

As with much technology, once the idea has been created it cannot be uncreated (except for zip drives, I think those have officially been wiped from history). This new method of acquiring guns can be seen by some as a sign of the inevitability of mini-militia and some sort of apocalyptic future, but it can also be taken as an opportunity to shift the techniques we use to deal with these kinds of issues. Prevention is impossible and so what is left is figuring out how our society will be able to function when getting a gun becomes a lot easier. Here are some suggestions:

-Transition from a concentration on preventing weapons proliferation to an emphasis on low-level preventative security at community gathering places like malls, public transportation centers, etc.

-Provide some method of certification of safety for different blueprints, so that there are not widespread accidents involving faulty equipment from badly designed blueprints.

-Inform law enforcement world-wide, so that by the time these weapons become readily available they are prepared.

While the technology cannot be stopped, the best that can be done is establishing the safest way possible that it can be allowed to exist. The 3D printing community will certainly be torn as the debate about what to do about WikiWeapons continues, but as the world begins to take note of this project it is important that those in the 3D printing community remind everyone about the immense good that the 3D economy will bring, I promise that I will.

My suggestions above are surely not exhaustive, I would be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments and maybe together we can start a conversation that will need to happen:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

DIY Music Records

For those music fanatics out there 3D printing will bring with it the ultimate in hip and trendy. Take for example this project that allows you to print records for any song to be played on a 1970s Fischer Price Record record player. This way anyone with a 3D printer and the necessary open-source software can bring any song to life. For all those "vinyl-philes" this may by the key to proving to your friends that it really IS the best way to listen to your Radiohead album, in a cool DIY fashion. Check out the recent post on for more information. Below are some samples of the music that was created by the originator of the program.

Star Wars Theme Song

Stairway to Heaven

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Kids Just Want to Have Fun

The World of Disney in Florida recently opened a new project that takes the dream of becoming a princess and makes it a reality... forever. Called "D-Tech Me a Princess" this project will scan a child's face and then print out a doll that has the body of their favorite princess, but with their own face (hopefully it won't go to their head). Check out this behind-the-scenes look:

For those that don't want to be princesses there are still all sorts of options that 3D printing has. Already many blueprints for toys have been uploaded on line with options for customization, from Minecraft characters  to robots.

I think that starting kids off young with 3D printing will be the best way for the industry to succeed. The sooner that a generation grows up not knowing life before 3D printing the sooner we can start taking full advantage of all the potential that it has in store.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Noisebridge Hackerspace

I've been MIA for a bit, but I'm back now. I was on a mini-vacation all over California, on my journey I got a chance to see first hand some 3D printers at Noisebridge, a hackerspace in  San Francisco. Below are some pictures from my visit. Noisebridge is a non-profit that is geared toward providing a space to advance open source education. Besides having a 3D printing corner there is also a woodshop, a craft corner, a library, and a computing and robotics center. They are doing a great job advancing their cause. They offer classes in 3D printing (among other things) and if I were there I would definitely take some. Now that I am back in San Diego I may even see if there is anything like that around here. After a cursory google search nothing too promising, but I will not give up hope.

Makerbot printers

RepRap printer

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Escher for Real" 3D illusions

Check out this project by Gershon Elber from the Technion in Israel. He uses 3D printers to recreate some of Escher's great illusions in three dimensions.
The original Escher painting

On the left is the angle that creates the illusion while the right shows how strange the object really looks
This video shows even more examples and how it is made:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

3DFinance: Organovo (ONVO) wants to print you a new organ

So as part to the blog I am interested not only in the technical side of 3D printing, but also the financial side and so I will be writing at least a post a week (every Saturday) that has to do with how 3D printing stocks are performing and my (unprofessional) assessment of their potential.

This week I am highlighting Organovo Holdings, Inc. (ONVO) a development stage company that is developing the technology to print organs using a culture of a patients own cells. This blog has actually already touched on a little of Organovo's work, the company that is working on 3D printed meat, Modern Meadow's co-founder Gabor Forgacs was also a co-founder of Organovo and a lot of the tech is the same. They only recently started trading (back in February) on the over the counter market and aren't even on the larger exchanges. This means that they aren't exactly established, and rightly so, currently they do not have much of a revenue stream as they are still working on the technology.

Any investment in this stock would almost certainly be pure speculation, as it is very early, but also with potentially great payoffs. Currently trading around the $2 mark the stock seems to be recovering after the rollercoaster that was its opening. The stock skyrocketed from $2 when it was first issued to $10 over a couple of months as the press-hype and buzz got people excited about the project, the stock then plummeted after people began to realize that they will not be able to print themselves new livers tomorrow (talk about a bad hang-over) but will have to wait upwards of 10 years for it to be more wide-spread. Some of the drop was also attributed to the fact that those preferential investors that bought stocks for cheap on private placements were finally able to sell off those stock and flooded the market. With expectations of the time-line for production starting to settle in the price is again starting to creep up again. I feel that the height that was reached before the crash reflects some of the potential for what the market would value this technology at if it was fully functional and so if Organovo is successful I would not be surprised if it returns to that level.

There are sure to be large fluctuations in this stock over the years, but as they accumulate more patents and develop their technology I would say it is not a bad investment purely for the intellectual property. I can see a Pfizer (or some other medical powerhouse) buying them out in a couple years with potential good payoff for Organovo's investors if all is going well.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned above. I am not a finance professional and before you blow away your savings on my advice consult real financial professionals

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nom Nom: 3D Printed Meat

It was recently announced that Peter Thiel, one of PayPal's co-founders, has awarded money to a fledgling company that is trying to change how we think about meat. Thiel is giving money to Modern Meadow through one of his philanthropic organizations, Breakout Labs. The idea is that through 3D printing we can create meat from synthetic proteins that will not require all of the negative externalities of raising livestock.

Here is a technical description from their report to the USDA:

"So far, bio-printing has been applied to build three-dimensional tissues and organ structures of specific architecture and functionality for purposes of regenerative medicine. Here we propose to adapt this technology to building meat products for consumption. The technology has several advantages in comparison to earlier attempts to engineer meat in vitro. The bio-ink particles can be reproducibly prepared with mixtures of cells of different types....We anticipate that this Phase I application will result in macroscopic (~2cm x 1cm x 0.5mm) edible prototypes and will demonstrate that bio-printing-based in vitro meat production is feasible, economically viable and environmentally practical."

There are many issues that will arise before we start getting steak shaped into Mickey Mouse ears, but whether we consider it ethical or not I feel that this advancement is inevitable. It may not take off in America, but much like the Green Revolution changed agriculture, this technology will allow for the ability to increase the amount of meat in the developing world. Countries like China will need to develop ways of producing the meat necessary to feed their ever growing population and this may be just the answer. The fact that the population in the developing world is growing faster than the rest of the world is one thing, but on top of that a World Health Organization report found that more developed countries consume more meat so this problem could be exaggerated even more.

This project has a long way to go, but there will be many issues that come with synthetic meat. I have some questions for my readers.

Would you eat 3D printed meat? (Spoiler: I would, but I would require it be printed into fun shapes)

If you are vegan, would you eat meat that was printed?

If you only eat kosher meat, how would you kasher 3D printed meat?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Inception Printer?!?!

Hey guys, you can print a 3D printer with a 3D printer!

Yusuf is right, there is such a thing as a 3D printer that prints another 3D printer. It is part of the open-source project called RepRap. The project, started in 2007, already has thousands of users, but as with many open-source projects it is mainly used by hobbyists making it the Apple I of 3D printers. This project has been good for getting the small-scale 3D printer movement going, but it is not for the faint of heart because the coding is very technical. 

Prusa Mendel, one of RepRap's basic models
Mendel model "parent" with two of its "children"

Since the founding of RepRap there have been many companies that have been founded, or decided to start a project, to develop more consumer friendly 3D printers, but because it is free RepRap still reigns as one of the most used.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Your Home Your Way

3D printing will bring with it the ultimate in customization combined with the precision and ease of manufacturing. One of the best examples of this is the ability to custom build your own home in less than 24 hours. This concept, brought to you by Contour Crafting, will allow for your entire house, wiring and plumbing included, to be built by a giant 3D printer that can be transferred to and from a construction site. Because of this building procedure many of the previous restrictions of current construction will disintegrate and everything from curved walls to odd shaped windows will be possible. I personally cannot wait to see the rows of houses no longer just slight modifications of each other, but each an entirely unique personal creation. Issues may include cost, job displacement, short-term feasibility, but with the rest of the world moving from man-made to machine-made, will our homes be next?

Check out Contour Crafting CEO Behrokh Khoshnevis at TEDxOjai talk about what his company has to offer:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Welcome to 3D Printonomics!

QUICK UPDATE: 3dprintonomics was an exciting endeavor, but due to bandwidth constraints the blog has been suspended. There will be occasional updates on twitter @3Dprintonomics and maybe one day blogging will be restarted.


Welcome! This blog has been created to track the progress and development of 3D printing technology (a.k.a. additive manufacturing) as it begins to enter into the realm of the consumer market. I will be discussing topics ranging from stock performance to the impact it will have on the price of goods and from advances that are common place to those on the edge of science fiction. Join me as I chronicle developments that will without a doubt affect the future, the only question is how much. My goal is to inform the world about the potential that this technology has, look forward to videos, pictures, articles, and my own personal analysis.

My name is Ayal Chen-Zion, I am a PhD student in Economics at UCSD. Some may call me a crazy futurist, but I think that as technology marches forward 3D printing will soon be on the front line of innovation.

For those that are new to 3D printing here is a TED talk that highlights just some of the amazing potential of 3D printing:

David F. Flanders @ TEDxHamburg 2011

Comments are welcome.