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

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.