I’m sure that at least a few of you have heard about 3D printing. No, not the kind of printing you do on printing presses, but 3D. No, it does not involve wearing green and red glasses like we did in the 1970s. From Wikipedia: “The practice of using 3D digital data within 3D CAD software to provide specifications for individual components and product assemblies. The types of information included are geometric dimensioning and tolerancing component level materials, assembly level bills of materials, engineering configurations, design intent, etc." In other words, you stick something into the replicator and it gets replicated.
My introduction to this technology came from a friend at a chance meeting in a restaurant in Pittsburgh. It didn’t surprise me that he was not only aware of this technology, but was also very articulate when describing it to me, because that’s just the way he is. You see, back in the ’80s, he was one of my greatest teachers and mentors, and he’s a local guy, Henry Cook, who just happens to know a lot about everything. He explained to me that these devices will be the future in design, manufacturing and creativity as they analyze an object and lay down layer after layer of component material to form the newly designed prototype or an already existing object.
To say that this device is downright revolutionary would be a downright under-exaggeration. Not unlike the Dot.com boom and bust, or the real estate boom and bust, you kind of know that when these things finally reach the public, you’re probably already on the downside of the curve, and an airline magazine featured one for sale this week. It was the Makerbot Replicator 2X and beside it in the picture was what appeared to be a genie bottle. For only $2,799 you could own this little piece of the future. As they said in the article, the business uses for this are obvious enough, for example, to produce prototypes, but then they went on to whet your creative appetite by saying, “But think about its domestic uses, too.”
The genie bottle had the following sales descriptor: “Kids can fire it up to produce a replica of that vase they broke while their parents were away on vacation.” Of course they didn’t explain how you put the broken vase back together to replicate it without all of the cracks and glue over-runs, but then they ended this pitch with, “Now that could be a game changer.” Indeed it could.
This particular model was able to print in two different types of plastic in two different colors. So, close your eyes and imagine having one. Let’s say that you have an antique that your great grandfather left you, something brought here from the Old Country, something that is virtually priceless. Simply place it in the Makerbot, replicate it, put the replica on the shelf and sell the original on E-bay before anyone even notices it.
Can you imagine how much trouble you could get into replicating things while your folks were sleeping? Dad’s credit cards, mom’s teeth, your sister’s . . . well, you get the idea. Heck, you could probably make a plastic hamster, but check and make sure that the real hamster doesn’t explode like those little gremlins did in the movie.
Replicated shoes, cellphones, nuts, bolts, your baby shoes, that old toy that you loved so much: My guess is that these are all possibilities that are currently being pursued somewhere by some Makerbot owner. I’m sure that instead of those little Easy-Bake light bulb ovens that my daughter played with, my daughter’s daughters will be playing with little Makerbots.
It seems to me that all forms of creativity, good and bad, can come out of this invention. I heard about a guy illegally making hand guns for sale last month. I’m going to make a trumpet!