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Creative Content is King in a 3-D Printed World

Updated on April 2, 2013

Make way for a technological game changer - the 3-D printer.

Imagine downloading a digital file to your computer and printing out new frames for your glasses - in a tasteful damask pattern (in two-tone green to match your phone of course!)

Sound silly? Not if you're paying attention to what's bubbling up from the technology sandboxes.

3-D printing excites me! Remember the now-legendary split infinitive that glued us to our 1960s couches for an hour of futuristic fascination under the steady hand of Captain James T. Kirk? Well....we're doing it.

We're on the cusp of an explosion of new and mind-boggling products - customized and personalized to our one-of-a-kind taste. Get ready to have access to just about anything you can imagine from intricate jewellery printed complete with your personal inscription - to your custom-designed house, printed on site in concrete. It's happening. Now.

Photo: 3D printed ball cluster by manuelfloresv [CC BY-SA 2.0] on Flickr

It's an Incubator

3-D printing brings products to life

A 3-D printer works pretty much like your ink jet printer - a nozzle prints a thin layer of material (plastic for example) on a surface. Then it prints another layer on top of that, and again and again. Between each pass of the print head, the surface drops (or the print head rises) a little bit, building up multiple layers and creating a three dimensional object.

That's a way over-simplified description of the 3-D printing process so you'd better watch this video to see for yourself.

Will 3-D printing Change the World?

A new way to make things

The official term for 3-D printing is "additive manufacturing". So what's that mean?

Ever heard the old story about the sculptor who's asked how he can make a horse from block of stone? - "It's easy", he replies, "I just remove everything that doesn't look like a horse." Like sculptors, a lot of what we make today uses "subtractive" milling and manufacturing methods which waste time and materials - like drilling holes and cutting materials. Additive manufacturing puts the material we need in exactly the right places without waste.

3-D printing has been around for a while now, but mostly out of the public eye. It's early applications were in the engineering and design world for rapid prototyping. Prototypes enable industrial designers to actually handle or demonstrate a model of a part or assembly during the design phase. This allows them to fine-tune the characteristics, appearance or functionality of a product before it goes into production. These high quality (very expensive) printers can produce amazing quality using various materials from resins and plastics to metal (Yes - metal!).

Now they're going mainstream.

It's a Terminator

Survival of the smartest

3-D printing is a disruptive technology - that means some big old businesses with their industrial age mindset are gonna fall. The best example of this phenomenon is the digital camera (ironically invented by an engineer from Eastman Kodak - remember Kodachrome?).

I read somewhere about "Progress" being the opposite of "Congress" - Progress moves us forward and Congress....well, you get my point. Progressive big old businesses are already scrambling to stay in the game by figuring out how to embrace the change that's underway. They'll be able to adapt fairly quickly and more and more products will be "printed" as opposed to "manufactured" in the traditional sense.

The REALLY good news is that millions of new small businesses will spring to life - innovating, creating and enabling our 3-D printed world! I can't wait.

Opinion Poll

Do you think you'll ever have a 3-D printer in your home or office?

See results

It's a Replicator

3-D printing printers

If you're still with me, here's the point of my Star Trek reference in the intro - the replicator.

The RepRap project is designed to advance 3-D printing technology to enable 3-D printers to print the parts to make more 3-D printers. Got that? At this point the RepRap project has developed four 3-D printer designs that can successfully print many or most of the plastic components to make a replica of that printer. The goal is an "evolution" in the technology that enables the printers to print the parts that are not yet technically possible like motors and electronic controls.

What's the point? What if in the not-too-distant-future we could ship an inexpensive RepRap printer and some materials to some remote village in India. They download some files and print out the parts to make another printer, and then those two printers print out parts to make even more printers. Someone's suddenly in the manufacturing business!

But wait, there's more! What if there were literally millions of design files available for download, enabling all the people who now have 3-D printers to print out shoes - and prescription eyeglasses - and dishes - and a whole bunch of stuff we haven't even thought of yet. That's a new local economy.

We're still a long ways away from delivering Captain Jean-Luc Picard's "Tea, Earl Grey, hot" - but the kettle's plugged in.

A bit of nostalgia - Inspiration from Amazon

The original Star Trek television series was an inspiration to many impressionable baby boom kids like me. It portrayed a universe where all races were equal and even a United Federation of Planets was possible.

(16x20) Star Trek Spock and Captain Kirk TV Poster Print
(16x20) Star Trek Spock and Captain Kirk TV Poster Print
Your media room isn't complete without this classic Star Trek Team.
Star Trek: The Complete Original Series (Seasons 1-3) [Blu-ray]
Star Trek: The Complete Original Series (Seasons 1-3) [Blu-ray]
Fun to watch this series fifty years later and compare today's technology to Gene Roddenberry's vision. Communicators your wear on your belt, stun weapons, electronic reading devices, and yes....replicators.
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Complete Series
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Complete Series
Star Trek TNG aired 21 years after the original series. A must have. 178 episodes over 7 seasons

It's a Customator

The age of mass customization

We're already successfully building out the mass customization business. Zazzle is a prime example of how this works in the 2-D printing world (even though they're printing on three-dimensional objects).

Looking for the perfect pet bowl?...with your pet's name on it (in Garamond Italic)?....and their picture...? Done! It'll be in your mailbox Wednesday.

That's the promise and power of the age of mass customization.

This will translate into the 3-D "printingsphere" in similar fashion - allowing you to tweak three dimensional designs to suit your size, colour and material preferences and more. Right this minute you can custom-order three dimensional products printed in plastics, metals, and ceramics. And we're just getting started.

It's a Generator

Making money with 3-D printing

Service companies such as Shapeways, i.materialise, and Sculpteo are leading the charge into the world of 3-D printed products for the masses. By necessity, their existence is based on a symbiotic relationship with designers and artists. The service company has the printers, marketing channels and delivery system - the designers create the "product" and get paid a fee for each copy that's sold (without the hassle of actually making, selling and shipping stuff).

Like Zazzle, the real beauty of this type of arrangement is that it allows artists to do what they do best - continue to create new designs - instead of spending their time making the same thing over and over to fill orders.

Take the time to look at the 3-D printed jewellery, gadgets, and toys available today and you'll quickly see that some of these items would be impossible to make by hand or conventional manufacturing processes. You'll also see that some of the designs provide clever and simple solutions to everyday annoyances and some of them are just downright lame.

That's the state of the game right now - so there's plenty of room for new players with fresh ideas.

Be enterprising. Go boldly. And prosper.

Hot off the printer....

3-D printed dress for Dita Von Teese

You simply have to see the picture of this 3-D printed dress - a collaboration of designer Michael Schmidt and architect Francis Bitonti. It has 3000 moving joints and it's absolutely stunning!

Go to Dita Von Teese Debuts 3D-Printed Dress on Mashable right now and check it out.

(A huge thank you to lensmaster williamtjzhuo83 for bringing this my attention.)

Engage.... in the creative economy - Learn how creative thinkers play for pay


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