The printer as we know it is a strictly two-dimensional technology, depositing ink onto flat surfaces like paper. But new innovations are making it possible to “print” objects in three dimensions– layering resin, plastic composites, and metal– to make everything from furniture to prosthetic limbs. Tech Tuesday explores the cutting edge of 3-D printing, and examines how this new technology could transform assumptions about medicine, manufacturing and economics.


  • Stephen Rouse DDS; Director of Operations & Research for 3D Medical Applications, Walter Reed Army Medical Center
  • Ashlee Vance Reporter, New York Times
  • John Lee 3D Printing Specialist, ABC Imaging LLC
  • Scott Summit Co-Founder, Bespoke Innovations


  • 12:06:47

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Tech Tuesday. The printer, as we know it, is strictly a two-dimensional technology, depositing ink onto flat surfaces like paper, but new innovations are making it possible to print objects in three dimensions, layering resin, plastic composites and metal to make everything from furniture to prosthetic limbs. Tech Tuesday explores the cutting edge of 3-D printing and examines how this new technology could transform assumptions about medicine, manufacturing and economics. Joining us in studio for this conversation is Stephen Rouse. He is director of operations and research for 3-D medical applications at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Dr. Rouse, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:07:51

    DR. STEPHEN ROUSEThank you for having me.

  • 12:07:53

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is John Lee. He's a 3-D printing specialist with ABC Imaging, a printing business in Washington, D.C. John Lee, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:04

    MR. JOHN LEEThank you, Kojo.

  • 12:08:05

    NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios in San Francisco is Scott Summit. He's an industrial engineer and co-founder of Bespoke Innovations, a firm that designs cutting-edge prosthesis. Scott Summit, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:08:19

    MR. SCOTT SUMMITThanks. It's good to be here.

  • 12:08:21

    NNAMDIAnd of course, you all can join this conversation on Tech Tuesday at 800-433-8850. You can send us e-mail to, a tweet @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow. org. Join the conversation there. Scott Summit, let me start with you. Today, the printer is a nearly ubiquitous consumer technology. It's a device that layers ink onto paper and other media in two dimensions. But in the field of design, a new generation of printers is taking manufacturing into another dimension, literally. What is 3-D printing?

  • 12:08:59

    SUMMIT3-D printing is a way to get what you create in CAD, a 3-D model that is created in CAD or 3-D modeler, into a three-dimensional artifact that you can physically hold. And it does it through a number of different technologies. They're all layered technologies in that deposit a layer or they center a layer or a laser fuses particles together. But the outcome is always the same. You have a physical artifact in hand that was only a few hours ago on your computer screen as a three-dimensional form.

  • 12:09:29

    NNAMDISo we're talking about being able to build a scale model, say, of your home or design and manufacture your own medical devices or tools with nothing more than a printer. Exactly what is happening when you print a device on a 3-D printer?

  • 12:09:45

    SUMMITWhen you're printing the product, it is, well, it's fusing these layers together and you get the physical artifact out of it. It changes all of the dynamics of creating a product in the sense that you don't have upfront cost. And that's the main thing, is that you can create a final artifact on your first go round and you don't have any tooling cost, you don't have all of the R and D that goes into that that needs to be amortized over many units, so you can be right out of the gate a profitable ready to go company.

  • 12:10:19

    NNAMDIStephen Rouse, many of us have seen the products of this manufacturing technique in action, but we may not recognize it. In dental care, there's a clear system of retainers called Invisalign. And apparently, that company uses one of the same machines to make its products as you use at Walter Reed, a stereo lithography apparatus. Explain please.

  • 12:10:44

    ROUSEThat's correct, sir. The Invisalign Corporation utilizes the SLA 7000 that was manufacture by 3D Systems. And as a matter of fact, they're probably the largest single owner of that equipment in the world. I believe they have 40-plus. Retail value of those is somewhere between six and $700,000 a piece. So you can imagine the amount of profit that can be made in this technology doing something that previously was never manufacturable like this.

  • 12:11:21

    NNAMDIHow does the SLA machine work?

  • 12:11:23

    ROUSEThe SLA machine works in a vat of liquid resin that's a light -- has a light-activated catalyst, meaning, when the laser light hits the surface, everywhere it touches hardens. As the printing process continues of transcribing layer upon layer on the surface of the resin, they -- the printed piece drops in the vat just lightly and a new layer is built on top of that. So when you're done, you have printed single sheets of resin, so to speak, bonded to each other. And when the platform comes back to the top, you have a solid comprised of all these many layers.

  • 12:12:05

    NNAMDIJohn Lee, ABC Imaging uses two different machines, something called a ZPrinter 650 and the Dimension 1200e. They both create 3-D models but they go about it differently. Can you please explain?

  • 12:12:19

    LEESure. The ZCorp printers, they use standard inkjet print heads, but instead of using the ink, the inks are placed by binder fluids and a roller spreads a very thin layer of plats like powder. The layer 4,000th of an inch thick. Then the inkjet print heads deposit a binder onto that layer in the precise cross sections. And this type of 3-D printer is the only full color 3-D printer out there, so those color binders as well. And similar to the SLA approach and all 3-D printers in general, it stacks the layers on top -- on the top of each other. And after printing, loose powder -- there's a manual post-process and loose powder is brushed away or use air guns to brush it away. And then it's a porous material when it first comes out, then it's infiltrated with chemicals. Usually, the standard finish is glue, super glue, and then we usually do a wax finish for a nice appearance. We can also put epoxy on it to make a very strong part for prototypes and molds.

  • 12:13:21

    LEEThe Stratasys Dimension printers, they work in a completely different way. They actually have a heated chamber, and they heat a thin bead of ABS plastic. ABS is the same material used in Lego blocks and car interiors. It's a very strong lightweight thermoplastic. So it is -- besides that, the second nozzle, too, was support material, so the support materials, now, I guess, to like scaffolding, so it's big on a building. It supports the layers, and it supports overhangs. And so it extrudes that material to the object layer by layer. Then afterwards, the support materials, they're broken away or sometimes put in a tank -- heated detergent tank to dissolve away.

  • 12:14:06

    NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. We're discussing 3-D printing technology. We're talking with Dr. Stephen Rouse. He's director of operations and research for 3D Medical Applications at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. John Lee is a 3-D printing specialist with ABC Imaging, a printing business in Washington, D.C., and Scott Summit is an industrial engineer and co-founder of Bespoke Innovations, a firm that designs cutting-edge prostheses. He joins us from studios in San Francisco. Scott, we consumers tend to get geeked out by fun gadgets that do something, but people who make those gadgets get geeked out at what appear about advances in materials. Over the past few years, we've seen major advances in plastics and other material. What has changed?

  • 12:14:52

    SUMMITI think that's why we're talking right now is that this technology has actually been around for about 20 years, but it's been on the sidelines because it's only been able to create up until recently fairly disposable parts, that the parts are either such low resolution that they're not usable or the materials are too brittle or too breakable to be really used in any practical application. Recently, though, the materials now are being made of -- you can use titanium polyamide, which is nylon, stainless steel silver glass, things like that, that can be printed. Well, all of a sudden that changes the equation because we can do final consumer-ready parts that way. So, for example, the new Boeing aircraft has a number of parts that are created this way. And it's not the prototype that they are using. They are printing the final part on the machine, and that's where the calculus really changes.

  • 12:15:43

    NNAMDIAnd John Lee brought some show and tell for me on this that he's been demonstrating even as he has been -- explain what that's in your hand?

  • 12:15:50

    LEEThis is our (word?) model from Our Desk Revit, so there's -- what -- a big part of a 3-D printing specialist job at ABC Imaging is -- since we work mostly with architects and architectural firms, we -- the files often need preparation, and so the machine drivers can slice the model correctly and build it correctly. And also there's some type of, you know, better techniques to use the machine as more efficiently. First, it's hollowing out to lower the material used and the cost as well, and this -- probably, a full color of this, this 3-D printed model also has texture maps. So that grass is actually not a solid green color.

  • 12:16:36

    NNAMDIYeah, we're seeing a building. We're seeing grounds.

  • 12:16:38


  • 12:16:38

    NNAMDIWe're seeing grass.

  • 12:16:40

    LEEYeah. So you see the topography as well so...

  • 12:16:42


  • 12:16:42

    LEE...that's really an advantage for architects to be able to output a model, you know, affordably and quickly this way.

  • 12:16:48

    NNAMDIDr. Rouse, this technology seems very new, but the first 3-D printers were actually designed in the 1980s.

  • 12:16:55

    ROUSEThat's correct.

  • 12:16:56

    NNAMDIWhen this was first conceived, we didn't have very sophisticated 3-D programs for computers, and the materials we were talking about were not as advanced. What's driving this expansion?

  • 12:17:06

    ROUSEWell, I think, as you look at your own life, as different products become available, your range of use of those products expands phenomenally. It wasn’t very long ago that exposure to the common personal computer was something that was rare for all of us. And from my personal stand point until I found a specific use for it, and that use, in my case, was turbo texts, all of a sudden, I discovered that there were things I could do with this toy other than play tic-tac-toe and create balls that would jump around the court. As we -- as a manufacturer or an inventor like Charles Hull who developed the stereo lithography process, as he initiates this process, a lot of what it's driven by is the development of materials, so until you have materials that you can utilize for more than just temporary use, you really don't have a product that can expand the way that they are currently.

  • 12:18:09

    NNAMDIJoining us now from studios in San Francisco is Ashlee Vance, who's a reporter for The New York Times. Ashlee, thank you very much for joining us.

  • 12:18:17

    MR. ASHLEE VANCEThank you.

  • 12:18:18

    NNAMDIAshlee, you talked to a number of -- a variety of manufacturers for the piece you did for The New York Times who are making cool stuff with these printers. A company in New York is making furniture, and some companies are designing cell phone prototypes.

  • 12:18:34

    VANCEYeah, I mean, I think that's what sort of fascinating about what's going on in the industry right now is that, like Scott said, the materials have gotten better, the price on some of the machines has come down. And where companies like Boeing or NASA used to get to play with this stuff, now, a whole new class of people gets to experiment with what they can do with the technology. And, you know, Scott's company, Bespoke Innovations, they're making prosthetic limbs and are building a business around that. There's a company in Los Angeles called Contour Crafting that has a -- they do 3-D printing of entire houses using sort of unique cement mixture where they print layer by layer to create the frame of a house, and they think this could be a revolution in low-cost housing. And then, like you mentioned, there's a Dutch firm called Freedom of Creation that makes furniture and jewelry and dresses and shoes and all types of objects.

  • 12:19:29

    NNAMDIToday, Ashlee, most of our manufactured products come from a distant factory some place where products are fashioned out of bulk raw materials. They're mass produced in batches of millions somewhere on the other side of the world. And there's a tradeoff. We get a relatively inexpensive homogenous consumer product. The companies manage to make money by making things in bulk. But the kind of technology we are discussing now could turn some of these assumptions on their head. Can't they all of a sudden? It would be much cheaper for manufacturers to make smaller, more specialized batches of things closer to home and consumers can have more personalized products. Can they not?

  • 12:20:05

    VANCEThat's exactly right. If you take the example of Freedom Of Creation, if they're making a chair, if you're IKEA, you have to sort of take into account the biggest possible audience for your chair because you're gonna mass produce this object. Freedom Of Creation can think of a design, and then they don't actually have to print the object until somebody orders it. And so, you can make something that might cater to 50 people or 100 people. And it just opens up a completely different way about thinking about things. And basically, you've taken labor out of the equation at that point. And so, it really changes the economics.

  • 12:20:41

    NNAMDIHere's John in Falls Church, Va. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:20:45

    JOHNI originally had some questions about how long the 3-D printer had been around. I knew it had been around for quite a while but that seems to have been answered. I had some additional questions about -- I guess the CAD programs are modified slightly so that they include some mechanism for draining away the uncured material for the pool-type printers. I was wondering if the use of high-energy lasers, which I was hoping would eventually be used to make inkless black and white printers, to possibly provide a means of curing or doping materials so you could actually have integrated -- or circuits integrated into these three-dimensionally produced -- mass-produced objects.

  • 12:21:31

    NNAMDIScott Summit?

  • 12:21:33

    SUMMITThat is something that's rumored right now. Everybody is looking for when the machines are ready to put -- to create multiple materials simultaneously. To do circuits and things like that, you need to be able to do metal while you're doing the polymer, silicon, any number of things. Right now, the materials are pretty much one material per machine. There are a few machines that can do multiple materials but those are limited. They're not doing polymers, elastomers and metals simultaneously. They're just doing polymers and elastomers right now. So...

  • 12:22:02

    JOHNBut if you do multiple colors, you can do multiple materials. (unintelligible)

  • 12:22:07

    SUMMITNot necessarily. Color is simply a pigment. It's a pigment that gets infiltrated into the...

  • 12:22:11

    JOHNSure. But that could be considered dope.

  • 12:22:14

    SUMMITTo a degree. When you're talking about doing metal, it works at a very different melt temperature and it has very different characteristics. The laser characteristics and the fusing characteristics are different from polymers. And so -- right now, there's no machine that can do them. I have no doubt there are companies working frantically at this, and I look forward to the day when that happens because that will be another big game changer in this area. But right now, there is nothing that can do the multiple materials that would be required to get us to that point.

  • 12:22:41

    JOHNHow about combining a high-energy laser to do a -- okay, when you do the main object, it has a -- you know, it may have a need for a certain precision of outer contour. But you may want to make precise cuttings inside that using a different kind -- you know, like a cutting laser or something like that. Is that kind of combined mechanism for structure development?

  • 12:23:08

    SUMMITWell, currently the products are all additive so there's no cutting involved. It's simply fusing dust particles in the powder bed machines. It fuses the particles together to create the structure. And so there's nothing subtractive about it. It's simply that the laser is used to bump the material, the raw material over its melt point. And the machine holds the material just below its melt point, so the laser's job is fairly minimal to bump that material to the point where it melts and fuses to the areas around it. So that's one of the challenges with multiple materials because titanium has very different melt point than polyamide. And it's tricky to get a machine to do both simultaneously. Simply, if it's gonna suspend one of those materials at its melt point, the other one is gonna be pretty far from it.

  • 12:23:53

    NNAMDIStephen Rouse?

  • 12:23:54

    ROUSEYeah. When you're looking at the first question that you had, being able to do, for instance, electrical circuitry embedded in a part that you're building, there has been a substantial amount of work done at the university level on that that's been successful. But the way it's normally done is by stopping your build at a certain point and manually placing your circuitry in your build then going on so that the part has the circuitry embedded in it. And that has been fairly successful.

  • 12:24:26

    NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. We're gonna have to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on 3-D printing technology. It's Tech Tuesday. If the phone lines are busy, go to our website, Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:26:37

    NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday and we're discussing 3-D printing technology with John Lee. He's a 3-D printing specialist with ABC Imaging, a printing business in Washington. Stephen Rouse is director of operations and research for 3-D medical applications at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Scott Summit is an industrial engineer and co-founder with Bespoke Innovations, a firm that designs cutting edge prosthesis, and Ashlee Vance is a reporter with the New York Times, who's been covering the story. Ashlee, what drew you to this story in the first place?

  • 12:27:07

    VANCEI -- it's really, you know, a technology report so I'd heard about 3-D printing, but really I caught the talk by Scott at a spot in Silicon Valley that's -- it's called TechShop. It’s a workshop where inventors get around and try to make things. And he came in and he had these legs -- entire legs that he'd made and all these cool objects. And I had no idea that this sort of stuff was possible. I think one thing that might be getting lost in all the technological minutia that we're sort of going into is that this is kind of mind blowing stuff. You know, just the thought that one day we may have a printer in our own house that's spitting out cups and plates and things that we might wanna have around there. And so when I saw that, it caught my attention and I started digging into this, and I just realized that it seems to be exploding at this moment with so many different businesses trying to make a go of 3-D printing in unique ways.

  • 12:28:08

    NNAMDIScott, the U.S. is currently in the midst of two armed conflicts that have led to a huge influx and wounded veterans, victims of IED explosions and gun shots. You, as Ashlee was pointing out, are designing new types of prosthetic limbs for people with amputations, and you're using next generation manufacturing technique. Tell us about the prosthetic limbs you're manufacturing.

  • 12:28:29

    SUMMITYeah, we go out from a very different perspective that instead of creating a limb like a garage sale of parts which they currently are -- you have one manufacturer makes a knee and that gets bolted to a pipe and that gets bolted to a foot. That seems very old school to us. We go from using additive fabrication as the corner stone technology and start with actually a scan of the body. So we do a three-dimensional scan of the person's body so that we start with their personal morphology, their basic body shape to drive the whole process. Then we mirror the sound-side limb, the surviving limb, superimpose that over the lost limb. So now, no matter what we do, we will have a symmetric body when we finish. Then we run that through some computer templates that we've made, and we can create a full leg that now is symmetric to the other leg and is ready to be three-dimensionally printed with all the components in it. The hinges, the hinge for the knee, the clutch around the ankle, all in spring tensioners -- all that stuff gets printed into one shot, but it all retains the same morphology of the person.

  • 12:29:37

    NNAMDIDr. Rouse, Walter Reed Army Medical Center has been experimenting with three-dimensional applications for a long time. The obvious use will be for prosthesis. But you're also using 3-D models to improve how surgeries are conducted. Please explain.

  • 12:29:50

    ROUSEThat's right. Let me first do the standard disclaimer that I don't represent the Army or DOD. I'm just very fortunate that I have a venue that I can expand. You've mentioned earlier that geeks are very interested in this. And I've kind of turned into a terminal geek when it comes to being able to expand and to go different directions. One of the problems that we have traditionally had is that the standard CT scan that you’re all familiar with, even if you just watch the movies, you see a light box with all these radiographs on the wall. The surgeon has to look at that whole series of two-dimensional printed slices of a body and translate that internally into a view -- a three-dimensional view of what he's actually looking at or looking for. And what we find is that in many cases, the surgeon really doesn't know what's there until he opens you up to take a look.

  • 12:30:52

    ROUSEFrankly, I don’t like the idea of exploratory surgery. I want him to know what's going on before they get in there. If there are things needed like custom fixation or bending plates to be able to put bones back together or make an implant, I want him to do that before I go in the operating room, before I go under anesthesia. There are advantages to this. Probably the largest one is that it reduces all the risk factors for you, the patient. The surgery is faster. The surgeon doesn’t have to have his larger opening to view in. They know ahead of time what they need to do. They've got everything else prepared. We're saving anywhere from one to six hours per surgical procedure. The upside of all of this is not only a better outcome for the patient and a faster surgery, but it cost us, the taxpayers, less money to do the same thing.

  • 12:31:44

    NNAMDICharlie in Falls Church says his understanding is that such printers in conjunction with embryonic cells can create new organs or other body parts. Is this true? Star Trek replicator finally came to be?

  • 12:31:57

    ROUSEWell, that's an excellent concept. And there's a lot of work being done on that. Probably, the largest progress -- project that I know of is in relation to doing of human kidney. If we could create a full kidney using this process, it would probably help more people worldwide than any other single thing we could ever do. The problem is that in order to have living tissue, you have to have a blood supply. Once you passed a two or three cell layer, you have to feed the layers that you've already printed. And we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

  • 12:32:36

    NNAMDIAnd, John, as we mentioned earlier, we've been talking so far about medical applications. But as you showed me earlier, a lot of your colleagues are coming from other sectors as well. You mentioned that this technology was adopted early and enthusiastically by architects?

  • 12:32:53

    LEEOh, yes. Well, 3-D printers were used, you know, in the past couple of decades, mainly by mechanical engineers because the mechanical design software creates solid models that base -- well, usually print. That was no problem. And also they're kind of more hands on and they know -- understand manufacturing, how to set the build files for the 3-D printing devices. But architects kind of followed a little bit more solely into 3-D CAD. But, more and more, especially young architects are using 3-D CAD building information modeling is big, as well as creating a complete virtual building and putting all the mechanical and structural -- those architectural elements, and doing analysis on that. And one of the advantages of that also, they're finding, is that they could take the 3-D view from the Revit project, and then we can output 3-D printed model -- physical models for them, not just for presentations or to show the clients as far so -- as a design tool. They can print quickly on -- place one on ZPrinters, quickly output their geometries and study it and do design iterations and do multiple 3-D prints or a life to the project.

  • 12:34:04

    NNAMDIA lot of people would like to speak with you, gentlemen. So allow me to go to the telephones with Robert in Centerville, Va. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:34:13

    ROBERTHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me on the air. What a great show. My head is spinning. (laugh) But, I guess the -- I guess one question I had was if -- just how – just what kind of output can you get out of these -- are these are -- like say, if I wanna to make a handle or transmission shifter in a car, how would it compare to say in an injection molding machine in terms of how many units per minute you could put out?

  • 12:34:45

    NNAMDIScott Summit?

  • 12:34:47

    SUMMITYeah, these are not as rapid as injection molding. It's not really meant to compete with injection molding, and you'd never really get there. I don't see that happening in our lifetimes. But what it does offer is something a lot more custom. And so, if you don't want your stick knob -- your shift lever to be identical to the other millions that are out on the road, well, you could design your own that's specifically tailored to your hand. You can do that with free 3-D software that you can download off the Web. And you can send it to services that will print it, and you'll get it a few days later. And you can have it made of titanium or stainless or silver or glass or anything you want. And it'll be custom-tailored to you. So it's not necessarily cost competitive in most circumstances against injection molding, but it offers things that injection molding simply can't and never will be able to.

  • 12:35:38

    NNAMDIRobert, thank you for your call. We move on to Richard in Upper Marlboro, Md. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:35:44

    RICHARDHi, Kojo. I love your show.

  • 12:35:46

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 12:35:47

    RICHARDTwo observations, one is the Red Bull Formula 1 racing team builds their entire multimillion-dollar race car by using this technology. They take -- they had 80 plus CAD operators designing every part for the car. And then they're built at a 1:6-scale using the technology of that mold injection, I guess -- I'm not exactly sure what they're using. But they literally build the car that way. And then, they wind tunnel test it. And when they decide it's right, then they built the full-scale parts to the car. And then, secondly, I'm in need of a second shoulder replacement. I already had one done. But my surgeon was so concern that my left shoulder cap was -- in the scapula was so worn out that he had me take a CT scan and took the DVD and sent it to a company, which is going to reproduce my scapula in life size.

  • 12:36:51

    RICHARDAnd this referred back to what the other gentleman spoke about earlier. So that now, he will know before he goes in to do the surgery, whether or not he can do a normal shoulder arthroplasty, where the ball was on the end of the humerus and the cap is on the scapula, or whether they will not be enough material there. And he will have to do -- put the ball on the scapula and they socket on the humerus, which is called a reverse shoulder arthroplasty.

  • 12:37:20

    NNAMDIDr. Rouse, does he get it exactly right or what?

  • 12:37:23

    ROUSEHe has got it. (laugh) In addition to that, one of the advantages of this is that there are many people for whom the off-the-shelf parts, the socket and the ball, are not acceptable many times because of previous of bone loss. In those cases, this technology, the additive manufacturing allows us to build a part that is anatomically tailored to that particular individual.

  • 12:37:49

    NNAMDIAshlee Vance, in some ways, it's a misnomer to call this devices printers since many of them don't really look or act like the kind of thing we have in our office or home.

  • 12:38:00

    VANCEYeah, that's true. I mean, there's all different kinds of machines, like the guys were going through at the beginning. But, you know, on some fundamental level, sort of like an ink jet printer, many of the devices actually do borrow from that. But the six, $700,000-machines were talking about are much larger than we can see...

  • 12:38:17

    NNAMDIBut it's my understanding, Ashlee, that Hewlett-Packard, the largest maker of plain old 2-D printers has recently shown some interests in getting into this market. What's the thinking behind that?

  • 12:38:28

    VANCEYeah, that's right. I've talked to them pretty extensively about that. They're reselling a machine from a company called Stratasys right now in aiming at the corporate market. But then, HP's researchers are well aware of this technology. And, certainly, you could imagine having such an enormous printer franchise that maybe they try to push it farther. And then, there's other companies today that are producing -- they produce five and $10,000-machines that can almost sit on the desk. And then in the hobbyist realm, there's companies like MakerBot and a couple of others that make hobbyist kits, sort of like, we had 25 years ago with computers, where you can make, sort of crude objects, toys for your kids and little models. And those cost about $1,000.

  • 12:39:14

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Richard. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send e-mail to, a tweet @kojoshow. Here is Nathan in Washington, D.C. Hi, Nathan.

  • 12:39:28

    NATHANHi. Yeah, I heard you mentioned MakerBot. And I actually, recently picked one of those up. And maybe you could talk a little bit more about the open source 3-D printers such as the RepRap Project, which is the self-replicating robot.

  • 12:39:44

    NNAMDIStephen Rouse?

  • 12:39:46

    ROUSEThe RepRap Project is very interesting. And for anyone who has a desire to learn more about this. You can actually get into this for in the $200 range. So it's not much different than a desktop printer for cost. When it's done, it will look a home-built, but I believe you can use standard material like you use for your weed wacker to feed it very, very inexpensively. They've actually done a lot of work with that same technology for doing things like chocolate printing and candies.

  • 12:40:23

    NNAMDIThat is fascinating. Nathan, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take another short break. When we come back, we will continue this Tech Tuesday conversation on 3-D printing technology. We have a few phone lines open, so you can now call 800-433-8850 with your questions or comments. Or go to our website, Ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:42:32

    NNAMDIIt's Tech Tuesday on 3-D printing technology. We're talking with Ashlee Vance. He's a reporter from the New York Times who joins us from studios in San Francisco, as does Scott Summit. He's an industrial engineer and co-founder of Bespoke Innovations. That's a firm that designs cutting-edge prosthesis. In our Washington studio is John Lee. He's a 3-D printing specialist with ABC Imaging, a printing business here in Washington. And Dr. Stephen Rouse is director of operations and research for 3-D medical applications at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. If you have called us, 800-433-8850. Stay on the line. We will get to you telephone call. If the lines are busy, send us a tweet, @kojoshow. This tweet we got from Kaye, John Lee. Kaye tweeted to ask, "Please have someone explain how the jewelry industry can use CAD, computer-assisted design, in 3-D printing."

  • 12:43:24

    LEEThere are several high-resolution 3-D printers like the Objet and 3D Systems' ProJet. They're polymer jetting, so they use -- they use print heads but the printers are actually spraying polymer material. And then there's a secondary jet for some more material as well. Those can be used to make mold, so you design your jewelry in your 3-D CAD program such as Rhinoceros or other programs. CAD programs have special modules for jewelry design. And you make that mold and then you can actually have that mold sent to a foundry or -- use low temperature melting metals and actually make your metal jewelry that way as well so.

  • 12:44:08

    NNAMDIAshlee -- oh, please go ahead. Is this Ashlee?

  • 12:44:10

    VANCEOh, yes. If I could just jump in for a second as well. The, you know, 3-D printing also, besides making the molds, you can actually make the object in the plastic or the metal and you've got to remember that you can sort -- you can do things in 3-D printing that you could never do with your hands because you can make such intricate objects. And if you go to a website like, they're sort of the equivalent of for the 3-D printing world.

  • 12:44:36

    NNAMDIGive me that website again. We'll try to have a link to it.

  • 12:44:37

    VANCEIt's -- sure. It's, and you can send your own image that you've designed there and they'll print it and send it back to you. And then they also have images that you can borrow from. You can make your own cufflinks, for example, using a template and altering it. And then the -- you'll see just a number of different models that you can pick from there. And if you go there, there's a jewelry website, and you can see all these things that people have created. And the company that I mentioned before, Freedom Of Creations, they do jewelry as well, and you'll see a number of examples on their website.

  • 12:45:11

    SUMMITIf I can jump in as well, there's a company...

  • 12:45:12

    NNAMDIPlease do, Scott.

  • 12:45:13

    SUMMIT...out of MIT and they're called the Nervous System. I think they're graduates from MIT. And they do these very bio-inspired jewelry designs using cell structures in Voronoi patterns that are really beautiful, really spectacular, and really can only be created using additive fabrication because of the complexity that they like to use. And so I think their work can be found on a website. I think it's called the Nervous System. I think there are dashes between all the letters or something to that effect. If you...

  • 12:45:41

    NNAMDIThe Nervous System. We'll try to link to that website too.

  • 12:45:44


  • 12:45:45

    NNAMDIDr. Rouse, when a company is conducting research and development for a new product, typically a whole lot of money and time goes into prototypes. A company will roll out one specific device, test it, take feedback, go back to the lab, come out with another. Conceivably, this technology can change that, can't it?

  • 12:46:03

    ROUSEThat's correct. There are a couple of real advantages. In my early years, my father was the manager of a foundry. So I had the opportunity to visit a model maker who would spend months recreating in mahogany what the designer had created on paper, only to find out that it wasn't quite what was wanted. As rapidly as things change today with new cell phone designs coming out every few months, nobody wants what came out yesterday. So the issue of not just the manufacturing side but the management, who makes these decisions, wants this in hand. They wanna be able to feel it. They wanna see it. They wanna touch it. They wanna know exactly how it is and whether everything fits. And they want it today, not next week. Being able to rapidly create those products makes a phenomenal difference in the turnaround from design to market.

  • 12:47:02

    NNAMDIA company can now have 50 versions of that device, see which one is preferred. In other words, they don't have to put so many eggs in one basket.

  • 12:47:09

    ROUSEAnd not only that, they can build all 50 of those designs at the same time.

  • 12:47:14

    NNAMDIOn to Nina in Chantilly, Va. Nina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:47:19

    NINAThanks, Kojo. I appreciate your show. Thanks for having it. I -- my question was what kind of training, education or career paths will be opened up with this technology? That was the first question I had. And the other one was how is this gonna revolutionize the cars that we drive? Because I saw a show on Discovery that was talking about how they were gonna design composite cars. And I have a feeling that this 3D technology might fit into that.

  • 12:47:48

    NNAMDIAny ideas on that, John Lee?

  • 12:47:50

    LEEWe got -- it's -- especially like Stratasys' Dimension, ABS plastic machines, they can use for manufacturing vessel regular tooling, like the rigs and brackets. You need to start fabricating a custom -- new custom design. And so I look at manufacturing companies using these -- in such 3D printers do that much more cost-effectively and actually being able to bring certain products down to a low enough price point with more mass market, too.

  • 12:48:24

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from someone at the Smithsonian who says -- Smithsonian Museum who said, "We use 3D printing at the Smithsonian for making exhibits, artifact replicas and scientific models and the like." So, Nina, thank you very much for your call. But allow me to ask you, Scott Summit. One of Nina's questions has to do with where could we be heading in academia in terms of this? What kind of new careers could we be looking at?

  • 12:48:49

    SUMMITI think that's really an interesting question that Nina threw out there because my background -- I'm an industrial designer. Actually, not an industrial engineer. That would offend all the engineers listening. But designers are going through a real metamorphosis right now. And this, I think, is one of the tools that is driving that because, traditionally, we would design a product with the intention of making every product identical from that point on. Manufacturing is all about making identical mass market products.

  • 12:49:14

    SUMMITSo this changes when you create an equation like what we're doing at Bespoke, where under no circumstance can two products be identical. That becomes a very different type of designer, but you're solving a very different problem. And the end result is very different as well, that you're relinquishing some of this authoritarian control over your design. When you introduce variables into it, knowing that each product, each artifact that will be created through your process will be different from the next, it changes the way we think of design. And I think it really invites industrial designers to expand the way they approach their process.

  • 12:49:51

    ROUSEIf I can add to that...

  • 12:49:52

    NNAMDIPlease do, Mr. Stephen Rouse.

  • 12:49:53

    ROUSE...Scott, in addition to that, one of the things that we have to look at is that there's a significant difference between the individualized or the small-quantity manufactured products and the mass manufactured high-volume products. There's always gonna be a place for the standard manufacturing. The difference would be coming -- would come into the car arena, Nina, where there were specific elements inside the vehicle that needed to be customized for your particular physique or for your particular needs. And those elements could be done on a custom basis where the bulk of the car would all be mass manufactured. And I think that's where we're gonna see those changes occur.

  • 12:50:37

    LEEYeah, the keyword...

  • 12:50:38

    SUMMITI think that's a really good...

  • 12:50:39

    LEE...the keyword I hear a lot is mass customization. So there's actually companies who actually make hearing aids with this 3D printing technology, you know, custom fit to the person's anatomy, as well as, like, dental implants as well, too.

  • 12:50:54

    NNAMDIOn to Dublin in Washington, D.C. Dublin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:50:59

    DUBLINI could lead into my question. Hi, Kojo. How's -- how are you doing?

  • 12:51:03

    NNAMDII'm doing well.

  • 12:51:05

    DUBLINGreat. I have a question about the dental applications with this technology. And I heard, in the beginning, Invisalign and I recognize Invisalign involved with the dental corrections. But what I wonder about is whether or not this -- if the prosthetics used in the dental applications, other than resins, will they accommodate porcelains, natural material such as that?

  • 12:51:48

    NNAMDIDr. Rouse?

  • 12:51:49

    ROUSEWell, I think if we open the realm of -- up a little bit, there are several different areas where the additive manufacturing process can be used in dentistry. And there are several areas where the standard manufacturing works best. One of the problems that we face with teeth themselves is that because of the depth of color in the enamel of a tooth and the range of color involved, not just the color but the way that the whole tooth appears, it's -- in most cases, you cannot take a block of porcelain or porcelain materials and stack it on a coping for a crown, for instance, and shape it and fire it and polish it and have it actually look like the tooth. There's a lot of hand painting and things involved. There's no problem at all with being able to do the porcelain application or the actual creation of the body of the porcelain using this process, and it is, in fact, being done, but there's still an element of handwork that has to be done to it.

  • 12:53:00

    ROUSEThe other side is in the metals. You have custom implant creation where there is insufficient bone remaining in the jaws to be able to support any remaining teeth and there's not enough depth to be able to use standard implant, so custom implants are necessary in that case and this is the only process that will really do that. For crown or bridge frameworks, the standard milling process seems to work very well in a manufactured area.

  • 12:53:32

    NNAMDIAshlee Vance, where are we headed here? The possibilities seem limitless. And, Dublin, thank you very much for your call. Ashlee?

  • 12:53:38

    VANCEYeah, I think in the next maybe five to 10 years, I'm so excited to see the strange business as they're gonna crop up around this technology. And then, you know, the bigger question is how close does this get to the consumer and how do consumers start to embrace this. There's -- the service like I mentioned, Shape Ways -- but to be totally candid for an average person like me to use the computer design software, to make something as really tricky, I think there need to be serious advances in the way kind of the average person could begin to use that software. And then, there's a big debate around, will this be the next PC? Will every house have a printer at home? Or will there not really be a need for that type of product? I tend to think every house will have one, but I seem to find myself in the minority.

  • 12:54:26

    NNAMDIScott Summit, it seems like this could open up all sorts of new possibilities for product design. You're reducing the time it takes to design and manufacture a product. You're using new materials. You're moving away from uniform mass production. You recently wrote about something called biomimicry, the idea that we could design new products by taking cues from nature. Please explain.

  • 12:54:47

    SUMMITYeah, that's actually a huge topic in itself. It boils down to this idea of, "Why design something when you can evolve it?" That's a quote from Andrew Hessel. And it's this idea that nature has solved a lot of the problems that we have either mechanically or aesthetically or any number of things. If we borrow from the cues that nature has already arrived at, then we can come up with new forms that really are optimal in ways that nature has designed for us. For example, structurally, it's pretty hard to beat the bone of a bird wing. And we haven't been able to that because, traditionally, we use materials that are mass produced, not specifically designed for individualized application.

  • 12:55:28

    SUMMITSo, if we're three-dimensionally printing something, we can create, for example, the complex internal structure that a bird wing bone would have in it. It's called trabeculae. And we can actually print those right into it so we create a very, very optimized, very strong, very light, very low material product that is optimized per its use as opposed to optimized for mass production.

  • 12:55:53

    NNAMDIThis e-mail we got from Barbara, Stephen Rouse, "We are in the dental laboratory business where we have been using the CAD/CAM manufacturing for about eight years. We're seeing a loss of jobs and many changes to our industry that are coming so fast it's hard to keep up. Will this 3-D technology help or hurt job security? Also, I'm wondering where you would direct young people who are interested in all types of CAD/CAM manufacturing? What type of education should they purse?" Stephen Rouse?

  • 12:56:23

    ROUSEThat is a big question. Those of us who were involved in the Rapid, which is the additive manufacturing organization, part of the society of manufacturing engineers, have discussed this issue in length regarding education and the necessity for some standards. And we are working on that right now, creating education or curricula that's aimed specifically at accomplishing what you're asking. On the dental laboratory side, you're unable to see me so you can't see how old I am, but...

  • 12:57:04

    NNAMDIHe's a young guy.

  • 12:57:05

    ROUSEKojo and I are just about the same age.

  • 12:57:07

    NNAMDIYeah, we're about a hundred.

  • 12:57:08

    ROUSEI can assure you from 30 years in dentistry that I've seen some significant changes. One of which is job security in the crown or bridge arena is becoming an issue primarily because we're getting healthier and healthier and healthier young people. Working with the soldiers, I don't see anywhere the same number of individuals coming in with existing fillings or decay...

  • 12:57:35

    NNAMDIWe only have about 20 seconds.

  • 12:57:35 this is an issue.

  • 12:57:38

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Dr. Stephen Rouse is director of operations and research for 3-D medical applications at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. John Lee is 3-D printing specialist with ABC Imaging, a printing business in Washington. Ashlee Vance is a reporter for the New York Times, and Scott Summit is an industrial designer and co-founder of Bespoke Innovations, which designs cutting edge prostheses. Thank you all for joining us and, most of all, thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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