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Many technologists believe advances in 3-D printing will revolutionize manufacturing. With the right software, in-home printers can already produce unique homewares, machine parts and architectural models. In the future, these devices could re-wire and democratize the global manufacturing economy. We explore the future of 3-D printing and possible intellectual property battles looming on Capitol Hill.
- Chris Anderson Editor-in-chief, Wired; Co-founder and Chairman, 3D Robotics
- Michael Weinberg Vice President, Public Knowledge
Photo Gallery: What You Can Make With A 3-D Printer
Video: Time Lapsed 3-D Printing###
A mini Beethoven bust printing on MakerBot #169 with a total print time of 1 hour and 22 minutes.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Imagine the year 2050, doctors create new organs that can save patients' lives with the press of a button. Your phone breaks, but with a single click you have a replacement part in minutes.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd an architect can watch any idea become a reality by constructing a model on the spot. With continuing advances in 3D printing, this future might be closer than you think. Through a process called additive manufacturing, a 3D printer makes physical objects out of digital designs.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd as the technology grows more affordable, more and more people could have one of these personal factories at home. Here to explore why 3D printing has technologists declaring the start of the next industrial revolution and consider legal challenges that could stand in its way is Michael Weinberg. He is vice president at Public Knowledge, which specializes in emerging technologies. Michael Weinberg, thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL WEINBERGThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIJoining us from studios in San Francisco is Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired and co-founder of 3D Robotics. The author of several books, he writes about the future of American manufacturing in his latest work titled "Makers: The New Industrial Revolution." Chris Anderson, thank you for joining us.
MR. CHRIS ANDERSONAh, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIYou too can join this conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there.
NNAMDI3D printing sounds very futuristic and, well, science fiction might provide the best example of what we're talking about. Consider the "Star Trek" food replicator, many listeners might be familiar with Captain Jean Luc Picard's usual request.
PATRICK STEWART AS JEAN LUC PICARDTea, Earl Grey, hot.
NNAMDIWhich prompts the replicator to instantly produce a cup of tea out of thin air, the food part might still be sci-fi, but Chris, you say that today's 3D printers can already make the cup?
ANDERSONYeah, that's right. 3D printers today cost less than $2,000. They, typically the ones you can buy for home, are printing out of plastic like a -- a plastic called ABS, which is the stuff that Legos is made out of. My children have one. Lots of kids, they now have one. And you know, basically they're very good for producing a prototype of something, something that is very quick to make and easy to hold.
ANDERSONI wouldn't mass produce with it, but it's fantastic for the kind of things you would use around the house or for experimenting with design.
NNAMDIHow does a 3D printer work?
ANDERSONThe way a 3D printer works is like a 2D printer. So take the Inkjet that you already have on your desktop. An Inkjet basically takes the pixels on your screen. Those are bits and turns them into drops of ink on paper using, you know, motors and little heads that eject the ink.
ANDERSONAnd so that's sort of a conversion from bits to atoms, if you will. That just puts down one layer of ink. But imagine if it kept going, if it kept laying on layer and layer and layer and layer and it wasn't ink, but it was a very -- it was molten plastic that very quickly hardened.
ANDERSONThat would build up in layers a physical object. So it's just basically the 2D printer you already have with one more head, with one more motor that sort of rises up vertically as it goes over and over the same position and rather than getting a piece of paper out you get a plastic object.
ANDERSONThose are the ones at home, the ones that you can -- that you might have in an office or might use an online service and work with everything from glass to metals and even titanium.
NNAMDIWhat is it that makes this technology revolutionary?
ANDERSONWell, you know, the main thing is that it's one of a class of what we call digital fabrication tools and that includes things like laser cutters, something called a CNC machine which is, rather than an additive manufacturing technology, it builds up to something. It's a tractive manufacturing which means it cuts away metals and such.
ANDERSONThere's, you know, smart sewing machines, embroidery, quilting, all sorts of computer-controlled machines all fall under this category of desktop manufacturing. And what makes it so revolutionary is that these things used to be hard. You know, to make a complex object, you needed machining tools and special equipment and today a box that costs no more than a printer and is no harder to use than a printer can make the sort of things you used to need a machine shop to make just a decade or two ago.
NNAMDIMichael Weinberg, 3D printing is frequently described as the next disruptive technology. What exactly is a disruptive technology and how does 3D printing fit the criteria?
WEINBERGWell, there are a lot of different definitions of a disruptive technology, but I think the most useful one in this context is it's a technology that fundamentally changes the way that we interact with something especially something in the economy.
WEINBERGSo right now, when you think about 3D printers and you say, well, what is this change? It changes first how you might distribute goods because instead of having to go to the store, you can download the goods and print it out at home.
WEINBERGAnd then maybe, more interestingly, it changes the way you think about designing goods because instead of having to find a design that works for 10,000 people, a million people, ten million people and then stamp out identical ones, you can say, well, what design would work for you? And then just work from there and print out a specific object that works for your specific need.
NNAMDIChris, you announced late last week that you are leaving Wired after nearly 12 years to focus on your 3D robotics company. Can we, should we interpret that move as a reflection of your certainty that we're at the beginning of a manufacturing revolution here?
ANDERSONYes, you should. I mean, basically my book, "Makers: A New Industrial Revolution" came out of my adventure as a maker. Five years ago, I was just messing around with, you know, my Lego mind storm with robotics and some, you know, some Open Source hardware stuff with my children. And as I got further and further into it, I realized that I could do kind of amazing things without any skills.
ANDERSONI really have no background in any of, you know, like electronics or manufacturing, although actually it turns out that my grandfather had been an inventor and...
NNAMDIWell tell us about own experience, I guess, improving on your grandfather's inventions.
ANDERSONYeah, well, so when I was a child, I would spend my summers with my grandfather in Los Angeles and I'm a D.C. native so, you know, I grew up in Bethesda. But I would fly across the country and my grandfather had a workshop and what he invented was the automatic sprinkler system. And he had a great workshop, you know, machine tools and metal lathes and it was just beautiful to watch him take his ideas and turn them into reality.
ANDERSONBut then I sort of didn't pursue that path largely because I didn't have those skills. I may have had the ideas, but I couldn't bring them into reality.
ANDERSONThirty years go by and now I start messing around with, you know, these increasingly easy-to-use, you know, prototyping tools starting again with, you know, sensors and Lego with my children and then ultimately going to things like Arduino, which is an Open Source computing platform and then a 3D printer.
ANDERSONAnd as I started doing this and got into my own, you know, my own thing, which happened to be aerial robotics or drones and realized that, you know, thanks to the technologies in smart phones, you know, the sensors and GPS and wireless and all that stuff that basically, you know the technology for a drone is in your pocket. It just needed to be, you know, redesigned.
ANDERSONI ended up starting a company and then got into manufacturing and today run two big factories. The fact that I could do this, you know, by myself without any particular skills, well, I could start this and then build a community of largely amateurs who could do the aerospace industry because of the increasingly easy-to-use tools of the makers movement, made me realize that something dramatic had changed.
ANDERSONAnd so as I started writing the book, I thought back about my experience with my grandfather and thought what would grandpa have done today? Back then in the 1940s, he patented his invention and then licensed it to a manufacturing company that brought it to market. You couldn't bring it to market yourself because...
NNAMDIIt took him ten years to do it.
ANDERSONIt took him ten years to do it and he ended up losing control and that was a success story. He was an inventor who actually, you know, got a product to market. But today, you don't have to do that. You don't have to patent and license. You can -- the maker movement has brought the means of production within reach of everybody so I said, how would you reinvent the automatic sprinkler system today?
ANDERSONAnd so just as a kind of thought experiment, I built a little community and we built something called open sprinkler which is a, you know, web-connected Open Source, Arduino-based sprinkler where you could, you know, connect your smart phone to it and connect any sensors you want and it's very cheap and easy and totally accessible.
ANDERSONNow that, ironically enough, I don't even have a garden so I didn't have any particular need for it myself, but other people did. It turned out to be very popular with the hydroponic pot growers which we had not expected.
NNAMDIWell, it ended up taking your grandfather ten years. What did it take you and your community, ten minutes?
ANDERSONAh, a few months.
NNAMDIAnd a total cost of maybe $5,000?
ANDERSONYeah, no more than that and that's the beauty of the thing, that going from an idea to a prototype to a product to a company is now happening at web speed where in the past it would have been years and probably impossible for most.
NNAMDIYou talk about the makers movement or maker movement that's sweeping up people who can manufacture for a very specific market. Who are these niche inventors and how have the internet and 3D printing opened doors for them? Well, you just explained the latter part, but who are these niche inventors?
ANDERSONWell, you know, in a sense, they're all of us. I mean, it's like asking the question, you know, what are the web inventors? What will the new innovations people do on the web? And you know, 20 years ago, it was kind of an unknown. It was, well, you know, I don't know. We'll put the tools in the hands of these people and we'll see and regular people ended up inventing, you know, everything from Facebook to Skype and beyond.
ANDERSONWe found that, you know, that by lowering the barrier to entry to innovating and prototyping and then ultimately getting the product out there, we got this explosion of creativity and innovation, regular people ended up changing the world. Now we're starting to see the same thing so when you ask who are the makers and who are the maker-entrepreneurs, they're the workshops and garages of the world opening up, opening first on the web and sharing things and building communities around products and then ultimately getting into the marketplace.
ANDERSONWhen you look at the Kickstarter phenomena or Etsy or Quirky or other sites like that, what you see is all these people who previously would have had no way to build companies and get products to market. Using the web and these maker technologies to start, to create startups and test and develop and ultimately sell products in a matter of months using the web model.
NNAMDIHence disruptive technology. Chris Anderson is editor-in-chief of Wired, co-founder of 3D Robotics and the author of several books. He writes about the future of American manufacturing in his latest work. It's titled "Makers: The New Industrial Revolution". He joins us from studios in San Francisco. Joining us in our Washington studio is Michael Weinberg. He is vice president of Public Knowledge which specializes in emerging technologies.
NNAMDIWe're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. If you had a 3D printer, what would you use it for? Have you seen a 3D printer in action? You can also send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet @kojoshow using the hashtag Tech Tuesday. Michael, of course, when you and Chris say this now makes this technology available to just about everyone, including me.
NNAMDIYou saw me pump my fist, but then I said, wait a minute, intellectual property. This technology raises a lot of questions about intellectual property. With a 3D printer, I could download a design say of an iPhone case and print one up. How do current laws regulate what users can produce?
WEINBERGSo that's going to be a really interesting conversation that we're going to be having in the next couple of years and say, okay, what do all these laws that we have? What do they mean when we have people building things at home? One of the things to think about is, of course, people are already building things at home.
WEINBERGPeople have tools and workbenches and like Chris' grandfather were building things before there were 3D printers. So one of the challenges is going to be to say to ourselves, okay, this new thing is coming along. How new is it or do we already have laws to deal with it?
WEINBERGBut there is going to be a whole universe of uses where the law just didn't assume that people had the capability to build these sort of things or to copy these sorts of things and we need to decide what it means when everybody can download these files and print them out at home.
NNAMDIWell, technology moves very fast but the Congress of the United States doesn't always. Since this technology is still developing, do you think legislators will act before major problems arise having to do with patent and copyright and trademark and design?
WEINBERGI certainly hope not and we at Public Knowledge certainly hope not. I think one of the furors when you see a new technology like this is there's an instinct to kind of project out the worst possible dystopian world that people could be using these things for. And then as a legislature you say to yourself what law could I pass to stop this dystopia from happening. And I think what happens if you do that is you find out first of all that dystopia was never going to happen. There are a million reasons that you didn't anticipate that that wasn't going to happen.
WEINBERGBut almost more importantly when you pass that law you've stopped a bunch of good things that you didn't see coming. And so almost one of the worst ways to react to something that's this new is to try and just put a bunch of laws together and throw them out to make sure that some -- one very small percentage way that it could be used isn't going to happen.
NNAMDIHow do you think future legal debates around 3D printing will be similar to or different from digital copyright battles that we've already seen?
WEINBERGOne of the most exciting things about 3D printing if you are a digital copyright person is that it kind of gives you an opportunity to rethink about how copyright works. I think one of the things that the internet has trained us all to do is to assume that everything is protected by copyright or some sort of right. And that's largely because a lot of the first kind of things you could trade on line, music, movies, articles, songs, those sorts of things were protected by copyright.
WEINBERGBut when you step away from your computer one of the things you realize when you look around the physical world is all sorts of things aren't protected by copyright or any sort of intellectual property rights. So we get to ask the question that's been skipped over a lot, is this protected by any sort of intellectual property right at all? Because if the answer to that question is no than copying it isn't illegal. It doesn't violate anyone's rights. And that's sort of an exciting place to be.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. We've got a lot of callers on the line. If you're trying to get through you may want to send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a Tweet at kojoshow using the hashtag Tech Tuesday or go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. Do you think intellectual property laws stifle innovation or protect it? Our website is kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're having a Tech Tuesday conversation on 3D printing and the future of manufacturing with Michael Weinberg. He is vice-president at Public Knowledge which specializes in emerging technologies. And Chris Anderson is editor-in-chief of Wired, cofounder of 3D Robotics. He's the author of several books. He write about the future of American manufacturing and his latest work is titled "Makers: The New Industrial Revolution." I'd like to go directly to the phones where a lot of people are waiting. So let's start with Marty in Fairfax, Va. Marty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARTYHi there, Kojo. You know, on that legal point I think it's easy for people to make things for their own use at home. I think the problem with copyrighters is when people want to make stuff and sell it to somebody else and should be able to. But I want to talk about educating students because I'm a teacher in Fairfax County at Wilson High School. We teach -- I'm teaching CAD, which is drawing...
NNAMDI...which is Computer Assisted Drawing.
MARTY...and we have 3D printers in our classroom and use them to help kind of kids visualize this three dimensional world. And I was wanting to ask if the guys could comment perhaps on the important of 3D modeling skills, not only to like future scientists and engineers -- you know, whether it's on a computer and then seeing that through perhaps to the object in front of you -- but also just in -- you know, it's almost like jobs for everybody. Because if you're training people to work in manufacturing that maybe don't want, you know, an engineering degree.
MARTYBut engineers and scientists I think need to have these skills -- these 3D modeling skills. And what do they think about that?
ANDERSONYeah, that is such a well taken point and I'm so glad to hear that you've got that in your school. I completely agree. Basically today we used to -- when I was a kid we had industrial arts and shop class and woodshop and there was home economics and there were all these sort of, you know, quasi manufacturing skills that were taught as part of the regular curriculum. In the 1980s those were largely removed between budget cuts and the sense that manufacturing wasn't a route to the middle class anymore and probably liability issues as well.
ANDERSONThose are not going to come back as they are but if you take the existing computer labs we already have, and just as the caller described, just add a 3D printer or two right next to the laser printers that are already there. Now this goes from a computer lab to a digital design lab. And kids gravitate towards this so quickly.
ANDERSONMy own children -- just over the weekend I put a ten-year-old in front of a website called Tinker CAD which is a free, you know, web-based CAD program. It's very easy to use. An hour later he had designed an entire -- you know, a war hammer battlefield. So that was his thing. But it was a board game battlefield, you know, with castles and tents and, you know, trenches and hills and all this kind of stuff. He figured out all by himself with no training. It's so easy to use.
ANDERSONAnd -- well, he didn't know he was doing CAD. He was just using a website to design something cool to take his idea and make it real. But those were actual CAD skills and they come naturally to kids because they're a lot like video game skills. Kids are really good with polygons and virtual realities.
ANDERSONAnd now because we have a 3D printer and now a CNC machine, he knows that that thing he designed on screen, that, you know, he and I will sit down and put some foam into the machine and generate some plastic and we'll make it real. And that's incredibly empowering. That skill, digital design, as the caller said, is so useful in so many disciplines. It used to require a degree in industrial design or engineering and today it's something that kids can pick up in a day.
ANDERSONI just want to mention one thing that I heard, that one-third of Washington D.C.'s public schools -- that's six out of eighteen -- have 3D printers today. So it's incredibly exciting that we're seeing this being integrated into the curriculum. And I'd like to see this -- you know, within five years I'd like to see this nationwide.
NNAMDIMarty, thank you very much for your call. We asked on Twitter, what would you make with a 3D printer. We got a response from Bryant, that your son would probably like, Chris Anderson -- Bryant said a Captain America shield enthusiastically." Marty, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Scott in Arlington, Va. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTHey, Kojo. I actually happen to be calling you with -- I'm sitting at a RepRap workstation working on a version of 3D printer called the RepRap which is an open source machine that anyone can build from cells from plans on the internet and only basic pieces of hardware. I wanted to call that first off, I really -- your previous caller -- the implications for 3D printing and education have been a big part of when I'm telling people why I changed from Android software developing to 3D printing.
SCOTTThe reason is because this is how things are going to get made in the 21st century. And you have all of these public commercial machines that, if you mess up with them they're extremely expensive, they're very finicky and you have to pay lots of money to do repairs. But with the riprap machines, they're machines that are designed to manufacture most of their own components so that if a piece breaks you can just have one of your printers print out a replacement part and get it straight back on the -- straight back up and running.
SCOTTI also wanted to -- I have -- I'm somewhat known among my circle of friends as being a 3D printing geek and I'm kind of an outspoken critic of one of the major 3D printer manufacturers that everyone's hearing about right now, like in Time, the MakerBot Replicator 2. Just in my -- in leaving you with three points of critique for them, for basically the entire industry, I would like to add my bit based on the questions that you've put out there for about the future of 3D printing.
SCOTTMakerBot, obviously they've done a lot for popularizing the notion of 3D desktop printing. They have relatively inexpensive appliances that they've put out there for people. However, there are three big things that have turned a good number of the open source community off to MakerBot.
SCOTTThe first is, their use of the name Replicator. In the RepRap world and in the kind of philosophical ideological world a replicator is a very specific kind of machine that makes its own parts. The MakerBot Replicators aren't replicators by that definition, but they use the term because it's popular. But it's marketing over the actual reason.
SCOTTTwo, MakerBot runs a website called Thingiverse. This gets into the licensing of products. Thingiverse -- in 3.2 of their user license agreement they include, you agree irrevocably to waive and cause to be waived any claims and assertions of moral rights or attribution with respect to your user content. The open source industry -- or the open source software ideology...
SCOTT...depends on two key pieces. One is attribution and the other is freedom to duplicate. Attribution is key because we don't have patents to protect our -- or the work that we...
NNAMDIGot to -- we're running out of time. Move on to three, please.
SCOTTOkay. And then the last one would be that this latest MakerBot Replicator 2 that they've put out isn't actually open source, which again is another violation of the open source principle. So, yeah, open source technology is very exciting for -- well, the combination of the open source -- make everything available to replicate.
NNAMDIAllow me to get some responses. Michael Weinberg, your thoughts?
WEINBERGSo, yeah, I think the first thing is to take them and talk about RepRap. RepRap is the reason that we're talking about 3D printing now. 3D printing added to manufacturing as a technology has been around for over 20 years. So people will say, why is now the time of 3D printing?
WEINBERGAnd the answer I think -- and, Chris, I don't know if you're going to agree with me on this, but I think the answer is that when the first 3D printing patents expired a few years ago, a professor named Adrian Bowyer in the University of Bath came out and said, I want to start the RepRap project with a bunch of other people. And our goal is to make 3D printing as available as possible. And he did it in an incredibly open way and built this phenomenal community around it.
WEINBERGAnd what happened was very quickly you got high quality desktop 3D printers that many of the 3D printers that you're seeing today, including the MakerBot, is built off to. And so that community is one of the major drivers of it. At the same time this is a little bit of a fight that's going on with the 3D printing community and the open source hardware community as to what it means to be open and how open a company you can be in the hardware space. Three are a lot of hard questions around that, not a lot of easy answers.
WEINBERGThere was an open hardware summit last month where people were talking about it. And I think there are a lot of people -- some people who do not have good intentions, some people who do have very good intentions, none of whom are 100 percent sure what the best way forward is. But it's a really interesting discussion to watch.
NNAMDIYour take, Chris Anderson?
ANDERSONI would agree entirely. We owe RepRap a huge debt of gratitude for starting this, it and the Arduino Project I think are the two most powerful and successful open hardware projects. I'm a big open hardware participant and fan. I was at that summit. I spoke at it as well. I think we're going through a -- we're kind of groping our way, you know, into this new world where some -- many of these hardware companies, including my own, are now getting big enough that we need to run -- you know, we're in sort of millions and tens of millions of dollars -- we need to run sustainable businesses and deal with real world IP issues.
ANDERSONAnd, you know, we're coming back to sort of principles of like why -- what about open hardware is truly useful and encourage this community and innovation and innovation and allows other people to build on our work. And what is not actually useful for innovation instead just empower cloners and people who are sort of, you know, parasites. And I don't think any of us have good answers but I think that my main lesson is that we don't be, you know, doctrinaire and, you know, 100 percent, you know, committed to any one path ahead of time that would be flexible and kind of work it out as we ultimately try to get these technologies in the hands of everybody.
ANDERSONI mean, the point here is to mainstream these technologies. And sometimes that means, you know, giving up on some of the sort of philosophical idealism for the sake of pragmatism.
NNAMDIScott, thank you very much for your call. Indeed, Chris, as a kind of follow-up as head of a DIY manufacturing company and a user of 3D printers, have you had any run-ins with intellectual property laws?
ANDERSONYou know, not IP particular, and largely because we've been, you know, clever enough and been able to follow others to -- my community, by the way, has been clever enough to kind of avoid those things. We know where the fault lines lay and, you know, innovate around it. We're in a regulated space where we're regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. We do drones so we -- you know, we operate under a recreational exemption. We -- some of our technology is in more advanced form considered export controlled as a munition. So, you know, there are exemptions for public domain so we work through that. The FCC controls our radios.
ANDERSONSo we have a lot of regulatory issues that we work around and we find open source actually helps us in many ways. You know, gives us, you know, not so much loopholes but sort of a path -- a legal path that we can follow that allows us to innovate faster. As far things like patents and -- you know, I suspect that as an industry all of us are going to, as we get bigger, discover that we were inadvertently infringing. Or maybe some troll out there decides to sue us anyway whether we're infringing or not.
ANDERSONAnd I think that's just the -- sadly the nature of business these days. And we -- you know, it's a sign of success when you start getting sued.
NNAMDIWell, Michael, the movie industry has used digital rights management technologies to regulate how films are distributed. Could similar technology be used to control what a 3D printer can build?
WEINBERGAt least in theory it could. You certainly -- a printer is a digital machine and it's dealing with files. And if those files are locked then you can live in a world where it needs a key to unlock them. There are questions as to whether or not breaking those digital locks is an additional problem depending on the nature of the file.
WEINBERGBut one of the important things to remember -- a couple of weeks ago there was a patent that emerged on 3D printing and digital rights management. People were very concerned. And one of the things to remember is of course a patent doesn't give you the ability to force other people to implement digital rights management. So you need the printer manufacturers to buy in and say that they are going to implement this. And of course, as we heard from the earlier caller, there are plenty of open source 3D printers that are building themselves in the wild, as they say. And so being able to actually effectively use that sort of process may not work very well.
WEINBERGAnother thing is one of the lessons from the movie industry and the music industry is that spending time and money to develop digital rights management technology doesn't work to protect your stuff, I suspect everyone listening to this could find an unauthorized copy of a movie that was protected by digital rights management. So hopefully one of the things that industries will do is take a lesson from that and instead of spending time and money developing new digital locks to be broken, find a way to really engage with the community and take advantage of the technology instead of trying to slow it down.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones. Here is Anne in Westminster, Md. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNEHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I am not a techy but I have read a little bit about this 3D printing and I'm sort of interested as a small investor in who the major players are here and where might someone be able to invest some money in this potential technology.
ANDERSONYeah, so some of these companies are private like MakerBots. And although they took investment it was a venture capital around. There are a couple public companies. I would pick two in particular that I think are good bets. One is 3D Systems, which makes a range of 3D printers including one called the Q which costs I think $1200 and it's really designed for kids. The other is not a hardware maker but a software make called Autodesk who have not just really good software -- 123D is their free one, but AutoCAD is their more professional one.
ANDERSONBut they have a series of iPhone and iPad apps that allow you to do things like reality capture. You can actually scan reality. They use the camera of the iPad and just take pictures of an object. It sends them up to the Cloud, sends it back down as a polygon object which you can then print. So you can sort of photocopy reality using free apps. And they also have a site called Instructables which is a great resource for the maker community. So I would say those are the two public companies that I would bet on.
NNAMDIAnything to add to that, Michael Weinberg?
WEINBERGI would just say that one of the things to keep in mind, as I said earlier, is that there is sort of an established 3D printing-related industry. And 3D Systems and Autodesk are both companies attached to that and doing very interesting things. But as an investor something to be wary of is that as we transition from the $50,000, $100,000, half-million dollar industrial 3D printers to the 3D printer that you have at home, that may mix this industry up a little bit, probably more so on the hardware side than on the software side.
WEINBERGAnd this is not to say that -- both of those companies are aware of that and are finding a way to chart their way through the transition. But it wouldn't surprise me if the landscape and 3D printing in five or ten years looks very different than the one today.
NNAMDIAnne, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break but still encouraging your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you seen a 3D printer in action? If you had a 3D printer what would you use it for? Do you think a 3D printer would turn you into an inventor? 800-433-8850 or you can send email to email@example.com. Do you think there's too much regulation on current technology or not enough? You can also send us a Tweet at kojoshow using the hashtagTech Tuesday or go to our website kojoshow.org and ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on 3D printing and the future of manufacturing with Chris Anderson. He writes about the future of American manufacturing, and in his latest book, it is titled "Makers: The New Industrial Revolution." Chris is the editor-in-chief of Wired and co-founder of 3D Robotics. He's also the author of several other books. Also joining us in studio is Michael Weinberg, vice president at Public Knowledge. He specializes in emerging technologies. He is an attorney.
NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. We asked on Twitter, what would you make with a 3D printer? We got Sarah who replied, "Theater sets in quarter-inch scale and hard-to-find props would save time and headaches." Tom in Philly emails, "I have a classic car, and some parts, particularly plastic interior parts can no longer be bought. I plan on ordering a Maker Bot to fabricate items such as these and maybe sell them to other collectors."
NNAMDIRobert emails, "I have a small maglev spinner that I'm adding four tiny solar cells to that I had a friend with a printer make." And then this from Elaine. "What about people making 3D guns?" Well, beyond copyright concerns, a group called Defense Distributed recently announced its goal to make software freely available for printing firearms. Is there a dangerous side to this technology, Michael Weinberg?
WEINBERGWell, I think one of first things to remember with 3D printing is 3D printing is a general purpose technology, and so people make all sorts of things. I mean, all of these -- all of these suggestions on Twitter is the tip of the iceberg for what people are going to do. They're going to do things that you think are great and things that you think maybe aren't so great. And for a lot of people, talking about 3D printed firearms is on the not-so-great side of the spectrum.
WEINBERGAnd this was -- this is a really -- this is a story that has been making the rounds a lot, and it is one worth talking about. One of the elements of the back story to the Defense Distributed people is -- and this was a discovery to me was the place that they're getting their initial designs from is an existing online community of people who are devoted to making firearms with CNC Mills and making them essentially out of metal with existing machine shop tools.
WEINBERGAnd so while it was frankly shocking to me that someone was going to be building a gun with a 3D printer, and that people were doing this in their home, one of the things that I tried to remember was apparently there are already people out there building weapons in their home. And so from a policy standpoint, the question -- the first question you need to ask when you see a person is doing X thing with a 3D printer, is where they already doing that without a 3D printer.
WEINBERGAnd if the answer is yes, then the following question has to be, well, what are we doing from a policy standpoint about that? I don't know. I'm not a gun person. I don't know what the -- what ATF thinks about people making guns at home, but I doubt that using a 3D printer or some sort of metal machine shop fundamentally changes the policy question.
NNAMDIChris, you've used a 3D printer to make toys at home with your kids. You mentioned that earlier, but businesses are using 3D printers to test prototypes in the workplace. How are industries like dentistry using 3D printers now every day?
ANDERSONYeah. 3D printers have been used in industry for 20 years and it's quite common now. It's what -- it's called part of rapid prototyping is the category. You may have encountered a 3D printer without knowing it if you went into a dentist in a couple ways. My wife recently got Invisalign braces which is basically a, you know, plastic retainer that over time changes your tooth shape. What happens is they scan your teeth in one position, and then they sort of on a computer, you know, move the teeth to where they're going to eventually want to be, and then get a 3D printer to generate all the intermediate steps, like 20 different retainers that sort of gradually move from one -- from the first to the last position.
ANDERSONThat's a great example of, you know, customization. They're only for you, and yet you have -- you want sort of almost, you know, almost injection-molded plastic quality. That's what a 3D printer can do. Also, you may go in and get a new crown and there what they'll do is they'll -- sometimes they'll do it even as you wait. They'll scan your tooth, your jaw, they'll model the tooth shape they want, then the 3D printer will print it out in a ceramic substance, and then they'll spray it with enamel and bake it.
ANDERSONAnd, you know, literally, you know, in a matter of two or three or three hours, you can have a tooth fabricated for you right there on the spot and then inserted.
NNAMDIWell, teeth are one thing, but Susan from Washington D.C. asks about the interface between this technology and biotechs such as organ creation. Chris Anderson, where do we stand with that?
ANDERSONYeah. So right now we can, you know, quote, unquote, "print a kidney." Now, what's really going on there is they're printing a -- the matrix, you know, a kind of an inert matrix, and on that a, you know, cells, stem cells and others could grow. I'm not a biologist, but I've seen it at TED. What they have not yet done is completed the vascular structure that would actually bring it to life, and it's not quite clear how they would do that. Perhaps the stem cells would eventually, you know, proper -- if you picked the right ones and incentivized them, they would build their own vascular structure.
ANDERSONI recently had Craig Venter, the biologist formerly from NIH Genome Sequencing to speak on stage with me at the Wired health conference in New York, and he's describing a 3D printer for DNA. This is called DNA synthesis, and he's working on a desktop machine, and concept is that today many of us got our flu shot for the season, which is basically a guess -- a vaccine that's a guess at what the flu is going to be this season.
ANDERSONBut what if your doctor could send you an email when the exact flu comes out, the exact strain comes out, send you a special email, you click on it, and a machine on your desktop would generate exactly the right vaccine for you for this virus, and you would then just, you know, sniff it or drink it, and you'd have it right there on the spot. Now, that obviously is incredibly powerful, but also scary, you know, talking about printing, you know, the elements of life.
ANDERSONIt introduces, you know, the words like killer app suddenly become a lot more -- take on a new meaning. And that's exactly the kind of place where DRM would be less about intellectual property control and more about safety.
NNAMDIWell, Michael, this technology allows architects for instance to quickly turn their designs into physical models. Does it simply save architects the time and effort that goes into traditional models, or might it enable them to design structures they would not otherwise consider viable?
WEINBERGOne of the interesting things about 3D printers, if you come to it from a non-technical background, which I certainly did, is that it turns out that there are all sorts of shapes we see every day, and the reason that they are shaped that way is because they're easy to manufacture that way, and they're also shapes that we don't see very often because they're hard to make.
WEINBERGAnd so when you have a 3D printer and you're building in this additive way, it allows you to build an incredible variety of structures that were just impossible or impractical before. And so when you think about the shape of buildings, the shape of ceilings, the shape of walls, all of a sudden manufacturing in this way opens up the tool kit a little bit if you're an architect. It also allows you, if you're an architect talking to a client, and you want to show them what you're talking about, you're already designing the building in CAD.
WEINBERGYou print it out, you hand it to them, and they see what you're talking about. And if they say oh, well, can we move this stair here or that wall there, all of a sudden you go into the program, you change it, you print it out again, and as someone who is not working with CAD all the time, if your client doesn't really understand what they're seeing on the screen, they'll very much see the model that's in their hands and understand what you're talking about.
NNAMDIBack to the telephone...
ANDERSONCan I add just a bit on that?
NNAMDIOh, please go ahead, Chris.
ANDERSONYeah. We're talking about in an architect's office, and we've been talking about desktop 3D printing, but actually there are 3D printers that will print buildings, huge sort of, you know, building scale ones that will use concrete, and I've seen some lab examples that actually, rather than building a 3D printer that's bigger than a building, what they do is they just string cables between trees and, you know, and use that to move the head around and it just pours down liquid concrete, you know, in again, incredibly complex shape so that you can actually go straight from CAD to the construction automatically.
WEINBERGYeah. And you can use that for disaster relief. If you think about someone that's been knocked out by a hurricane or an earthquake and you need to build housing quickly that's simple, you could run a large 3D printer and just build one house after another for people very quickly.
NNAMDIOnto John in Bethesda, Md. John has a career question. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi, Kojo. Big fan of your show.
JOHNLet's see. Yeah. I'm a journeyman machinist and a bit of a dinosaur actually. I do most things manually. I've done many different contracts for government, military, NIH. I've worked for the movie industry and so forth. My question was, what kind of impact would this technology has on the industry for a fellow like me?
NNAMDISomebody who is a machinist, Chris Anderson.
ANDERSONWell, you know, I mean, first of all, I have huge admiration for people with machine skills. That's -- my grandfather did, and there's more to, you know, machines can output exactly what you tell them to, but to understand material qualities, and to really understand how to work, you know, best with metals and woods and plastics, is a black art, and I think the caller probably has many of those skills themselves. You know, frankly, if I had machine skills and did not have a -- was underemployed at the moment, I might think about being a trainer at Tech Shop.
ANDERSONTech Shop is a chain of what we call maker spacers, but think of it as like a gym, but for manufacturing. You get a membership, and you have access to these tools. I believe they're opening one up with -- in D.C. very soon, and that's a place where you go to be trained to use these tools. Yes. It starts digital, but then you learn sort of the more the things that can't be done digitally, or the things that require true materials knowledge, all that kind of, you know, decades of experience as you go from the prototype to actual, you know, things that can be manufactured. Those skills would be necessary, and I think training people at a place like Tech Shop would be actually quite fun.
NNAMDIJohn, thank you very much for your call. Chris, the possibilities seem to be endless. What are the current limitations, however, to 3D printing?
ANDERSONWell, the one that my children use as a sort of second generation Maker Bot, it prints in one color, plastic, one color at a time. The next one that they're going to be getting is going to do two colors, or two materials, and, you know, the one after that will presumably be three colors, and then you start to, you know, be able to print the sort of, you know, the images and, you know, fully textured, you know, objects as well in a range of materials. But it's still mostly plastics at the desk top.
ANDERSONThen you start to think about introducing more interesting combinations of materials, metals and plastic. Maybe put electrical elements, wires and things in that. Today those things are possible at an industrial scale, but not really affordable at the desk top. However, you can go to services like Shapeways and just upload that same file, that same CAD file that you designed on your screen, you can upload it to those services and be made into these, you know, on professional machines that you could never afford yourself.
ANDERSONI think over the next ten years we're going to be looking at -- in the same way we went from dot matrix printers to inkjets, in maybe 20 years I think it'll -- at a faster pace than that, we will see multimaterial high resolution multicolor machines that are affordable on our desktops. I don't think they're gonna be making, you know, semi conductors any time soon, but, you know, I do think you'll be able to sort of make consumer-grade, you know, objects that do have some simple electronics or electrical elements in them. Not quite replicator, but, you know, a step in that direction.
NNAMDIWell, Michael, you write with a 3D printer having the bytes is almost as good as having the atoms. Will 3D printers shrink the divide between the digital world and the physical world?
WEINBERGOne hopes so. I think that it's very easy right now to see where we are and get ahead of ourselves and think about printing tea and things like that. But it does certainly have this opportunity where you see what happens when you link a bunch of people all around the world who are focused on a problem they can solve digitally, and that is what has given us all sorts of software services, all sorts of open source software where people are just working together because they're interested in working together.
WEINBERGAnd when you bring a 3D printer into the mix, all of a sudden that same sort of, oh, I'm in New York, you're in Washington, you're in Hong Kong, you're in Shanghai, but we're all working off this same problem set with the same answers that you have in software, you can get in the physical world. And so you get people who are saying, oh, I'm gonna download this night's version of our physical object, print it out, and work on it, and when I make my changes and upload them, you can get an exact copy of those changes.
WEINBERGSo you get the same sort of global interaction and far flung interaction solving physical problems that we've seen work in the software world for software problems.
NNAMDIHere's Jerome in Columbia, Md., who has a fairly ambitious project. Jerome, go ahead, please.
JEROMEThanks, Kojo. Love your show. I'm an aerospace engineer by education, and I had senior project back in the '70s that I've never -- it's never left my mind. It's basically a single person airplane, very, very complex in its shape and it's -- over the years and years and years I've developed it in my mind and drawing sketches, and it wasn't until I taught myself auto CAD was I able to really just further develop it in to the detail.
JEROMEAnd now with the advent of a 3D printer, I'm sort of dizzy with the possibilities of being able to create a 1/24 scale, or 1/12 scale wind tunnel model for pennies, relative to what it would have cost me had I needed to make one in the old-fashioned way. My question is, would one of these new generation -- or the latest generation desk top 3D printer, would it suit me well to do a wind tunnel model?
NNAMDIChris Anderson, we only have about a minute left.
ANDERSONSure. The answer is absolutely yes. We do that all the time with ours. Not wind tunnel models, but, you know, our drones are sort of that size. The new replicator two is designed for larger objects, so you could print a wing, and the scale you're talking about would five or six parts. But you don't need your own. Again, you can send it off to a service like Shapeways and have it done for $20 or $30, you know, per piece. So I think the answer is absolutely yes. Start, you know, experiment with Shapeways first. If it's working for you, then maybe invest in your own 3D printer.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jerome. In 20 seconds or less, Michael Weinberg, who's funding this industrial revolution? Are there any big tech companies betting on the success of this technology?
WEINBERGWell, you do have a lot of people who are doing it on their own. It's very DIY, and then you have the larger players, the 3D systems, the auto desks of the world, but then you also have companies like Maker Bot which are doing desk top 3D printer, and they've had VC funding by companies like Amazon.
NNAMDIMichael Weinberg. He is vice president at Public Knowledge. He's an attorney who specializes in emerging technologies. Michael Weinberg, thank you for joining us.
WEINBERGThank you so much.
NNAMDIChris Anderson is editor-in-chief of Wired and co-founder of 3D Robotics. He's the author of several books. He writes about the future of American manufacturing in his latest book titled "Makers: The New Industrial Revolution." Chris Anderson, thank you for joining us.
ANDERSONThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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