Sunday, November 20, 2011

Artists Leading the Way with 3D Printing

I just posted this simple Q&A on:
3D Printing is a new technology. Getting started is not at all trivial - 3D Printing is still a lot of work.

[As so often happens:] Who are the visionaries? What discipline is leading the way?

Answer: the artists.
One Coffee Cup a Day | 30 Days 30 Cups | cunicode

 And as a comment I added:
BTW, a nice example of artists leading the way in using technology: the first use of gunpowder was to create fireworks.

There's little question but that artists are significant and major users of this new technology. Just have a look at for more examples of dreamy and not very useful objects. ;-)

So when will 3-D printing start to be used to create useful objects in large and productive quantities? And perhaps, just as important, in what industries will this practice take off first?

It seems to me that the artists and dreamers will first be complemented by artisans and craftsmen. So early adopters might include silversmiths and jewelers. The idea being that it will be easier to create an intricate bracelet using 3D printing than to sit there banging a hammer all day.

On the other hand, this will transform an age-old industry of artisans into modern era computer-aided design (CAD) jockeys – just as is happening in architecture and the building industry.

The older practitioners will continue to use the old technology, the younger apprentices and students will take up the new technology. In the process a number of people will lose their jobs and other people find new jobs.

And there will be many many more questions. For example:

Is it important that the building you live in was created using instructions and diagrams hand-drawn on exquisite sheets of vellum paper? Is it important that the bracelet you wear took hundreds of hours for somebody to hammer?

Or would you prefer is that the computer design was thoroughly tested for earthquakes and other "acts of God"? Would you prefer that your bracelet was designed and computer-tested to resist breakage and wear?

Like so many issues I'm looking at – and beginning to write about on this website – the answers are complex and there are no simple answers.

On the other hand, if we build the new technology correctly, the material used in your house or bracelet can be used over and over again to make new designs and serve new purposes – and then to be able to go back and rebuild the old designs and serve the old purposes whenever.

On one day the bracelet could be a treasured antique on the next day the same material could be a cutting-edge design. Every design iteration could be stored as data in the cloud - or perhaps the data could even be kept within the bracelet itself.

Yes, one might miss the "aura" that this chunk of material had not changed for 100 years. On the other hand being able to trace numerous new instances, follow trends that came and went over the 100 years might be equally fascinating.

Note to self: Why am I writing about bracelets? I've not worn a bracelet since I lost my left hand. It's virtually impossible to take off a bracelet if you only have one hand.

Hm, maybe there's a market for bracelets for one handed people. I've checked all the second hand stores - and there's nothing there. I wonder if I could knock out a design using 3-D printing...

One Coffee Cup a Day | 30 Days 30 Cups | cunicode
Endless Forms
Amazing Video of 3D Printer Art in Belgium | Singularity Hub
3D printer for doll faces

Friday, November 11, 2011

Clever Robot - Created by 3D Printer

Here is a YouTube video of a clever little robot made by students at the University of California in San Diego. Robots of this level of complexity are being made at universities all over the world these days.
New kits are coming out on a regular basis. It is getting easier and cheaper to design and build robots from kits.

Midway through the video, however, the narrator announces that this robot was fabricated using a 3-D printer. Just a few years ago, it would have cost $50,000 to make the mold to produce the main body of the robot.

What this video demonstrates is that it is now getting easier and cheaper to build custom robots that go far beyond the capabilities of what is available in the standard kit.

All that is needed is a bit of thinking outside the box the kit came in.


Monday, October 31, 2011

The Power of Free Electricity

A recent post on states that "Solar Photovoltaic (PV) rapidly becoming the cheapest option to generate electricity".

Kees van der Leun says that the cost of producing electricity in Arizona using PV is now $.12 per kilowatt hour. The cost of producing electricity by traditional methods is currently around $.06 per kilowatt hour. Van der Leun calculates that the price will continue to drop at the rate of about 25% per year.

I find this prediction very exciting. And like any predictions - always difficult to confirm. says that an installed industrial system in a sunny climate currently costs $.15 per kilowatt hour and the price continues to fall. Not far off from van der Luen. also says the prices are dropping significantly and also points out that savings increase with the increasing size of the installation.

At some point in time the cost of producing electricity using PV cells will drop below the cost of generating electricity using coal- and gas-fueled power stations.

When will this happen? Kees van der Leun predicts the crossover will happen in 2018 – just seven years from now

The real point is not really when will it happen, but just noting the high likelihood that it will happen.

There will be a number of benefits.When the crossover begins to take effect the world will reduce its need for fossil fuels to generate electricity. Dependencies on transporting fossil fuels all over the world will start to diminish and eventually may almost disappear. Also the carbon foot print of generating electricity via PVcells is much lower than the carbon footprint required to generate electricity via fossil fuels. Thus human-caused climate change issues are alleviated.

As if those two benefits were not enough, there is yet another outcome that is interesting and will be the topic of future posts.

As the industry moves over to PV cells the generation of electricity becomes a capital cost rather than a running cost. The operating cost of using electricity, once the cost of the installation is amortized, becomes negligible.

Even after the cost of electricity becomes cheaper than traditional fuel power stations, it is most likely that the cost of producing PV cells will continue to drop. Eventually PV cells will be built into roof shingles and external cladding for skyscrapers. After all the silicon of the cell is is impervious to rain and frost damage as any building material currently available.

At some point, most likely in the not too distant future, electricity becomes virtually free.

What does unlimited electricity mean?

How will ubiquitous, no-cost electricity affect manufacturing? Farming? Mining? Construction?

Future posts, will examine each one of these sectors in detail. I believe that some fascinating outcomes are quite possible.