Printers aren’t just for printing, anymore. They’re instruments for making. That’s according to Schuyler St. Leger, a 10-year-old 3-D printer extraordinaire. He has figured out how to get printers to create actual stuff, in three dimensions (e.g., glasses, tools, and other assorted tchochkes).
In early February 2011, Schuyler appeared in a video posted on Boingboing (see above). The video features a clip of his talk at a 2010 Ignite Phoenix festival, where he explained to an audience of about 850 folks why his 3-D printer is the coolest thing ever. How’s that for youthful confidence?!
To me, the nature of what Schuyler’s saying – he talks about design vs. execution, the high cost of technology, and how neat it is to scale objects – is less important than the spirit of what he’s saying. He’s telling us that the future belongs to young people, who, through their technical know-how and imagination, are transforming ordinary machines into extraordinary ones. Schuyler, of course, received a standing ovation from the Phoenix crowd.
But he’s not the only one talking about 3-D printing. On February 12, 2011, The Economist ran an article on how the 3-D printer could trigger an economic revolution.
[3-D printers] allow the creation of parts in shapes that conventional techniques cannot achieve, resulting in new, much more efficient designs in aircraft wings or heat exchangers, for example. It enables the production of a single item quickly and cheaply — and then another one after the design has been refine
3-D printers also reduce waste enormously, according to The Economist, requiring as little as one-tenth of the amount of material as standard manufacturing.
By reducing the barriers to entry for manufacturing, 3D printing should also promote innovation. If you can design a shape on a computer, you can turn it into an object. You can print a dozen, see if there is a market for them, and print 50 more if there is, modifying the design using feedback from early users. This will be a boon to inventors and startups.
The Economist goes further, saying that such a profound change in technology (a la 3-D printing) could “reset” the economics of manufacturing.
Some believe it will decentralize the business completely, reversing the urbanization that accompanies industrialization. There will be no need for factories, goes the logic, when every village has a fabricator that can produce items when needed.
Maybe it won’t come to all that, but it’s incredible to think that the (once) humble device known as the printer could, one day, change the world as we know it.
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.