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Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

Posted March 29, 2007 1:40 PM by plasticsgal

Visionaries do still exist, and thankfully there are some in engineering and manufacturing.

RepRap (Replicating Rapid-prototyper) is a self-copying 3D printer. It has made news in the last couple of years while making the rounds in the research sector. Basically, it allows individuals to use a three-axis robot to extrude material in layers to form plastic, ceramic, or metal part designs. So far, recommended thermoplastics include: polymorph, HDPE, ABS, PLA, and PP.

It's not the only 3D printer or rapid prototyper of its kind being designed, but RepRap aims to enable duplication of itself--that is, the 3D printer itself could be copied and given away to others. Already, they've got a list, albeit a small one, of available design files.

If all goes well, demand for RepRap 3D printers will be high. The list of wanted objects will keep them busy. Right now, the few available files are free. Just imagine what will happen to capitalism if this creation, and idea, catches on...then again, just picture what will happen globally if we could reduce excess and limit it to immediate need. Scary and exciting at the same time.

If you're interested in following the progress of RepRap, their blog lends some transparency to the development process--not to mention great YouTube videos demonstrating how 3D printing works. They've also got a RepRap builder's blog for some give-and-take for other personal rapid prototyping machine builders.

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#1

Re: Will home rapid prototyper change capitalism, environment, and society?

03/30/2007 12:00 AM

"Replicating Rapid-prototyper" is an amazing subject to follow.

Is "Self-Replicating Rapid-prototyper" to follow?

The rapid growth of 3D prototyping techniques ever since the dawn of the nineties, excited the imagination, and Roland's 3D 4 axis milling plastic models, seem to open the flood gate.

1998 freaked me out, with the upcoming models of "UV setting resin" type of 3D replicators. It looks ad feels like a science-fiction come alive.

Thumbs up "plasticsgal", for this mention, and hopefully some follow-ups!

As to your mentioned: "...Will home rapid prototyper change capitalism, environment, and society?..."

Yes I think it will, just as PCD design gone home to the PC, did manage to redirect the design, from an in-plant design workshop, into free-lancing experts, communicating specs and finished products, over the web.

It's all part of Elvin Toffler's "Powershift" published 1991, and predicted all this conglomerate fragmentation, and much more.

Read it and weep. Not literally. Don't weep, just read it. It's all there.

If you already have, pass it to ones you care about. It's all there.

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#2

Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

03/30/2007 12:59 AM

I trust that this is an unintentionally insulting statement: "Visionaries do still exist, and thankfully there are some in engineering and manufacturing."

But the sentiments of, "...what will happen to capitalism..." and "just picture what will happen globally if we could reduce excess and limit it to immediate need" have me flabbersmacked.

What does that mean? Have we become so besotten with politicians that we don't even recognize the free market hand that feeds us?

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#3
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/01/2007 3:19 PM

...we don't even recognize the free market hand that feeds us?...

If you look carefully around you, you'd see what the free market forces of supply and demand made accessible to all of us:

The PC, on it, desktop industrial-grade type of systems development, CAD-CAM, chemical and physical analysers and simulators, desktop publishing systems, high-end audio and video editors and rendering systems, 3D animation rendering systems, and the list goes on and on.

All these, are industrial tools made available to the private home.

A mere fifteen years ago, you couldn't dream of having access to industrial grade tools at your desktop at home, even with significant capital invested.

Now, all this.

It must have some social impact, because knowledge have become a substitute to capital.

Think of the implications.

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#4
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 3:33 PM

Andy, you're right. My first statement was particularly cynical. But I stick to a somewhat cynical outlook that the "bottom line" usually comes first. Vision is something left for the few daring entrepreneurs, politicians, etc., willing to not consider the bottom line only.

As for the other mentions of capitalism and global implications, I perhaps didn't expand on my own vision, good or bad, and put it in context of the posting at hand.

In the grand scheme, if this RepRap caught on--and if politicians were not a factor in controlling the outcome (again, I didn't say my vision was realistic)--then it's possible that mass production of toys, for example, would decrease since one could simply replicate a friend's toy with their RepRap. Globally, this reduction in mass production and in some cases, mass excess, would mean that we produce what we need and no more. That doesn't sound like such a bad vision to me, from an environmental standpoint.

From an economic standpoint, well, that's another story...

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#5
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 3:47 PM

...produce what we need and no more...

This might just be the greatest prospect, as far as I'm concerned

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#6
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 4:27 PM

What's more efficient than the free market!?!?

Politicians and their wars and corporations are more wasteful in every way imaginable, than any "bottom line" ghoul could be.

(For some reason, not many know that corporations are government entities, not free market creations. Free markets are about competition and options. Corporations are about special perks for special people as granted by politicians.)

The bottom line hates waste. The bottom line depends upon our voluntary, democratic satisfaction. The bottom line is what drives innovation and even charity.

I understand what you want, and I'm with you, actually. But we wrongly accuse the free market and very, very wrongly credit politicians for all the wrong things.

I'll take back all my fuming rhetoric if you can give me an example in which politics actually solves more problems than it creates. Just a few things to think about:

Did the Prohibition-era War on Crime end crime or make it rise exponentially while our freedoms dissolved? Did our War on Drugs make the problem better or worse? Did our War on Poverty end poverty, or make it more institutionalized and class-based? Has the USA had a single year of peace since the War to End All Wars? Has the UN ever done anything right at all?

And is there any mass murderer, thief or other fiend who is able to do as much evil to us as did Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Caligula, Nero...et al.? Has there ever been the benevolent government we dream is just around the corner?

Getting back to the point of this thread (and leaving the angst-laden dithyramb at last), if this device does what it should, then it will be yet another validation of the free market, not a condemnation of it. If capitalists invest in it and push it through their marketing megaphone, it will be precisely because efficiency and quality sells well, and that's what makes the world go around (and go around better than before people tried the free market).

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#7
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 4:37 PM

Dear Andy,

The free market is a social and economic system, not an industrial methodology.

In turn, industrial methodology may indeed influence free market behaviour, or the consumer's habits. Those in turn might influence political and social systems.

This is a unidirectional influence. The private mass' behaviour may have a social and thus political impact, be it originated from technological aspect or otherwise. It's hardly the other way around, except for what you have seen in the soviet system where the rulers dictated the roll of the market and direction of technological development. A unidirectional influence.

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#8
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 5:13 PM

There is no industry independent of market forces! It is precisely the other way around from what is, I think, your position.

Central planning/USSR market failure was because they tried to impose production/"industrial methodology" over the free market, and of course it failed. The Czech auto company Tatra (very cool cars, very poopy government) was evenforced to partially rebuild older Tatras and call them new in order to fake their production numbers and not overwhelm the supply of cars.

Every product development cycle starts with market analysis. In the engineering department we may hate the marketing guys, but they're the ones who're supposed to ensure that we don't make beautifully engineered things that people don't want. The whole upstream marketing process of market and risk analysis includes "the bottom line" as its company focus. But it is inherently a customer focused process or the whole thing fails.

In this country, we have no free market other than illegal labor and illegal trade (like guns and drugs). We're all about litigation, taxation and regulation here, and it shows.

So I if you judge our times as faulty and say we need change, I agree. But I think you ought to read some Ludwig von Mises or Murray Rothbard to see how all this really works and where we went wrong. We've been misdirected by government-run schools.

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#9
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 5:59 PM

You ma have misunderstood my position:

...market failure was because they tried to impose production...

I agree.

...product development cycle starts with market analysis...

Agreed.

...supposed to ensure that we don't make beautifully engineered things that people don't want...

Agreed.

...you judge our times as faulty and say we need change...

Am not.

What I am saying, is that the permeation of industrial-grade production-tools, into the private desktop market, will immanently impact the design and manufacture market scope and structure, and this in turn, will immanently impact supply and demand scopes of a global market structure and it's viable resources.

This in fact is other words of saying: "A shift in consumer habits", and "a shift in manufacture and marketing methodologies" (...may hate the marketing guys...) is collectively saying: "A shift in social behaviour".

A shift in social behaviour, is political change, we may or may not like it, each to it's own.

Maybe my early mention of Toffler's book fooled you into thinking I'm against the free market. Well, this has been labeled to Toffler, and I too think he is not, just as I'm not. Sorry to disappoint.

His "Powershift" book is worth mentioning, because it predicted in 1991 so much of what has changed since. In that amazing sense, it's almost prophetic. Some would take it as "I told you so", and that may sting a little, but not enough for labeling someone into what he's not.

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#10
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 6:09 PM

Well, as much as I hate to do it, I'll get off my soapbox now.

And I'm sorry I get so testy about politicians versus the free market. But I've met far more than my fair share of politicians (and have run for office many times myself), and I become deeply agitated when I see what I interpret as anything like trust in politics.

Thanks.

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#11
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 6:24 PM

Private mistrust in politicians is global.

Not exclusively American or British or French.

Witout pre-judgement it can be said, that they are no longer perceived as individuals with a deep humanitarian commitment, but instead, as short (about 4 year short) sighted career opportunists, which is fine if you're going to take care of your private business, not so if you're going to lead a nation, involved in global affairs.

And this is putting it mildly, and relatively polite.

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#12
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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/03/2007 6:51 PM

Amen.

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#13

Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

04/15/2007 4:29 AM

Its all very well saying that these machines will allow freedom to produce any item at will - especially useful where the owner is in some remote area, BUT the purchase will still have to be made of the raw materials for each design - has your "printer" got enough "ink" to complete the job.

These machines could be given away, and the files for producing many items be available for free download, but the profit will be in the supply of consumables - polymorph, HDPE, ABS, PLA, and PP.....

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Re: Will home rapid prototypers change capitalism, environment, and society?

10/28/2007 4:59 AM

As much as it would be perfect for end users, who would spend less money in the long run, one have to think about all workers that would lose jobs in factories that now produce such products that we would be able to replicate at home, since most of them are consumers of products also, so where would money for buying reproduction materials come from, not to mention dayly bread?

One example is robotization of factories that has freed people from hard and health damaging jobs, while boosting productivity rate, which in turn made products cheaper and more affordable in generall for end user, but those that have lost jobs have lost income, too! Unfortunately, some people could never be engineers, so what they would do?

But in this case repercussions would be more severe as once reproduction start spreading, there would be no need even for machines for ordinary production, then for machines that produce such machines, and so on......

It is same like idea of having high quality computer programs for FREE, which is good for users, but what with us that were earning our dayly bread by making such programs, how can we live? Baring few of us that keep inventing new programs, we CANNOT.......

Also, Engineers would be in demand, specially inventive ones, so they would not lost anything but gain, and companies would start selling rights to make a copy, so it would be illegal to make unauthorized copy, just like one is not supposed to duplicate CD with music or DVDs with movies......

Looking on bright side, there would be no more (at least I HOPE so) demands on engineers to make >>programmed failure<< products, so buyers would continue to buy same products, as surely everyone would use something as long as it is doing what it is supposed to do properly, as long as it would last, and if nanotechnology would be implemented too, then products would be stronger, less prone to wear and tear, and could be used indefinitely, no? If something more usefull, inovative or just energy saving is invented, then there would be the reason to replace what one allready have, but even then "old" product need not to be anihilated or better, recycled, as it could continue to serve somebody that has less money and cannot afford even to have such thing or device, much less to pay for new one.... True, in case new product would use less energy it may become imperative that everyone stop using old type of device, and incentive would be in lessening expenses for energy.

Eventually, someone would come with idea to build the houses that way, even bridges and roads, it just need that such devices be made mobile, robot like, and work in groups coordinately, and for houses walls can be produced that would be lighter, stronger and function as better isolation if they are hollow, while all pipes and drains, reservoirs and siphons, ducts for electric wires, telephone wires, computer cables, including cups for outlets, could be built in internally as part of wall structure, adding to strenght of wall instead of lessening it, plastic walls would be waterproof, and because of monolithic built of house as whole, including the roof and rooftiles, such house would be able to withstand tornados and earthquakes, even floods that no contemporary house can, it would be pestproof, termites included....:-)) That would of course be expensive untill mass production of building materials that reproductors use would not bring price down.........

With making of reproductors that could make bigger things, and using the nanotechnology, it would be possible to build even a car shell, doors and motor from one piece, lighter and stronger with eventually just places for inseting unavoidable metal parts where strenght or resistance to wear and tear cannot be achieved in plastic, but even today there are plastics like Novilon that are better than steel....

Just what would be left for great mayority to work and earn money for living?

It could be utopia, but then society would have to find another >>spiritus movens<< instead of MONEY......and in the end, somebody has to PAY for everything, even if it would be just cost of replicator repromateriall........

One aspect of society that would benefit also would be ART, specially when everybody could have ORIGINALL on demand, and most complicated figures designed on computer could be built.... Therefore, together with inventors, researchers, artists and designers would profit most from new era that replicators would build, literally!

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