3D printing will transform manufacturing as AWS transformed software services

"No more Yoda heads."

By Warren Volkmann, Editor
HP Developers Portal (hp.io)

3D printing needs to move beyond trinkets, toys, and doll parts, a panel of influential 3D engineers told the Technology Association of Oregon at a Tech Talk in Portland on Oct. 13, 2016.

More than 40 people braved wind and lashing rain from the remnants of a tropical typhoon to hear three leaders in 3D printing share their visions of the future. The panel discussion was sponsored by tech staffing giant Kforce, and New Relic, a cloud analytics company.

Intel’s Shashi Jain: “No more Yoda heads”

“To get young people excited about the future of 3D printing, don’t print trinkets,” Shashi Jain, Intel’s Innovation Manager for the Internet of Things (IoT), told the gathering. “No more trinkets and novelties like Yoda bobble-heads or Eiffel towers or owls on logs. Show young people the power of 3D printing – have them print a prosthetic hand for someone. That’s one of the most compelling things you can print.”

HP’s Bob Taylor

By coincidence, HP’s Bob Taylor had a 3D printed hand. Bob is a software architect for HP’s 3D printing lab in Vancouver, Washington. He came to the talk with a box full of 3D-printed gadgets, including a wildly colored mechanical hand. Each joint and knuckle on the hand was articulated for realistic motion. The vibrant colors on the prototype showed that 3D printing offers a wealth of options beyond mimicking what already exists in Nature.

Less obvious than the neon stripes but more significant to the future of 3D manufacturing, the mechanical hand serves to illustrate the revolutionary possibilities offered by 3D printing. Jet Fusion printing makes it possible to 3D print multi-part devices fully assembled. In the near future, the entire hand – jointed fingers and all – will be “printed in place” in one single job – not assembled from parts. When the 3D printing powder is shaken off, the hand will emerge intact. No assembly required.

For Bob the ability to print complex devices with multiple components is the “most amazing” aspect of 3D printing.

“I remember when it hit me that this is a new way to make parts,” he said. “You can make things with a 3D printer that you can’t make with a traditional approach. You can 3D print interlocking gears. This will fundamentally change how we make things. It will take a while to figure it out, but it gets exciting when we start to change what we do.”

HP's Mike Regan on hanging cars

The third panelist, Mike Regan, lab manager for HP’s 3D printing program, pointed out an HP video that had been looping through on a playlist during TAO’s networking hour. The video shows a car being suspended by a single 3D printed link. (The dangling car belonged to the engineer who designed and printed the link.)

“We have 3D printed things in our lab that you just couldn’t do before,” Mike explained. “Not only was the 3D-printed link strong enough to lift a car, it was printed with a built-in strain gauge so it could report how much force it was under.”

Revolution in manufacturing

Mike added some historic context.

“HP started 3D printing in Corvallis 15 years ago. It was consumer oriented then, but we just couldn’t put together a business model that would work for us, so we killed the project. In the last few years, it has become much more evident that there is a business model for rapid prototyping and short-run manufacturing. By 2020, I expect a huge inflection from prototyping to manufacturing. Prototyping is a $7 billion market. Manufacturing is a $12 trillion market. How do we learn what we need to be able to tap into large-scale manufacturing?”

What does that mean to software developers?

Bob, HP’s 3D architect, sees vast opportunities for developers.

“As a software guy, I’m excited because so many things are different. Initially the emphasis will be on developing new materials, but there will be a huge amount of opportunity for software innovation.”

Bob predicted that 3D printing will change manufacturing the way Amazon Web Services (AWS) changed software development. Barriers to entry will come down.

“For a software business, if you use AWS, you don’t have to invest much to get started. With 3D printing, a company won’t have to be large scale to get into a market. 3D printing will be like AWS for creating physical things.”

At Intel, Shashi sees 3D printing repeating 2D printing’s history.

“In 2D printing 25 years ago, you had a Raster Image Processor that would take a job and tell a printer what to do. Look where we are today. Now imagine 3D printing in 25 years. Think about the software challenges. The hardware is so far in advance of the software that we are playing catch-up. Think about YouTube. When it started, it was so hard to post videos. Now you can do it with a smart phone in minutes. So what software tools will allow everyone to become a content generator? How will you compensate those content generators for their time and creativity?”

Pain and friction

To catch a piece of the 3D printing revolution, Shashi recommended buying an affordable 3D printer and making something – preferably not a Yoda head.

“I guarantee it will tick you off,” he said. “There is a lot of friction in the process. Apply yourself to solving that friction. We are still lacking a killer app in the consumer 3D printing.”

For hardware, Shashi recommends the MP Select Mini 3D, which is available through www.monoprice.com for just under $200. For designs, he likes tinkercad.com, a free browser-based 3D design and modeling tool with scores of free designs.

For serious fans, Shashi suggested starting a home 3D printing business – the equivalent of micro-brewing at home.

“It costs only $50 for a desktop technology business license in Gresham.”

Silly kid questions

With all the abstraction and technology whirling around 3D printing, Mike, HP’s 3D lab manager, looks to children and their questions to stay grounded. Questions like: “What’s a typewriter? …a rotary phone? …a dot-matrix printer?”

“Someday it will be ‘What’s injection molding?’ as entire supply chains are replaced by 3D printers that turn out customized, personalized products on demand,” Mike predicted. “We are entering a period of intense learning. Our grads and young people will take this in a completely new direction. When I am a grandfather, I expect to be completely amazed.”

 


Learn more about 3D printing on the HP Developers’ Portal:


HP Jet Fusion 3D printing technology will ship in late 2016.

 


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