Hod Lipson is the co-author, with Melba Kurman, of Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing. Lipson and Kurman are leading experts on 3D printing, frequently speaking and advising on this technology to industry, academia, and government. Lipson's lab at Cornell University has pioneered interdisciplinary research in 3D printing, product design, artificial intelligence, and smart materials. Kurman is a technology analyst and business strategy consultant who writes about game-changing technologies in lucid, engaging language.
Hod Lipson: For many years, at least recently we’ve seen a lot of transition from the physical into the virtual. Everything is being scanned from books to photography to even 3-D scanning of objects and so forth. What this technology is allowing us to do is to move back into the physical world. To take this digital media, just like we can now print books on demand and so forth, we can now start printing objects.
I’ve been working with 3-D printers since really the, I’ve seen it first in the late ‘80s. You know up until I'd say about the mid-2000s, 2005 or so, this technology was mostly locked in very expensive machines with very narrow markets and every machine cost upwards of $50,000 and that was one of the reasons why most people weren't aware of it.
But in 2005 something interesting happened and what we did is we took this technology and we created an open source 3-D printer. Something that would cost about $1,000 in parts with the blueprints freely available online and the parts freely available, and basically anybody could make their own 3-D printers. So this was the Fab@Home project in 2005 and opened up in parallel with another open source project called the RepRap and these two printers I believe really made the technology accessible to a lot of people, and hundreds, if not thousands of these machines have been built since then. I think what was really happening now that's very exciting is that the technology while has been progressing and improving fairly steadily over the last three decades, the range of applications is what is exploding now. All these new applications are happening mostly because the technology has kind of unleashed itself and become available to people who are not technical. So it’s not just a few people working with this but really anywhere from chefs to surgeons to archaeologists are using this in lots and lots of different ways.
One of the questions I’m often asked is whether everybody will have a printer in their home in the future. And I think if you look at the analogy to computers you can see that everybody has multiple computers in their home. But not just in their home, we have computers in our pockets, we have computers on our desktop, there are computers in the cloud. And I think the same kind of thing will happen also with 3-D printers. We will have 3-D printers in our home. We will have 3-D printers at work and in the cloud. And there will be different types of printers doing different things.
So for example what would people use a 3-D printer at home for? Probably for making things that are consumable that they need on demand. Mostly things like toys, entertainment and food. Food is a really interesting example of something that you might want to fabricate, to prepare on demand. But when you’re talking about printing let’s say metal parts for replacement parts for your car, that’s probably a printer that you don’t need at home. You’ll be happy to have that at your car mechanics. Or a bioprinter for printing implants would probably be something you’ll find in hospitals, again not at home. So I think we’ll see a huge variety of different printers, different sizes, different capabilities and different locations.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Elizabeth Rodd
You often hear people say there’s going to be this massive maker economy in which everybody’s a designer. That’s actually not going to happen.