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The Ten Principles of 3D Printing
The underlying rules of 3D printing that help innovators get past key cost, time and complexity barriers.
This article is an excerpt from Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman's new book Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing.
Predicting the future is a crapshoot. When we were writing this book and interviewing people about 3D printing, we discovered that a few underlying "rules" kept coming up. People from a broad and diverse array of industries and backgrounds and levels of expertise described similar ways that 3D printing helped them get past key cost, time and complexity barriers.
We have summarized what we learned. Here are ten principles of 3D printing we hope will help people and businesses take full advantage of 3D printing technologies.
Principle one: Manufacturing complexity is free. In traditional manufacturing, the more complicated an object's shape, the more it costs to make. On a 3D printer, complexity costs the same as simplicity. Fabricating an ornate and complicated shape does not require more time, skill, or cost than printing a simple block. Free complexity will disrupt traditional pricing models and change how we calculate the cost of manufacturing things.
Principle two: Variety is free. A single 3D printer can make many shapes. Like a human artisan, a 3D printer can fabricate a different shape each time. Traditional manufacturing machines are much less versatile and can only make things in a limited spectrum of shapes. 3D printing removes the over- head costs associated with re-training human machinists or re-tooling factory machines. A single 3D printer needs only a different digital blueprint and a fresh batch of raw material.
Principle three: No assembly required. 3D printing forms interlocked parts. Mass manufacturing is built on the backbone of the assembly line. In modern factories, machines make identical objects that are later assembled by robots or human workers, sometimes continents away. The more parts a product contains, the longer it takes to assemble and the more expensive it becomes to make. By making objects in layers, a 3D printer could print a door and attached interlocking hinges at the same time, no assembly required. Less assembly will shorten supply chains, saving money on labor and transportation; shorter supply chains will be less polluting.
Principle four: Zero lead time. A 3D printer can print on demand when an object is needed. The capacity for on-the-spot manufacturing reduces the need for companies to stockpile physical inventory. New types of business services become possible as 3D printers enable a business to make specialty -- or custom -- objects on demand in response to customer orders. Zero-lead-time manufacturing could minimize the cost of long-distance shipping if printed goods are made when they are needed and near where they are needed.
Principle five: Unlimited design space. Traditional manufacturing technologies and human artisans can make only a finite repertoire of shapes. Our capacity to form shapes is limited by the tools available to us. For example, a traditional wood lathe can make only round objects. A mill can make only parts that can be accessed with a milling tool. A molding machine can make only shapes that can be poured into and then extracted from a mold. A 3D printer removes these barriers, opening up vast new design spaces. A printer can fabricate shapes that until now have been possible only in nature.
Principle six: Zero skill manufacturing. Traditional artisans train as apprentices for years to gain the skills they needed. Mass production and computer-guided manufacturing machines diminish the need for skilled production. However traditional manufacturing machines still demand a skilled expert to adjust and calibrate them. A 3D printer gets most of its guidance from a design file. To make an object of equal complexity, a 3D printer requires less operator skill than does an injection molding machine. Unskilled manufacturing opens up new business models and could offer new modes of production for people in remote environments or extreme circumstances.
Principle seven: Compact, portable manufacturing. Per volume of production space, a 3D printer has more manufacturing capacity than a traditional manufacturing machine. For example, an injection molding machine can only make objects significantly smaller than itself. In contrast, a 3D printer can fabricate objects as large as its print bed. If a 3D printer is arranged so its printing apparatus can move freely, a 3D printer can fabricate objects larger than itself. A high production capacity per square foot makes 3D printers ideal for home use or office use since they offer a small physical footprint.
Principle eight: Less waste by-product. 3D printers that work in metal create less waste by-product than do traditional metal manufacturing techniques. Machining metal is highly wasteful as an estimated 90 percent of the original metal gets ground off and ends up on the factory floor. 3D printing is more wasteless for metal manufacturing. As printing materials improve, "Net shape" manufacturing could be a greener way to make things.
Principle nine: Infinite shades of materials. Combining different raw materials into a single product is difficult using today's manufacturing machines. Since traditional manufacturing machines carve, cut, or mold things into shape, these processes can't easily blend together different raw materials. As multi-material 3D printing develops, we will gain the capacity to blend and mix different raw materials. New previously inaccessible blends of raw material offer us a much larger, mostly unexplored palette of materials with novel properties or useful types of behaviors.
Principle ten: Precise physical replication. A digital music file can be endlessly copied with no loss of audio quality. In the future, 3D printing will extend this digital precision to the world of physical objects. Scanning technology and 3D printing will together introduce high resolution shapeshifting between the physical and digital worlds. We will scan, edit, and duplicate physical objects to create exact replicas or to improve on the original.
Some of these principles already hold true today. Others will come true in the next decade or two (or three). By removing familiar, time-honored manufacturing constraints, 3D printing sets the stage for a cascade of downstream innovation. In the following chapters we explore how 3D printing technologies will change the ways we work, eat, heal, learn, create and play. Let's begin with a visit to the world of manufacturing and design, where 3D printing technologies ease the tyranny of economies of scale.
Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman. Copyright © 2013.
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
The design of a classic video game yields insights on how to address global poverty.
Poverty can be a self-sustaining cycle that might require an external influence to break it. A new paper published in Nature Sustainability and written by professor Andrew Bell of Boston University suggests that we could improve global anti-poverty and economic development systems by turning to an idea in a video game about a race car-driving Italian plumber.
A primer on Mario Kart
For those who have not played it, Mario Kart is a racing game starring Super Mario and other characters from the video game franchise that bears his name. Players race around tracks collecting power-ups that can directly help them, such as mushrooms that speed up their karts, or slow down other players, such as heat-seeking turtle shells that momentarily crash other karts.
The game is well known for having a mechanism known as "rubber-banding." Racers in the front of the pack get wimpy power-ups, like banana peels to slip up other karts, while those toward the back get stronger ones, like golden mushrooms that provide extra long speed boosts. The effect of this is that those in the back are pushed towards the center, and those in front don't get any boosts that would make catching them impossible.
If you're in last, you might get the help you need to make a last-minute break for the lead. If you're in first, you have to be on the lookout for these breakouts (and the ever-dreaded blue shells). The game remains competitive and fun.
Rubber-banding: A moral and economic lesson from Mario Kart
In the real world, we see rubber-banding used all the time. Welfare systems tend to provide more aid to those who need it than those who do not. Many of them are financed by progressive taxation, which is heavier on the well-off than the down-and-out. Some research suggests that these do work, as countries with lower levels of income inequality have higher social mobility levels.
It is a little more difficult to use rubber-banding in real life than in a video game, of course. While in the game, it is easy to decide who is doing well and who is not, things can be a little more muddled in reality. Furthermore, while those in a racing game are necessarily antagonistic to each other, real systems often strive to improve conditions for everybody or to reach common goals.
As Bell points out, rubber-banding can also be used to encourage sustainable, growth programs that help the poor other than welfare. They point out projects such as irrigation systems in Pakistan or Payments for Ecosystems Services (PES) schemes in Malawi, which utilize positive feedback loops to both provide aid to the poor and promote stable systems that benefit everyone.
Rubber-banding feedback loops in different systems. Mario Kart (a), irrigation systems in Pakistan (b), and PES operations in Malawi (c) are shown. Links between one better-off (blue) and one worse-off (red) individual are highlighted. Feedback in Mario Kart (a), designed to balance the racers, imprAndrew Bell/ Nature Sustainability
In the Malawi case, farmers were paid to practice conservation agriculture to reduce the amount of sediment from their farms flowing into a river. This immediately benefits hydroelectric producers and their customers but also provides real benefits to farmers in the long run as their soil doesn't erode. By providing an incentive to the farmers to conserve the soil, a virtuous cycle of conservation, soil improvement, and improved yields can begin.
While this loop differs from the rubber-banding in Mario, the game's approach can help illustrate the benefits of rubber-banding in achieving a more equitable world.
The task now, as Bell says in his paper, is to look at problems that exist and find out "what the golden mushroom might be."
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."