back to article 3D printing: 'Third industrial revolution' or a load of old cobblers?

Readers of The Register with their fingers on the throbbing technopulse of innovation will have noticed that - if the hype is anything to go by - 3D printing is about to redefine paradigms, rewrite/defenestrate/burn textbooks and give the unwashed masses the power to print iPhone covers at will, thereby shaking the whole notion …


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  1. Dances With Sheep

    Ho Hum

    In our workship, we've only used the 3D printer for printing many model Yoda's when we were stonned.

    Your millage may vary.

    1. Captain Hogwash Silver badge

      Re: stonned

      Were you stoned when you wrote that?

      1. Ole Juul Silver badge

        Re: stonned

        Were you stoned when you wrote that?

        He may have meant stunned.

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: Ho Hum

      I know of a lot of custom shops doing plenty of business with those 3D printers.

      I can only guess your company isn't marketing your services well enough or lacks the imagination to properly capitalize upon the capabilities of the device.

  2. Richard Scratcher
    Thumb Up

    Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

    I remember reading those same words about lasers. I didn't think I'd ever own a laser device and now I probably have more than I realise.

    1. FartingHippo

      Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

      Outside of disk drives, where are all these lasers? Pointers don't count. Neither do sharks with lasers of the "frikkin" variety.

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        Printers. High-speed optical networking. Making those holographic anti-counterfeiting things on bank cards.

        1. VinceH Silver badge

          Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

          The death ray machine I'm building in the hollowed out volcano under my shed.

          1. Steve Todd

            Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

            One per shark

      2. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        > where are all these lasers

        LASERs will (are?) like electric motors. Not something you own per se, but an "invisible" component inside something else.

        However, just like electric motors didn't make an "industrial revolution", neither will LASERs or 3D printers. However, given time, they might be incorporated into things or machines that do gain widespread acceptance.

        1. JCitizen

          Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

          Yep, and i bet I and a lot of people own a lot of laser technology:

          Laser ROM readers

          Laser sights

          Laser LED for HDTV light source

          Laser levelers for doing carpentry work

          Laser garage door limiter sensors

          Laser range finders

          If I thought a second longer than some posters on here I'd literally have a full page of stuff here on just what one person uses!!

      3. stu 4

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        "Outside of disk drives, where are all these lasers"

        is that yoda speak for 'laser are outside disk drives' ?

        If so I agree - there are no lasers in disk drives.

      4. sisk Silver badge

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        Neither do sharks with lasers of the "frikkin" variety.

        Don't be ridiculous. Of course sharks with frikkin lasers count. But then so do the BluRay player and two consoles I own. Oh, and my 'death ray' that I use to amuse my kids*. More practical applications are range finders for surveyors, etching in things, eye surgery, and blasting missiles out of the sky.

        *Apparently the ability to pop a balloon and light a match at a distance qualifies it as a death ray, though I'm not quite sure why. My kids think it's the coolest thing since sliced cheese though. I'm sure that in a pinch I could use it to start a camp fire, but I think it'd be quicker to use one of the friction methods of fire building I know.

        1. Wzrd1

          Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

          "I'm sure that in a pinch I could use it to start a camp fire, but I think it'd be quicker to use one of the friction methods of fire building I know."

          Know the same methods. Used them, am reasonably proficient with them.

          I'll stick with a match or lighter.

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

            Lasers are often used for cutting sheet metal (having no mechanical link between the workpeice and the tool is a good thing- you don't have to build your X-Y mechanism to withstand torque and vibration), and for etching serial numbers and the like. There is also a hard-wearing marking technique, where a chemical is sprayed onto a piece and activated by a laser, leaving text or a logo - the remaining chemical is then washed off.

            Laser measuring and surveying is also very useful. '3D scanner'.

            Lasers are also used to calibrate in real time the adjustable mirrors of ground-based telescopes to adjust for atmospheric interference.

            Lasers can also be used for a form of 'additive manufacturing' nee 'rapid prototyping' called sterolithography (the process that gives .STL files their name) in which two laser beams activate a photo-cured resin at the point of their intersection.

            They make your sent-from-the-future killer cyborg look cool (though in 1984 the laser sight on Arnie's handgun had to be powered by a hidden battery and cable running up his sleeve).

            They might, maybe, one day, possibly, play a part in commercial fusion energy production.

            Not sure if if mentioning Jean Micheal Jarre and the Ozric Tentacles helps my case here.

      5. McHack

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        Laser engravers, laser cutting, laser machining of thin materials without deformation... There are lots of modern lasers out there doing serious work. Plus all the lasers the doctors and attendees of a medical-type seminar use for serious procedures to zapping a stray Kardashian nose hair.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

          > Plus all the lasers the doctors and attendees of a medical-type seminar use for serious procedures to zapping a stray Kardashian nose hair.

          Not only that, we have local business promising to help with giving up smoking with lasers.

          I hate think how that works. Something like this I imagine:

          "Do you want a fag?"

          "Yes" Zzzzap! "Ow!!"

          "Do you want a fag?"

          "Yes" Zzzzap! "Ow!!"

          Rinse and repeat.

      6. Wzrd1

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        The fiber optic cable coming to my home is laser driven. As it's two way, there is a laser driving this very traffic to you.

        Twice, as I also ran fiber between switches in my house.

        My drives, of course. I have measurement devices that use lasers to indicate alignment.

        I have a saw guide that is laser.

        I have a laser sight for my pistol sitting in the drawer (my dot scope is better than that laser, so it was retired).

        I have laser pointers for meetings.

        That is for starters.

      7. PHAEK BOB

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        "Outside of disk drives..."

        Here - since you're LAZY, I googled it for you:

        Search string used: EVERYDAY USES OF LASERS

        Read. Educate yourself. Stop being so lazy. Stop being so uneducated. Stop being such a luddite.

      8. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        Outside of disk drives, where are all these lasers?"

        Off the top of my head, CD player, BluRay player, spirit level, ultrasonic "tape" measure (for aiming), chop saw, handheld circular saw and a Xmas "disco" light display that puts red and green laser "stars" all over the room ;-)

      9. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"


        Three of those lasers that no one owns are in

        - a laser distance meter

        - a crossline laser used for marking vertical and horizontal lines

        - a spirit level with laser marker.

        which I regularly use, putting up a couple of walls and related rebuilding activities.

      10. JCitizen
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        You make it sound like lasers don't do anything in the modern world. How 'bout laser speed guns the policed use ? - or laser pointers? - or laser TVs? w/DLP chips that make color wheels and bulb light sources obsolete? - Laser designation - not only for the Armed Forces anymore - 3D metal printers use high heat lasers to melt the metal sintering process? - laser leveling and surveying equipment - thank God we don't have to use metal tape with a temperature probe on it anymore! - Laser lasik? so people can see again! - laser range finders - laser printers - geeze! I might get dizzy thinking of all the improvements to modern day living!

    2. Pet Peeve

      Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

      Circuit board prototyping may be a killer app for 3d printing. The process now is either messy and crappy (if you do it yourself) or stupidly expensive (if you use a prototyping service).

      I do some fiddling with atmel chips (none of this arduino business for me), and I would LOVE to be able to whip out a board on a printer to try stuff out. If it could do two-sided boards, I'd buy one right now.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem" - it's far, far from expensive, I think the cheapest I've done is about £2. There's a few weeks turnaround to the UK though.

        I had a look at this printer but the smallest trace it can do is something like 0.5mm which isn't going to cut it for anything at a scale used by any reasonably interesting components (spent a lovely 4 hours with a solder paste syringe, needle and magnifying glass last night assembling a large board with lots of 0.65mm pitch components - I'm getting too old for this shit).

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

          spent a lovely 4 hours with a solder paste syringe, needle and magnifying glass last night

          Have a look at (or through) the Donegan Optivisor.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        > Circuit board prototyping may be a killer app for 3d printing.

        I agree with this.

        Etching is such a pain and requires hazardous chemicals.

        Plain board/etch resist/etching/rinsing/cleaning. A right pain in the arse.

        Unless you do a lot of it though I can't see it being worthwhile to have a machine yourself.

        Could make it cheap to get a small shop to do it for you though.

        And better for the environment. If the copper/silver is applied rather than being removed, would be a lot more economical since copper and silver are pretty dear all told.

        1. Long John Brass Silver badge

          Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

          Last board I made I used the following

          Laser print the layout to std paper

          "Iron" layout to the PCB

          Carefully in a sink "dissolve" away the paper, leaving the plastic behind

          etch the copper board using a solution of

          white vinegar

          Hydrogen Peroxide (~5% stock from the store)

          table salt

          The etch is slow as hell; it took an hour or two, but other than the hydrogen peroxide ... no dangerous chemicals (and at 2-5% the peroxide ain't that dangerous)

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Thumb Up

            Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

            > The etch is slow as hell; it took an hour or two, but other than the hydrogen peroxide ... no dangerous chemicals (and at 2-5% the peroxide ain't that dangerous)

            Heh, I didn't know that worked. I will give it a try next time.

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        The alternative to etching or a 3d printer for DIY PCB making might be some form of milling machine - but that's not exactly home-tech either - and you could only make doublesided boards at best.

        (I'd have killed to be able to make 4 (or more) layer boards when prototyping digital control circuits for use in RF systems n the 1980s)

      4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        "If it could do two-sided boards, I'd buy one right now."

        Based on the description of printing onto a suitable substrate, it's not 3D printing anyway, it's more like inkjet printing with conductive ink so flipping over the substrate with careful alignment means double sided PCBs are no more difficult than current methods of "at home" manufacture. No through hole plating so you still have to make sure to solder both sides of the relevant component holes and/or use through hole pins.

    3. Tom 13

      Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

      I'd say the big caveat right now is that our current 3d printers are the equivalent of Orville and Wilbur's first flight at Kitty Hawk. Not necessarily impressive except to visionaries. But after future developments we'll wonder how we ever got along without them.

      1. JP19

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        " our current 3d printers are the equivalent of Orville and Wilbur's first flight at Kitty Hawk"

        No that would be the 3D printers we had in the mid 1980's.

      2. cray74

        Re: Yes, a "solution looking for a problem"

        And they've been at the Kitty Hawk stage for a while. The improvements since the mid-1990s are modest in most respects except cost, which (for some units) have dropped by 2 orders of magnitude.

        However, the proliferation and popularization of 3D printers compared to the 1990s suggests (to me) that the technology is on the verge of something big. Maybe a popped market bubble, maybe a Model T, but something big.

        I think what 3D printers need is a combination of 3D printing technologies to takeoff. Right now, the inexpensive units most people play with are just depositing plastic. When you get systems that can print multiple materials, like the high-end industrial systems depositing steel, titanium, and aluminum, and match that to plastic printers. Not so everyone can build killbots (which would be cool), but at that point you can start building a lot of everyday household items. Print a new plumbing pipe, print a new shower head, print a new screw - that'd be handy. And if it can help a household like that, it could be very useful in the hands of skilled machinist.

  3. Simon Rockman

    Culturally it's great

    The 3D printing world feels the way computing did in the 1980s, with bedroom hobbyists alongside huge multinational companies.It's great fun to be around and well worth poping into iMakr near to The reg office to have a tinker.

  4. Adam 1 Silver badge

    I used to be a naysayer.

    Then a friend printed a Dalek.

    Now I can see their value.

  5. Alan Bourke

    Right now I can see only specialist application

    Medical prosthetics, specialised jewellery, some types of models ... can't see it ever being fast or scalable enough to replace most current industrial processes.

    Mind you I confidently predicted, pre Direct 3D, that Windows would never be fast enough for gaming and we'd always have to boot to DOS. So WTF do I know.

    1. sandman

      Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

      True, but there are a lot of specialist requirements out there. One use I can see is making obsolete components. Say for example your company still has a use for a dot matrix printer (true case). One tiny but vital part breaks and you can't get it fixed because nobody makes that little thing anymore. That's a trivial example, but there is a whole world of difficult to fix machinery out there.

      1. Lottie

        Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

        Sandman, I totally agree. I reckon the 3d printer will be a common tool in the garage when folk realize that it can be used to make those annoying, easily breakable/ losable plastic bits that *every* modern product seems to have that no-one sells the replacements for.

        1. FartingHippo

          Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

          Not convinced about there being one in every garage, but I could see self-service machines in supermarkets or DIY stores.

        2. A Twig

          Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

          Agreed, exactly what I'm waiting for...

          So when the door catch breaks again on the washing machine, I can print a proper fit for purpose replacement rather than than ending up bodging something and ultimately giving up and buying a new washing machine...

          1. Xxeno

            Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

            Yep its worth getting just for that!

      2. Suricou Raven

        Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

        I'm thinking of the attachments for hoover hoses.

        1. FartingHippo

          Re: I'm thinking of the attachments for hoover hoses.

          Whatever floats your boat...

    2. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

      One-offs and prototypes or replacing things that are no longer made.

      In its current form, it is too slow and too expensive to be taken as a serious manufacturing tool. It will be interesting to see how they progress in the future, but I don't think they will ever be economical enough to replace injection molding of mass produced articles. For short runs, yes, but millions? Probably not.

      1. Grikath Silver badge

        Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

        Well not too long ago, you went to a "copyshop" , where as a student you could type out your presentations on a "computer" using a "word processor" , which then allowed you to "print" said documents, and then whip them through a photocopier for the required number of copies.

        Was sort of expensive, but well worth it for the more important stuff, like the things that determined your course grades, and in the end cheaper than plodding along on a typewriter, having to go through a revision or two, or three, or....

        The technology does allow for relatively easy small-run/one-off manufacturing, and there certainly is a market for "printing shops" if you can get the starting capital ( a whole different proposition nowadays...) It's a nifty tool for quite a lot of purposes, and it certainly has potential. A lot will depend on the availability (and price) of suitable polymers that have the desired characteristics for certain applications, and that's where there's a lot left to develop.

        But 10 years from now? Who knows.

        And Big_D.. you do realise that the actual cost of an injection mould is rather steep? Along with the machine you need to make it work.. Mass production is all good and nice, but the process of injection moulding is *only* economically feasible because it is used for mass-production. It's wholly unsuited for the applications, production numbers, and versatility expected from 3D printing...

        1. big_D Silver badge

          Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

          That is why I specifically said for mass production it probably won't be economical, but for short runs.

      2. John Lilburne Silver badge

        Re: Right now I can see only specialist application

        We had some people in the office recently that were making injection mould for small parts by 3D printing.

  6. Zot

    I've wanted to buy one for years, but to get top quality I'll still have to fork out tens of thousands of pounds and have a large storage space. When the quality improves on the cheaper, smaller models then I'll get one, but until then it's all a bit "meh."

  7. wolfetone Silver badge

    3D Printing plagued by hype

    There are articles on t'internet that are hailing 3D printing would allow people to print new parts for their cars, new covers for their phones, even new parts for their bodies. And we can all remember the 3D gun being printed.

    The thing is, and the gun proves it, the plastic isn't strong enough to have any real use. And many applications whereby you could print parts for require parts to be made of several types of materials, not just one. So the idea of printing off a car is always going to be that: an idea. A dream.

    However, in the UK on Channel 4 not so long ago there was a documentary by Embarassing Bodies about a gentleman who lost half his face from cancer. To give you an idea, he lost his left eye, his left cheekbone, the roof of his mouth, the top left part of his jaw and his teeth. Because of his treatment and everything he had been through (he had also contracted MRSA), he was forced to essentially stick a plaster over that part of his face.

    He had seen some specialists and one of them was a dentist, who took a 3D model of this man's head and created a 3D print out of it, which was then used to design a prosthetic eye, check bone, and new teeth. It was very successful, and aside from the human story of this, the way 3D printing was used to give this man a new face essentially was just incredible. And I feel that 3D printing has more of a use to the medical profession than anything else.

    1. Nifty

      Re: 3D Printing plagued by hype

      Yea and the nice side story is he has 2 prosthetics, one for winter one for summer, to rack his tan.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The post-stuff age

    Ask any kid what they want for christmas and the answer is more likely to be a download, or a game, or something off itunes, People today are eschewing physical things in favour of the intangible: information and entertainment. So the draw of a 3D printer in the home is not so much in what it makes, but in the process of making. Just as we are well past the time of peak-paper in the home.

    The same applies at work. Less and less printing is taking place and most information only appears on the screens of devices - sometimes desk-bound and sometimes portable. So far as workplace 3D printing, the needs will be for much more specialised, high-quality and better designed products. So commercial 3D printing will only be found on the industrial estate, in the workshop of the specialist prototyper or short-run fabricator. Never in the corner of the office next to the coffee machine.

    So where does that leave domestic 3D printers? In the same place as those other tools for making things: in the workshop. Just like hobbyist woodworkers, who will spend many more hours producing something hand-made than it would take them to earn the money to buy off the shelf - so there will always be a place for people for whom the making is more important, or fun, than the having. However, just like the market for lathes, compound-mitre saws and drill presses is quite active (among the cognoscenti) so will be the market for 3D printers. However they will never be a 1-per-home item.

    1. Long John Brass Silver badge

      Re: The post-stuff age

      > However they will never be a 1-per-home item.

      Can can very clearly remember when they said the same of computers :)

  9. DJO Silver badge

    Other uses

    There's no reason why 3D printing can't make conventional manufacturing easier, you could 3D print a part then use that to cast a mould which could be used for normal injection moulding thus greatly reducing the cost of setting up as making a mould is normally very expensive.

    In a foundry 3d printing with wax could be really handy for casting metal objects where 3D printing directly with metal would not be practical.

    1. Cliff

      Re: Other uses

      Absolutely. Back when there was such an industry, I trained as a manufacturing engineer. This is cool technology, it is another tool for the toolbox. It won't get rid of the toolbox.

      This fills the space where the designers want a prototype for the boardroom meeting, or when the resolution and accuracy is good then for making master jigs and moulds for casting other materials, with a little hand finishing then used as a master for regular production methods.

      I'm excited by it as an engineer, as a consumer I can see that it's kinda cool, but I'm not going to keep one to replace broken xyz widget plastic bits. By the time you find the plans with appropriate CAD and printing instructions (supports, etc) and rig up the machine, find the right kind of plastic (they are not equal, which is why there are several) in the right form, get extrusion rates etc right... Well milliput solved the job a few days ago, for under a quid.

    2. Getriebe

      Re: Other uses

      "In a foundry 3d printing with wax could be really handy for casting metal objects where 3D printing directly with metal would not be practical."


      My first company after University was about rapid prototyping using a new mould making I had devised and had a patent on.

      Things I learnt

      We could do short runs at a decent cost - but any form of mass manufacture (say 200 plus) we were beaten by standard methods where the accumulated skill in knocking up a die or a mould beat us

      The performance of the part. Parts are so critically designed and designed around the characteristics of the metal/plastic chose that any change in the manufacture adjusted the performance and we were back to the drawing board.

      Now this was a while ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and we had a manufacturing industry (violins stage left )but I guess some still remains the same and China can knock up the die and products mucho rapido instead of Portugal or Singapore in my day. Also, unless the sintering process of 3D metal can get close to a forged or cast part we still have performance characteristics.

      The idea of making pattern for lost wax is interesting but I found that we could give a diagram to a pattern maker who could make the item real fast and ten we would put pattern makers wax over it differentially to compensate for contractions.

      So I reckon it’s a great tool to have but traditional methods will still beat it frequently.

      1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

        Re: Other uses

        3D printing is certainly for those situations where hard tooling is too expensive or when several iterations with slight changes need to be done before the design is finalized.

        You might want to check out a process called powder forging that has become very common for automotive components.

        1. Getriebe

          Re: Other uses

          "3D printing is certainly for those situations where hard tooling is too expensive or when several iterations with slight changes need to be done before the design is finalized.

          You might want to check out a process called powder forging that has become very common for automotive components.


          As per my comment above - not so much

          Modern methods of making what you are calling hard tooling are so slick that the number off is relativley low. Time is money and doing a lot of one offs is time consuming.

          As an interesting example (well it was to me) I had a job of doing some pre prod deisgns for watch cases (clockwork) but in the end we could go to Singapore where a manufacturer would make the die, and the sample watche cases for free. He made his money from the scrap 'brass' we supplied for the cases. And then he had the die for mods and then he almost always got the contract in the end to make a few hundred.

          And powder forging as you call it, I called it sintering is useful only in certain situations.

          Crash test requirements mean that certain physical charcteristics are needed which sintered doesn't necessarily have.

  10. John Lilburne Silver badge

    3D printers will appear all over the place, but there are only a certain number of things that any one person is going to want to 3D print (well except for say Games Workshop type figures).

    This time last year I took a star ruby which we bought in India into our jewellery software development dept. Pointed in a book of rings a design, and they measured the stone and 3D printed the ring in resin, check the fit with the stone, created a couple of other resin rings, until it was right and the final resin ring was used as the mould for the gold. In the orthotics software dept they were testing out the 3D printing crowns using some new ceramic sintering material. Two custom made apps but as an individual you aren't going to be 3D printing many rings, or teeth and the printers are different in each case.

    Meanwhile in the workshop they were 3D printing titanium sheaths for carbon fibre turbin blades.

    Yes there are a lot of applications but I suspect that there is less applications for a home 3D plastic printer than there is for a router.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oddjob returns

      I read that as "carbon fibre turban blades." and though

      "Oh nasty, would get through the metal detector and everything!"

  11. Maharg


    "I predict that within 100 years, 3D printers will be twice as powerful, ten thousand times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them."

  12. dbhh

    There are already at least two 3D printers that I know of that can create PCBs, but they do it a different way. They can do everything any other extrusion 3D printer can do, but the mechanism can be fitted with a Dremel-type cutter, which is used to etch a standard PCB blank - and can also mill wood, plastic, aluminium etc. like a conventional CNC, and can be used to engrave.

    My money is on this type of device - I'll dub it the "Personal Fabricator" - being the winner for home use; a combination of additive and subtractive manufacturing. Very excited about this!

  13. 0laf Silver badge

    Hype cycle

    Looking on the hype cycle I see 3D printing is just entering the "trough of disillusionment" after which it'll start to be looked at and used more widely with less notice being taken.

  14. David Evans

    Its all about the drugs

    Most people are thinking about 3D printing in terms of physical manufacture, but one of the real early contenders for large scale development is in creating tailored drugs. There's already a lot of work going on in the development of processes to create personalised prescriptions that are rendered in a 3DP. It makes a lot of sense when you think of people on long-term medication who may have to take half a dozen different prescriptions a day; with an ageing population that's a big market. The biggest hurdle for this right now is regulation, but as ever, I'm sure there are naughty chemists on the other side of the pharmaceutical industry who are thinking about the possibilities for the next generation of recreational drugs.

    1. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      Re: Its all about the drugs

      I'm sorry, but what? Do you mean molecular assembly, as seen on Star Trek? Or is there a condition that's cured by consuming coloured plastic?

      1. David Evans

        Re: Its all about the drugs

        3D printing isn't just about plastic. You can use a printer to synthesize combinations of drugs into tailored packages. So instead of taking 15 different pills you take one bespoke one. Good article on it here:

  15. xenny

    They have some serious uses

    I've literally just stopped speaking to someone enthusing about her 3-D printed dental crown. No making impressions, no temporary crown while the permanent one is made off-site, excellent fit.

    She'd spoken to the dentist, and they'd had the device for some 7 months, and would buy another if this one broke down.

    1. TheProf

      Re: They have some serious uses

      How on earth did they fit a 3D printer in her mouth?

      1. frank ly Silver badge

        Re: They have some serious uses

        If it was made off-site how long did she have to wait for it to be delivered and fitted? I assume her milled down tooth was scanned at the dentist and the scanned data sent out for manufacture. No temporary crown, so how long was she waiting with a 'red raw stump' until her crown could be finally fitted?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: They have some serious uses

          Did you actually read the comment?

          As it specifically stated the dentist owned the printer, and that they did not need to go off site for printing.

      2. xenny

        Re: They have some serious uses

        Some kind of 3d scanner/camera that fitted in her mouth. She's petite, and it was a rear molar, so it must have been relatively compact.

        The print took about 12 minutes , which seems pretty reasonable.

    2. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: They have some serious uses

      There's 'subtractive printers' aka milling machines which are designed for that job:

      But apparently everything in the dental market is triple the price, because that's what the market will bear.

    3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

      Re: They have some serious uses

      "...3-D printed dental crown..."

      The ones that I've seen are *not* 3D printed.

      They scan the broken tooth, and perhaps the opposite side to mirror image, to create the 3D CAD model. Then the wee little feisty desktop CNC machine starts grinding away on the cylindrical ceramic blank to create (using SUBTRACTIVE manufacturing) to create the exact crown shape required. It's all good and great, but it ain't 3D *printed*.

      Is there an ADDITIVE Crown making machine (3D printing)?

      Can anyone confirm this?

  16. jas42


    Certainly will have a significant impact - the question is will it just be significant butjust another channel to market or will it be dominant - hard to know

  17. James 51 Silver badge

    For replacing broken parts, unless you have it on file already you'll need some serious CAD skills to make another or a 3D scanner and software that can scan it and put it back together virtually for you. It's going to take a lot longer before they're as common as inkjets.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What if a part in the 3D printer breaks?

      1. James 51 Silver badge

        There is a project to make a 3D printer than can print a copy of itself. Ask a mate to pirint it for you. Or buy a second one.

      2. hplasm Silver badge
        Big Brother

        re:What if a part in the 3D printer breaks?

        You print another one, and then the police claim it's part of a gun.

    2. Boothy

      I would have thought that scanning in a broken component (assuming you still have all the bits), and stitching them back together in software, would be relatively easy task to do these days, with modern processing power etc..

      You could have something as simple as scan in the items, then it would highlight the edges it thinks are the broken ones that need joining (colour coded for example) , and the user just confirm or adjust as needed. The software then autorotates till the edges match up, with some algorithms so smooth out edges if they were deformed when broken, and fill in any holes if small parts were missing (i.e. little shards broken away and lost).

      If the software doesn't exist yet, I'm sure someone could write something, or collaborate on something opensource.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Such software already exists, kind of. Midrange CAD packages often have a 'Scan to 3D' module, to allow the output of a laser scanner (a point cloud) to be turned into a mesh, or to be used a reference to create curves (which are then used as reference or to loft surfaces.

        After that, there is a 'Start feature recognition?' dialogue, which attempts to convert the 'dumb geometry' into features, within a tolerance (i.e, this shape is an approximation of a cylinder, so let's call it an extruded circle. Now that it is a defined 'feature', the variables such as circle radius and extrusion length can be modified.

        It's not perfect, but it would be easier to write software to recognise specific features (a simple gear cog, for example) and then perform fairly standard modifications (compensate for wear at the end of the teeth)

  18. Richard Jukes

    They are a good idea and they have their applications, however they will not replace the supply chain for parts.

    I have looked at buying one, I could use it to print better plastic mats for the diggers in our fleet, or use it to print the plastic hand helds (£60 + VAT for a 5cm by 8cm bit of plastic) or the joystick controllers etc.

    However, and this is the big hurdle - what about EU Certificate of Conformity's? If I design and print something I am accepting liability that it is safe and will do the job. Now you may say its a bit of plastic for a hand rest, however in this increasingly legal world am I going to take the risk of incurring liability to save myself £60?

    Of course not.

  19. itzman

    Leaving aside hobbyists...

    ...the real value of 3D is fast prototyping and very short production runs, same as laser cutting.

    For example. everything comes on an injection moulded plastic case. To manufacture such a case costs peanuts, once and only once, you have spent literally tens of thousands of dollars and or man hours making the tool. And them modifying it because marketing didn't 'like the feel of it'.

    3D printing ( at least prototypes) allows you to arrive at the final shape cheaply and quickly, and even make enough units to fund the cost of getting an injection mould made.

    As the materials that may be deposited increases in scope, so too will the applications. Its also less polluting to use additive technology rather than subtractive. A 3D printer is after all only a CNC 4 axis mill in reverse...that doesn't leave swarf and cutting fluid everywhere.Finally, it seems with certain limitations, to be able to create structures inside structures. The possibility of really good ball and socket joints exists, in a way you cant do subtracively, easily.

    A solutin without a problem? No. But it takes time, when you have been used to designing things one way, to develop a new mind set such that the new way isn't just a replacement for the old, but a complete rethink in the way things are done altogether.

    If you look at - say - the evolution of the domestic radio set, you see cases made first of wood, with steel chassis bolted inside, fretwork grilles and so on. Then bakelite replaced the wood. And then the printed circuit board replaced the chassis, and then ultimately we have the injection moulded case and PCB that together are exact fits to each other. Parts count drops dramatically as one moulding replaces lots of assembled 'bits'..Imagine 3D printing say, most of the wiring for set, the mechanical controls and the case as one unit, so you have plastic in plastic bearings for rotary or slide controls with knobs pre-moulded onto the shafts, and even the potentiometers pre moulded with a conductive plastic set of paths, already connected to wiring to take the signals to where they need to go. And stuck in the middle a PCB with a dozen connectors to the case wiring system. At last the wire-less wireless!

    In economic terms you are replacing the cost of individual tooling for hundreds of different sets with a huge capital layout on a machine that can produce any design you want. 3D print the owners face, name and address in it. Hard to steal and re-sell an item, so personalised.

    Its just another dimension to manufacturing, and as we in the 60's adapted to thinking more in terms of 'how can we get that onto the PCB, or mould it into the case' to save production costs, so too will tomorrows designers not be restrained by 'great idea, but there's no way to make it'.

  20. Simon Rockman


    The answer is: Both.

  21. Stu


    Kudos for making the video have the feel (and audio) from an 80's BBC documentary about computing, what with the synth music!

    I miss those old BBC classics!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    just a step (or is that stp)

    I see the printers as a step in the process.

    The deposition of material could be just the first phase before substitution and finish.

    I print the basic skeleton model in recyclable material, then drop it into a nano solution and over a few hours/days the model is replaced with materials with elastic properties or changing material types through the form.

    End result is based on the 3d shape but has been entirely replaced.

    A bit like the guy growing furniture from mushrooms the building materials could be organic based or partly crystalline.

    I have one job for a bespoke 3d form, simple one but it needs to be able to withstand weather and UV. I can make it from off the shelf kit but I don't see it lasting, I either need to be able to fit the printer with many more materials (like the prototype Sugru or Chocolate 3d printers) or go to the high street materials exchange shop for an ABS-Aluminium, copper, silicon, or PLA-AG jewellery service etc.

    It is very much like the Lasers, I have them as parts of other uses.

  23. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

    Short list of things that can't be printed by 3D printers

    Virtually anything Hi-Tech (involving semiconductors, hint: they're already printed, but not one line at a time)

    Fasteners under torque and structural cables under tension

    Magnets (they tend to gum up the print head)


    Of course they're ideal for prototyping plastic bits made of crummy plastic. Boring.

    Hey! Call me when HP sells overpriced 3D Printer cartridges of 'Flying Car paste'.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: Short list of things that can't be printed by 3D printers

      Ah, someone who hasn't heard of SLS (Selective Laser Sintering). You can use it to print parts in anything from nylon to titanium. The titanium parts are strong enough to be used in rocket engines.

      3D printing isn't the solution to everything, but it's surprising what it can and has been used for.

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

        Re: Short list of things that can't be printed by 3D printers

        "...someone who hasn't heard of ...Laser Sintering..."

        Of course I have.

        "3D printing isn't the solution to everything..."

        Thank you. We're in violent agreement.

        It's a *very* useful technology.

        But it will not "take over manufacturing" (quoting idiots, not you) - not even close.

  24. Jim 59

    3D printing: 'Third industrial revolution' or a load of old cobblers?

    Answer (b).

  25. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Generic standard components is best.

    When I were a lad I could get out a set of spanners and fix my bike. A bit later jap bikes came over and apart from falling off cos the brake was on the wrong side I suddenly needed two sets of spanners and nuts and bolts got buggered cost they didn't fit so not only did diy become a nightmare a great moneysaver got priced out of existence.

    Then some idiot invented unglueable plastic which is impervious to any form of repairs and everything was made of that so I might want a 3d printer so I can repair a thousand items that require one bizarrely shaped plastic element.

    It could be fun though - can you imagine being able to repair all those items or maybe ever print your own refillable printer cartridges but I imagine the main use will be in school arts classes making 3d selfies or bloody customises cute kittens.

  26. phil dude


    Don't forget the med/tech applications , printing organs..

    Seriously, the most amazing thing about 3D printing is not the cheap trinkets that the naysayers keep rattling on about. It is the COMPUTER that can design such a thing and then operate the machine to construct it.

    As someone who has dabbled in synthetic biology, imagine a computer that could design a biological system to grow itself...

    Tell me that wouldn't be cool....!

    Beer, 'cos a 3D printed beer would be just silly..


  27. RonWheeler

    Motorbike fairing

    The only plastic thing I've ever broken worth much.

  28. Steve Knox Silver badge

    Backlit Wings

    One-off? You should print up a dozen or so of those and use them for wall sconces.

  29. DropBear Silver badge

    A proper PCB printer would be awesome, but that one's not it

    Obviously I've only seen pictures of what the mentioned PCB printer can do, but based on that color me gravely unimpressed. Those tracks look crude and flimsy even compared to what an half-decent hobby CNC can do via isolation milling out of a piece of actual copper-clad PCB blank. I'd choose that over sprayed-on silver any day, and I'm not even talking about cases where said track is supposed to carry more than, say, 100 milliamps, or securely hold in place several of the umpteen oh-so-popular-these-days SMD connectors...

  30. JimS

    Not just plastic though is it?

    There are DMLS printers, like the one that recently printed a fully functioning metal, doesn't-break-on-first-shot, hand gun. Very expensive bits of kit at the moment, but there have been a few hobbyists who have built one.

    I'm not sure that you'll see 3D printers in every home, but I can see them being in a lot of garages. I know quite a few people who have expensive lathes in their sheds/garages for hobby's. A 3D printer, plastic or metal, costing a few thousand isn't beyond the realms of possibility for a fair few people that I can think of.

  31. Bernard

    I think the chances of 3d printing replacing industrial process for mass produced items are nil.

    However there are lots of ways in which I think 3d printing could be useful now and increasingly important in a world where its availability is known at the point something is designed.

    1) Small-scale design shops or individuals creating prototypes. This has been mentioned at least once above, so no need to go into detail.

    2) Creating parts for items which are no longer mass-producted. I know that when my (mid-90s) car goes for repair one of the hardest and most expensive jobs the garage have is in sourcing parts that are no longer made. If CAD documents were routinely created at the point of design for new models then this would be a considerably easier problem for cars of the current era in 15 years time. I'm sure there are dozens of other situations in which spares are held expensively ad infinitum where a detailled design and 3d printer availability could replace them.

  32. HKmk23

    Read again in four years

    As soon as I can 3d print in an alloy as hard as steel with a machine that cost's less than £3000 for about a tenner a time I will own one.

  33. Faye B

    Ultimate pipe-dream-machine

    Using 3D printers to replace broken parts sounds like a good idea until you factor in the costs of making the new part; the time needed to redesign it in CAD, the cost of ownership of the printer, the cost of materials, the time needed to print an item. When you add in all those costs it will probably be cheaper just to buy a whole new product (especially if it was mass-produced and cheap). It's a bit like furniture making; you could just buy the wood and glue (and varnish and paint and cloth and....) quite cheaply but it would take hours and hours of your time to produce, involve spending money on tools and workshop stuff and the result may not be as good as shop bought. Which is why most of us sit on chairs bought from Ikea.

    3D printing is good for prototyping or short runs but I can't see it replacing mass-production any time. The one caveat is where the shape of the item is so complex or so bespoke that only 3D printing will do the job. I guess the real excitement of this technology is in seeing what kinds of complexity can be acheived and how it will improve functionality over the standard techniques. It could lead to a whole new standard of design and efficiency.

    Personally the appeal of 3D printing is in being able to create my own robot parts but that assumes I have the ability and time to design them in the first place. It's the ultimate pipe-dream-machine.


    <whine> Oh, they're SOOO expensive! </whine>

    Remember when the first plasma and led TVs came out, and how expensive they were?

    Remember that within 5 years a $2000 42" flatscreen TV came down to just $500? And two years later it came down to like $300 - and with multiple HDMI inputs?

    Remember how expensive color laser printers used to be? I bought one 3 years ago for WAY less than $100. In fact, the toner cartridges for the thing costs more than the printer did.

    Be patient, sheeple - the price will come down in a few years and everyone will be able to own their own desktop model. Until then, PLEASE quit your incessant, luddite whining.

  35. Mike Flugennock

    Oh, cripes, not another paradigm

    "...US outfit Makerbot is eyeing a world domination plan to get its 'Replicator 2' into schools, in order to 'change the whole paradigm of how our children will see innovation and manufacturing in America'."

    Looks like they're a little late for that. Our children have already seen the whole paradigm of "innovation" and manufacturing in America for the past three or four generations now.

    Btw, am I the only one here who thinks these clowns would be utterly lost if they were forbidden to use the words "paradigm", "innovate" and "ecosystem"?

  36. Lucky2BHere

    Patience, Luke

    Yes, it will indeed create a revolution in product creation. And by default, in physical distribution and relative power. Just takes a few iterations, like anything else. Patience.

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