The artist of this 3D inspired commercial explains:"It was great to be part of this awesome commercial. We modelled all the characters in 3D and animated them. Then they were 3D printed, painted and shot on a huge Zoetrope".
Some may think that our world is being turned upside down. We probably do not grasp the huge implications because, perhaps, we are still imprisoned by our past. We are all of us, almost everywhere, swept up in a maelstrom of change which overturns many of the assumptions we have lived with for the past 100 years. That 100 years is important, because it is the span of the era of mass production ushered in just after 1910 by Henry Ford in Detroit. It is an era which may now be coming to a close, or at least becoming severely limited. The first industrial era is being replaced by something else.
The use of 3D scanning technologies allows the replication of real objects without the use of moulding techniques that in many cases can be more expensive, more difficult, or too invasive to be performed, particularly for precious or delicate cultural heritage artefacts where direct contact with the moulding substances could harm the original object's surface. An additional use being developed is building printing, or using 3D printing to build buildings. This could allow faster construction for lower costs, and has been investigated for construction of off-Earth habitats.
The Sinterhab project is researching a lunar base constructed by 3D printing using lunar regolith as a base material. Instead of adding a binding agent to the regolith, researchers are experimenting with microwave sintering to create solid blocks from the raw material. Employing additive layer technology offered by 3D printing, Terahertz devices which act as waveguides, couplers and bends have been created. The complex shape of these devices could not be achieved using conventional fabrication techniques. Commercially available professional grade printer EDEN 260V was used to create structures with minimum feature size of 100 µm. The printed structures were later DC sputter coated with gold (or any other metal) to create a Terahertz Plasmonic Device.
China has committed almost $500 million towards the establishment of 10 national 3-D printing development institutes. In 2013, Chinese scientists began printing ears, livers and kidneys, with living tissue. Researchers in China have been able to successfully print human organs using specialised 3D bio printers that use living cells instead of plastic. Researchers at Hangzhou Dianzi University actually went as far as inventing their own 3D printer for the complex task, dubbed the "Regenovo" which is a "3D bio printer." Xu Mingen, Regenovo's developer, said that it takes the printer under an hour to produce either a mini liver sample or a four to five inch ear cartilage sample. Xu also predicted that fully functional printed organs may be possible within the next ten to twenty years. In the same year, researchers at the University of Hasselt, in Belgium had successfully printed a new jawbone for an 83-year-old Belgian woman. The woman is now able to chew, speak and breathe normally again after a machine printed her a new jawbone. A private company located in eastern China has printed ten full-size houses using a huge 3D printer in the space of a day. The process utilizes quick-drying cement, but the creators are being careful not to reveal the secrets of the technology.
China's WinSun company, used a system of four 10 meter wide by 6.6 meter high printers with multi-directional sprays to create the houses. Cement and construction waste was used to build the walls layer-by-layer, state news agency Xinhua reported.
"To obtain natural stone, we have to employ miners, dig up blocks of stone and saw them into pieces. This badly damages the environment," stated Ma Yihe, the inventor of the printers. Yihe has been designing 3D printers for 12 years and believes his process to be both environmentally friendly and cost-effective. "But with the 3D printing, we recycle mine tailings into usable materials. And we can print buildings with any digital design our customers bring us. It's fast and cheap," Yihe said.
Using this technology means that construction workers can be saved from exposure to hazardous or dusty working environments, Yihe added. Thus far, quality checks for printed buildings are undertaken on a piece-by-piece basis, as there are no building codes for them and 3D printed houses are not legislated for under Chinese law. While the current batch of houses are standalone, one-storey structures, the company hopes its technology will eventually be used to make skyscrapers.
In Bahrain, large-scale 3D printing using a sandstone-like material has been used to create unique coral-shaped structures, which encourage coral polyps to colonise and regenerate damaged reefs. These structures have a much more natural shape than other structures used to create artificial reefs, and have a neutral pH which concrete does not. Some of the recent developments in 3D printing were revealed at the 3DPrintshow in London, which took place at the end of 2013 and early 2014. The art section had in exposition artworks made with 3D printed plastic and metal. Several artists such as Joshua Harker, Davide Prete, Sophie Kahn, Helena Lukasova, Foteini Setaki showed how 3D printing can modify aesthetic and art processes. One part of the show focused on ways in which 3D printing can advance the medical field. The underlying theme of these advances was that these printers can be used to create parts that are printed with specifications to meet each individual. This makes the process safer and more efficient. One of these advances is the use of 3D printers to produce casts that are created to mimic the bones that they are supporting. These custom-fitted casts are open, which allow the wearer to scratch any itches and also wash the damaged area. Being open also allows for open ventilation. One of the best features is that they can be recycled to create more casts. In December 2013, BAE Systems fitted and successfully test flew a Panavia Tornado with parts made by 3D printing.
In many societies, consumers are now beginning to challenge their passive role as users of stuff provided by others. They are becoming much more like creators than they have ever been allowed to before. During the last decade of the 20th Century and into the 21st, the only way for businesses to be sure of survival in the developed world, in the US and in Europe, was to abandon competing with the world's low-cost producers emerging so fast in China and many other new industrial nations. There was a huge disconnect between users and suppliers. But this is still the accepted driver of most of the modern economy, of the world we have created over the past 100 years. It creates huge alienation and frustration in the workers, the managers, and the customers. The transactional experience is one that almost everywhere raises the blood pressure of the participants on both sides, but particularly the buyers and users. And the relentless drive for cost efficiencies at the heart of it is driving the profitability out of this business model in the West.
Western companies simply cannot compete with the developing country producers who are using the mass production model faster and cheaper. This is Capitalism competing itself to death. This would be a worryingly intimate relationship for many businesses and organizations, but one which might provide a new kind of profitable and rewarding market place if they dared to be far closer to their customers' individuality than they had ever been before. Joe Pine, an American management writer who has become the prophet of what is known as mass customization, put it like this: "Customers don't want a choice. They want exactly what they want." Taking the increased heartbeat as the symbol of all they want to avoid, organizations in this new economy would learn how not to raise the blood pressure of people who - in response - would learn to trust them. The most vivid example of this social upheaval is something we did not know we needed 20 years ago, when it was invented by IBM: the smartphone. A revolutionary device, and one whose display and tools can be - and often are - absolutely individualized, so that no two phones are alike. Configured from millions of applications and choices, their screens reflect their users' absolute individuality. They have rapidly become a part of their users' identity. I was in the offices of a company called Bespoke Innovations, with a designer called Scott Summit. He had gone into partnership with a surgeon to make individualised artificial limbs, using a 3D fabricator. Bespoke can match an existing arm or leg, or design a prosthetic limb to be eye-catching in its own right.
The 3D printer works like a scanner, spraying one layer of metal or plastic powder on a surface, fusing it with a laser, and then repeating the process - just like a computer printer, but piling up a 3D shape layer by layer. When the fabricator has finished making the device, and the plastic or metal has been fused into solidity, you blow out the dust that remains from the assembly and there is the bolt snugly fitting into its hole. So, sophisticated joints and flexible devices are now printable. In fact, printing is not quite the right word for the process. Enthusiasts call it "additive manufacturing" because of the contrast with the time-honoured way of making things - no more scraping away at metal to create shapes from it, or pouring plastic into expensive moulds. That has changed now. The compelling proposition is, if you can draw it, you can print it.
Deborah lost one of her lower legs in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago. Her first prosthetic limb, which is basically a metal pole, was covered in flesh-coloured foam and had nylon tights over it. It was "hideous", she remembers. "It felt that I was hiding, like I was trying to pretend not to be an amputee, that I didn't want anyone to see the metal underneath." Then she had 3D-printed covers made for her leg that were designed and fitted especially for her.
"It was a big step for me. There is no mistaking the chrome of the cover. I went out and people said, 'Wow, that girl has a shiny silver leg.' It felt weird at first, and then I kind of liked it." Deborah, a graphic designer from San Francisco, has three that she changes according to her mood, or outfit, like jewellery. "You can express yourself, your personality. It is wearable art." But now she is having a new leg made and her old bespoke covers won't fit. She is back with the leg and foot covers provided with her prosthetic. "No choices, no options, you just have to wear this unfashionable thing."
For the past 100 years, we have been taught to think that most things we use are best made in quantity on a production line. One-off things, bespoke, hand-crafted - all these "old-fashioned" ways of making things have become curiosities: quaint, fiddly, hideously expensive. Not any more. As Summit, who started his career designing "one-size-fits-all" products to be sold in their millions, says: "We are about to see a real reawakening of this idea of unique products of all kinds." The 3D fabricator can make something slightly different every time it makes an object, individualising it every time. The individual customer can now get exactly what he or she wants at little or no extra charge compared with the cost of a one-size-fits-many model, and maybe even cheaper. Bespoke Innovations claims that artificial limbs made like this may be one tenth of the price of ones made in the conventional way. One particular cost saver is time: the gap from finished design to finished product is concertinaed into hours, rather than months as the 3D fabricator makes many components in to one united piece. Of course there are currently limitations. Much of the stuff currently being 3D printed is modest and trivial - iPhone cases, plastic jewellery, spectacle frames.
But at Britain's biggest manufacturer, British Aerospace, they are printing highly individualized components for aircraft and satellites - not prototypes, the real thing. Other companies are printing false teeth and there is no reason why they should not be done on the spot by dentists who fit them straight away. It could be much bigger than teeth. At Loughborough University, I saw how they are learning to print houses in one go, using computer-aided design tools to direct a cement nozzle supported by a huge rig.
There is even talk of printing human organs as replacement for diseased worn out body parts and of printing personalized drugs at home. Huge regulatory problems present themselves, of course, especially when absolutely anyone can print a handgun, which is now possible. But this 3D revolution could be bigger than a torrent of cheap new goods made to order. The mass production company gave new powers to the role of managers and foremen. But it debased the craft skills and turned human beings with very personal ideas and emotions into mere machine feeders. You hung your own personal ideas and ambitions on the hatstand when you clocked in for work. Until now, that is. If individualised, personalised production catches on, it may radically reshape the corporation, with its divisions, baronies and management structures. Designers and innovators will find themselves elevated in the business hierarchy, because they will be able to turn their inventions and ideas into feasible production without the interposition of the host of manufacturing experts hitherto required to turn designs into makeable objects.
But this 3D idea is even bigger than that in its implications. Who needs metal presses costing hundreds of millions of dollars to make parts of equipment? Who needs hugely expensive moulds for plastic components, the place where hideous bottlenecks occur before new designs are sent to the factory? Who needs factories? Who needs to transport all these manufactured goods all around the world when you may be able to make many of them just a stroll down the road from where you need them? It is conceivable that a company may become merely a bright young designer or entrepreneur with a $1,000-laptop computer whose designs are produced at a 3D printing bureau on your local High Street. This is edging towards something I think we may live to call Capitalism without Capital (trademark, all rights reserved). I am also sure that service industries will be swept up in all this, but I have not yet quite decided how. Something is happening to us. We may be able to get some grasp of how large an impact these new technologies may have on the way we perceive the world and how we then behave by going back more than 500 years to the arrival of another great disruptor of society, the printing press.