Category Archives: Editorial

Could 3D Printing Save the Public Library System? Mixed Opinions

Public Library 3D Printing

Back in July, we covered a story about 3D printing coming to a Nevada public library. The University of Nevada engineering library became the first in the nation to offer 3D printing resources to the public. At On3dPrinting, we think this is a trend that is going to continue.

But some do not agree. We came across an editorial post at, where the author posts about why libraries will not make a good install base for 3D printing.

What I’m curious about is its impact on public libraries.

The theory goes that public libraries will provide great spaces for 3D printers.  Libraries have always provided material for the benefit of the community for those who cannot afford it and 3D printing, on the face of it, seems to fit right in.  Libraries are also in the centre of most communities, have space (as long, presumably,  as one gets rid of those pesky books) to hold them and have helpful staff that could show you how to use 3D printers.  I’m not aware of any UK library having one as yet but, in the USA, several libraries already have one and they’re feeling pretty cocky about being on the crest of the technological wave.

That’s right up to a point but let’s go deeper.  For one thing, even now, a pre-assembled 3D printer can be purchased for $500.  That’s barely over £300.  That’s just about fine for libraries now. They provide computers precisely for people who can’t afford similar amounts of money after all.  However, these prices are at the start of the technological revolution.  Last year, one had to spend perhaps $1000. You can see where this is going.  3D printers are going to be cheap.  Really cheap.  Cheap enough that everyone who wants one is going to have one.  There’ll be no need for libraries  to provide them for the poor because everyone will own them, like the ubiquitous smartphone.  Be prepared to see “Happy Birthday Wayne” 3D banners on roundabouts. Perhaps there was a time when it would have made sense for libraries, therefore, to provide 3D printers to the populace but that time has already effectively gone even before most of us were really aware of the possibility.

The other selling point for libraries in this is that we have friendly staff who will be able to help people in learning how to use them. That may be so in some branches of course.  However, I’m willing to bet that right now the majority of staff working in libraries have not even heard of 3D printers.  A lot of library staff frankly need to be more highly trained in Word, let alone the next disruptive technology. Moreover, libraries are in no position to help anyone.  The current cuts mean that there is never been such a difficult time for libraries to justify gambling on such a new technology.  It would be an act of desperation. An act of desperation, that is, unless there was a national investment programme to get 3D printers into libraries and the political will not only to do that but to train staff in the bargain.  With the current belief in austerity and, on the side of all main political parties, in the free market and localism, that is simply not going to happen.

What do you think? Weigh in with your own comments.


Public library photo by wallyg used under Creative Commons license.

Cloud Production Coming: Does Every Consumer Need a 3D Printer?

Cloud Production 3D Printing

Consumer 3D printers are still costly. The latest models from MakerBot are over $1,700 and a DIY kit still costs $400 or more. Does every consumer need a 3D printer? Not according to Phin Barnes, venture capitalist with First Round Capital.

At AND 1 we had a 3D printer. It was super expensive but it shortened the time from a drawing to a physical object by weeks. The file that drove the printer could also drive the CNC machines in Asia that cut the aluminum molds we used for production.

MakerBot has innovated in the 3D printing space by making the printer cheaper and establishing a marketplace for the digital files that create the physical objects. But for the people who want high quality, durable parts with real utility, will it ever be possible to have a CNC machine in your house for metal objects or an injection mold set up for TPU parts? Maybe, but why can’t I pay Makerbot to make my file in hard plastic or metal? Wouldn’t enough people want this makerbot Prime service to support a CNC machine in Brooklyn? I bet they would – and as the peer-to-peer economy grows, cloud production should grow with it.

Barnes goes on to comment about the different ways that entrepreneurs can solve “logistics problems”.

  1. Marketplaces:  There is great value in coordinating buyers and sellers and removing friction in an existing transactable space. (eBay,, ETSY, CustomMade, ThreadFlip). This is traditional behavior at web scale.
  2. Collaborative Consumption: A technology platform that coordinates demand and balances it across distributed capital assets. These platforms unlock a previously latent pool of demand (usually with very efficient unit pricing) and help individual suppliers maximize the value of their assets and time with better utilization rates. (Uber, TaskRabbit)

Both types of companies are solving a logistics problem — removing coordination friction that used to make a transaction impossible — but as this granularity of supply takes hold, the rules of utilization rates and economies of scale will still hold in the world of physical assets. I think this will inspire a third group of companies with logistics at their core: Cloud Production.

In the transition from digital to physical (online to offline) platforms that enable full utilization/rapid amortization of wholly-owned capital assets over a greater base of creators should emerge. Today’s cloud services are maximizing utilization of the physical devices required to store and serve digital goods. Cloud services in the digital space have changed the math of the creator’s business. Instead of budgeting for a certain level of demand — and buying servers to safely cover that projected level of usage, companies/creators can make sure the unit economics work for each unit of demand and architect for infinite scale. Up front costs are dramatically decreased and more ideas come to market.

This same transition should occur around the physical production of goods where economies of scale are powerful. With cloud production niche products can meet global demand and achieve greater scale than ever before. The innovation will be in the coordination and technology required to aggregate individual creativity and produce increasingly specialized, niche products with higher production value and quality.

In summary, physical goods production — enabled by 3D printing — will follow the lead of software-as-a-service and cloud computing to provide goods-on-demand. We are already seeing this trend from 3D printing marketplaces like Shapeways, i.materialise, and Ponoko.


Read the full post at Sneakerhead VC.

Cloud photo by Bast Productions used under Creative Commons license.

3D Printing Will Empower Most Innovative Decade in History – Forbes

Vivek Wadhwa Singularity 3D Printing

Forbes contributor Vivek Wadhwa explains why he believes this will be the most innovative decade in history. Wadhwa is Vice President of Academics and Innovation at Singularity University. Here is his general view:

Why am I so optimistic? Because of the wide assortment of technologies that are advancing at exponential rates and converging. They are enabling small teams to do what was once only possible for governments and large corporations. These exponential technologies will help us solve many of humanity’s grand challenges, including energy, education, water, food, and health.

Among the technologies he cites as game changing this decade, 3D printing has a main feature:

In an emerging field called digital manufacturing, 3D printers enable the production of physical mechanical devices, medical implants, jewelry, and even clothing. These printers use something like a toothpaste tube of plastic or other material held vertically in an X-Y plotter that squirts out thin layers of tiny dots of material that build up, layer by layer, to produce a 3D replica of the computer-generated design. The cheapest 3D printers, which print rudimentary objects, currently sell for between $500 and $1000. Soon, we will have printers for this price that can print toys and household goods. Within this decade, we will see 3D printers doing the small-scale production of previously labor-intensive crafts and goods. In the next decade, we can expect local manufacture of the majority of goods; 3D printing of buildings and electronics; and the rise of a creative class empowered by digital making.

Other technologies Wadhwa mentions include genome sequencing, nanotechnology, micro-electrical-mechanical systems, and artificial intelligence.


Read the full post at Forbes.

Vivek Wadhwa photo by BAIA used under Creative Commons license.

Will Apple Make a Big Acquisition to Enter the 3D Printing Market?

Apple 3D Printing

Over at Seeking Alpha, Matt Cilderman thinks that Apple should make a move into 3D printing. Specifically, his target of choice is 3D Systems.

3D Systems has a market capitalization of $1.5 billion. For the first quarter of 2012, on a non-GAAP year over year basis, revenues increased 63%, gross profit grew 67%, and earnings per share rose 47%.

They expect full year 2012 revenue to be in the range of $330-360 million and non-GAAP EPS to be from $1.00 to $1.25 (see April 2012 Investor Presentation).

Why should Apple enter the 3D printing market? Cilderman shares 3 reasons:

  1. Jobs loved disruptive technologies and with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, he changed the music, movie, telecommunications, and computer industries. 3-D printing may not be there yet, but this is the next, big disruptive technology.
  2. Apple has a ton of cash on their balance sheet. They could purchase 3D Systems (market capitalization of $1.5 billion) with their spare pocket change. Then, spend the time and money introducing them to Apple’s corporate culture, redesigning the software and hardware to fit Apple’s goals and style.
  3. 3-D printing and its future also fit right in with Apple’s business model.

Apple is often not the pioneer, but once they enter a market, they build products that are “insanely great” as compared to the competition. Apple has a marketplace for digital goods (music, movies, and apps); perhaps 3D printable designs would be a natural extension. Apple’s products can be used to generate 3D printable designs, as shown by the 123D Catch app.

Read the full editorial at Seeking Alpha.

Apple photo by aditza121 used under Creative Commons license.

Guest Post: 3D Printing Silver Ink – Circuits, Roll-Up Computers and More


Editor’s Note: This guest post is written by Chris Waldo, who is a technology enthusiast and copywriter with a focus in 3D printing. He is currently working as the Content Manager for the 3D printing network, Kraftwurx. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. We previously covered Chris’ work about renewable energy.

Xerox has recently developed a new type of silver “ink” which has a few qualities to it that are truly unique. This silver has been engineered to melt at a temperature lower than plastic, film, and various fabrics. What is significant about this? With a lower melting temperature, Xerox’s silver can be 3D printed on a wider array of surfaces. Keep in mind, silver can be one of the key elements to circuits, as it is highly conductive.

“With the development of a new silver ink, Xerox scientists have paved the way for commercialization and low-cost manufacturing of printable electronics. Printable electronics offers manufacturers a very low-cost way to add “intelligence” or computing power to a wide range of surfaces such as plastic or fabric.” (Source: Xerox)

Assuming that this silver can be melted onto various surfaces without melting them, we can approach the possibility of 3D printing circuits onto fabrics, plastics, and film. Through Xerox’s breakthrough, we have the potential to 3D print “intelligence” onto a wide variety of products. Let me elaborate.

If a circuit can be placed on a surface, an electrical current can flow through it. This current will be necessary for powering various devices. As you read this article, look around. Imagine placing a miniature-computer on the objects around you. How powerful could this technology be? Small applications such as a “smart” medical cabinet, or a highly efficient kitchen could come about. Fun knick-knacks with electric capabilities will be cheaper & easier to make. This is pretty interesting I suppose, but it’s small. Let’s talk big.

The first potential application I want to discuss might cause you to shake your head. I’m talking about roll-up computers. Imagine having a sales-representative pulling out a computerized display from his or her briefcase. This display would be “rolled” onto the table for a presentation. Prospective clients would see all necessary graphics & visuals from this miniature-roll-up-computer. Sensors are also an application of this technology; imagine having a miniature touch-computer that could be rolled across the table for a presentation. Sound interesting?

Another potential application of this technology would be the creation of PV solar cells at a much less expensive rate. This kind of thing foreshadows a much brighter future within renewable energy. Assuming film would be on the build tray, Xerox’s silver would potentially allow for the fabrication of solar cells! This would be much less expensive in comparison to silicon cells. For an in depth explanation of 3D printed solar cells, check out this article.

Photovoltaic PV
(photo credit: Solarinsolation)

The economics of Xerox’s silver ink is one of the most significant aspects presented. This technology is cheap! Currently, silicon is the leader in manufacturing “intelligence” onto various small gadgets and products. This material is expensive, and the process of refining silicon is very daunting. However, Xerox’s new silver “ink” has the potential to dominate silicon in more ways than one; silver ink is much more conductive, it is much less expensive, and it can be applied in thinner layers. The only thing missing for this ink to succeed is industry coverage, and capital.

Similar to the second application, here’s another interesting concept initiated by Aaron Saenz – portable, roll out solar panels. Imagine pulling up to work, rolling out a foldable solar panel on your dashboard, and leaving. You would come back later that afternoon to a charged electric vehicle.

“If we could have printable circuits, what would that mean for the average consumer? Imagine buying a roll of fabric that was also a solar cell surface. Spread like a tarp it could provide portable energy almost anywhere in the world.” (Source: Aaron Saenz)

The same concept could be applied to various devices, for example: water wells associated with irrigation, pump-jacks on oil wells, popup campers, cameras, or anything you use outside that needs power!

Another what-if-question I’d like to pose would be the use of Xerox’s silver ink within Objet’s multi-material printers. Some of Objet’s printers already offer 7 materials in a print; what if Objet added one more material – particularly a material that offers the layer-by-layer creation of circuits? This could lead to the development of gadgets and gizmos that require little to no touching up before use.

All in all, this technology offers no ceiling – it could have unlimited potential. As product developers, engineers, and visionaries work together with this technology, we could be moving into a new world of intelligent products. For this silver ink technology to succeed, we need to do our best to market this breakthrough to the manufacturing powerhouses. Perhaps within the next few years – we could start seeing it come into our everyday lives.

XRCC NanoAg photo credit by Xerox.

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