3-D printing third industrial revolution

3-D Printing; The Third

Industrial Revolution



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Today with tools as simple as a laptop computer and an internet connection, it is possible for the individual to become a manufacturer — and to make a profit doing so.

Clever software, social networks and new production processes like 3-D printing are ushering in a third industrial revolution, in which anyone can dream up a design and see it built within days, at a small fraction of the traditional cost.

The impact will be profound.

Two companies that are putting these tools in the hands of the individual can be found in New York City, once the capital of manufacturing in America.

They are called Shapeways and Quirky.

Shapeways, formerly a Dutch company, but now headquartered in the middle of Manhattan, uses 3-D printers to make anything its community dreams up.

Peter Weijmarshausen, Chief Executive, Shapeways: “Shapeways is a service where people can make, buy and sell anything they want.

They can upload their product designs on our website. We will quote it in different materials; and then you can buy it for yourself.

And that’s not all: you can start selling those products to a worldwide audience.”

Last year Shapeways printed 750,000 items for people.

Peter Weijmarshausen, Chief Executive, Shapeways: “We currently can already produce things in plastics, in stainless steel. We can produce in silver, ceramics — full-color — and even glass.”

Gadgets and craft ideas tend to dominate.

3-D printers are capable of producing complex shapes. But they can also print mechanical objects with moving parts.

Peter Weijmarshausen, Chief Executive, Shapeways: “So one of the things that 3-D printing enables is that you can make fully functional, movable parts — in one shot.

So this is an example of that. It’s called Stone Based, from a Dutch called Taylor Jansen.

And if you look closely, you see that it really has a lot of moving parts. And this is made in one shot.

And so that gives just one example of the possibilities that 3-D printing provides.”

It is though, early days: 3-D printers are improving in ability and are able to print and increasing variety of materials.

Parts for fighter jets and cars are being made by 3-D printers by some manufacturers today.

And unlike traditional factories, 3-D printers are not confined by economies of scale. This make them ideal for producing small volumes and customized objects.

For a while yet, many mass produced products will still be made by conventional means.

But change is coming.

And with it, manufacturing is becoming less dependent on wage costs. This means production can move back to big cities like New York, where it once dominated, but has since dwindled.

Kagan Fisher, Distribution Shapeways: “We picked New York for a bunch of reasons. The main one is we really wanted to be close to the community.

I think a lot of people think 3-D printing is sort of this foreign technology. We want it where people can come and visit. They can see. They can witness the machines first hand.

And we could really give back support to designers that are here and based in the city.”

Another young firm that has built its headquarters in New York is Quirky, which operates from a converted warehouse near the Hudson River.

Here a group of designers turn the best ideas submitted by their online community into products.

Ben Kaufman, Chief Executive, Quirky: “Quirky is a consumer-products company: we develop brand new consumer products.

The difference between us and all the other consumer product companies are we actually develop two consumer products every week. And the ideas for those products don’t come from the boardroom and people within the walls of quirky; they come from people all around the world we’ve never met.”

Quirky has nearly 200,000 registered users. And many ideas circulate on its online forums. When one gets enough likes by the community, and is chosen by the staff, weeks or months of brainstorming, refining and engineering, follow.

Prototypes are made in Quirky’s machine shop, which uses some of the latest production equipment, including 3-D printers and laser cutters.

The inventors and users, who give valuable feedback, are known as influencers. And they are kept close to the process, joining video discussions, and submitting their own critiques and test results along the way.

The users suggest colors, modifications, and even help set the pricing.

Then if the prototypes get the go-ahead, outside manufactures are contracted to mass-produce the products.

This is usually done in conventional ways. The final products are sold online and in stores.

Devices that solve common problems like clutter under the computer and kitchen, have been the most popular.

One of Quirky’s most successful items is a flexible extension lead. And the inventors stand to make quite a bit of money off their ideas.

Ben Kaufman, Chief Executive, Quirky: “If we’re successful, they’re successful, right? We don’t make money until their products are successful . . . and they don’t make money until our company is successful, and drives revenue off of their ideas.

We actually share 30% of our direct revenue and 10% of sort of our offline revenue from brick and mortar back into our community.

We have community members making hundreds of thousands of dollars per year just on their royalties they’d had, from sharing the creativity on a website.

That’s why I love what we do.”

Quirky says it is prepared to have a go at making just about anything.

And their platform is not just for amateurs with back of the napkin ideas: Quirky invites designs from inventors who have tried the traditional manufacturing route.

Some even have patents of their own.

John Jacobsen, Head of Engineering, Quirky: “For people who have gone further down the process, and they have a patent, and they kind of have invested in this, invariably they will have reached a wall: what do I do next?

We’re very willing to take an idea and attempt to bring it forward.”

Online services like Shapeway and Quirky show that the barriers to entry to manufacturing are coming down. To make something all you need is a good idea and a laptop computer.

Whether in cities, villages or the back of beyond, technologies like these will encourage people to design products that have never existed before, and change the way the world makes things.

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1. Nowadays, only engineers and scientists can design and invent new things. True or false?

2. The video featured two 3-D companies started and founded in Silicon Valley. Is this right or wrong?

3. Do designers have to work at the company premises? Do they have to be in New York City? Can people only design, upload and sell things?

4. 3-D printers can only manufacture decorations and art objects made of plastic. Yes or no?

5. Shapeways and Quirky picked New York City as their headquarters because the cost of doing business there is very cheap. What do you think?

6. Are products only conceived (hatched) in Quirky’s laboratories and offices? Do they accept all ideas submitted?

7. Once a person’s idea is accepted, what happens to it? Does the submitter just sit back and do nothing more?

8. After a prototype is completed, 3-D printers in Shapeways and Quirky mass produce it for sale. True or false?

9. Do these 3-D printing companies “steal” ideas and keep all the profits from sales? Is it possible to become rich working with them?

10. Do only amateurs and non-technical, non-engineers get involved? Are lack of ideas and innovation the main reason for lack of success and profit?


A. I have seen a 3-D printer. Yes or no?

B. Do you and your friends have ideas for 3-D production?

C. Would you like to see more or certain 3-D printed products being sold? For example?

D. Is 3-D printing technology good, bad, both, neither, or it’s good and bad? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Are some people opposed to 3-D technology?

E. What will happen in the future?


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