3D Printing Is Hot…And It’s Only Going To Get Hotter
We often think of 3D printing as a new technology with futuristic implications, but we rarely stop to consider how far it’s come or where it could be in another few years.
3D printing was invented by Charles Hull in 1984, and in the ensuing 34 years we have developed ways to scan and 3D print objects in real time and have even begun one of the most science-fiction endeavors yet–3D printing human organs.
Still, 3D printing has yet to reach its full potential, and that’s a good thing. With everything we’ve achieved and all the breakthroughs still being made, it’s only a matter of time before niche achievements carried out under perfect laboratory conditions become repeatable (and affordable) options for 3D printing hubs across the globe and currently being used in valves, gears, containers, switches and power cords.
3D printers offer us a look at how computer and software technology can create meaningful changes in hardware by revolutionizing the design and physical creation processes often with plastic. Here’s a look at where 3D printing is in 2018 and where it’s headed in the future.
Printing Organs, Saving Lives
For a while, the talk of 3D printed body parts was nothing more than theoretical science fiction. Sure, some researchers had figured out how to use a semi-organic material in a 3D printer and had even activated some living cells that replicated on the formed compound to create something like a real liver in a petri dish.
But in the last few years, things have progressed dramatically. In recent years, scientists have 3D printed a replacement foot for a duck, a new jaw for an elderly woman with a bone infection, and a few early clinical trials have shown success using the next-generation of 3D printing to replace people’s own failing organs using CAT scans for shape and their own cells as a source of DNA to bring the organs to life.
This process is referred to as 3D bioprinting by industry insiders, and it is enjoying widespread adoption and funding that promises to further accelerate progress towards fully-functioning bioprinted organs that can be used instead of transplants from organ donors.
Research labs have already begun to use 3D bioprinted organs to conduct medical tests, which both reduces the need for animal testing and legitimizes bioprinted organs as more successful clinical studies show that the organs are a suitable replacement for naturally-sourced human organs.
A medical device company recently created a 3D printed bionic ear that combines the external structure and an internally-wound hearing aid that offers both a lifelike prosthesis and advanced hearing aid technology that is aided by its integration into the silicon-based external ear.
This sort of integrated manufacturing promises to change and improve all prosthetic-style devices by making more lifelike prosthetics more capable than ever before and eliminating many processes such as laser cutting, roll forming, and deburring.
All of today’s 3D-printed implants and prosthetics are more like fully-customized inorganic prosthetics than living and breathing organs, but the line is quickly blurring as more firms make more progress towards printing exact replicas of human organs and activating the tissues using grafts or samples from patients.
Today, 3D printing delivers extremely customized synthetic implants like new mandibles, duck feet, and components of external prosthetics that used to require intensive shaping by hand that was more art than science.
The ability to work with multiple materials and use highly-accurate measurements means that 3D printers will be welcomed in virtually every medical field as materials science catches up to the software and hardware behind 3D scanning and printing especially in regards to fibre drums and metering pump technology and pressure sensing or load sensing and molding technologies.
Just as with creating body parts, the only limit to 3D printing is how sophisticated the materials science is and how large of a 3D printer you have access to. 3D printers are increasingly utilized in art installations and one-off niche problem-solving applications as they allow manufacturers to create highly specific or esoteric components like flexible couplings without requiring customized tooling in a traditional manufacturing setting. Larger manufacturer-sized systems may even have unusual components such as a pressure gauge or transducer.
At this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, a 3D printing and construction startup called ICON upped the ante on 3D printing by 3D printing a complete home in real-time on the grounds of an event.
The home is made of a concrete compound and can be 3D printed in under 24 hours for $4,000. Even with such nascent and proprietary technology for large-scale 3D printing, the results are impressive.
The company aims to use this technology to transform affordable housing options, and its first endeavor is building a neighborhood of 100 3D printed homes in El Salvador. As time passes, ICON and other large-scale firms will continue to perfect 3D printing at the commercial scale, and it’s only a matter of time before we see the booming prefabricated housing field and the 3D printing field intersect to further drive down construction costs while bringing high-design architecture to every lot and budget size.
And when it comes to complex architectural designs or engineering challenges, 3D printing will push the envelope far beyond today’s formed and reinforced concrete. These materials triumphs will lead to changes in both high-design flagship projects and repeatable, affordable construction in developing nations and expensive urban areas alike and impact the material demand for graphite and enclosed products.
It will also transform the imbalance of skill and labor demand in many areas, thus reducing development barriers from recently-growing urban areas that typically see dramatic increases in construction costs as the labor pool becomes occupied by the largest and highest-bidding contracts.
Just as tooling costs for certain components can make architectural sketches cost prohibitive, if not impossible, to bring to reality, remanufacturing small parts for out-of-production devices is often impossible once the assembly lines are shut down and the tooling is lost forever. Manufacturing costs such as heating and equipment such as electric discharge machining, and enclosures will be greatly lessened.
For fans of niche hobbies or uncommon objects, 3D printing has brought life back to countless thousands of previously ‘obsolete’ items that were likely missing one part that kept them from being usable.
From brake cable housings on vintage bicycles to ink cartridge clips on antique typewriters to membrane switches, 3D printing can enable serious archivists and amateur hobbyists to complete their projects and reduce manufacturing waste and functional product obsolescence.
Similarly, micro manufacturing enables a new generation of consumer goods to be produced on-demand, allowing for both increased customization and reduced inventory or resource waste.
One of the simplest and most ubiquitous examples of 3D printing in the mainstream mico manufacturing world is custom phone cases that allow you to order a case for virtually any modern cell phone with any color combination or design that you choose. Some companies may even develop systems to automate the ordering, manufacturing and shipping process for products like ball screw slides.
Cell phone and other small tech device cases are an ideal candidate for 3D printing, because they typically employ easy-to-print materials like silicon or plastic, are in high demand thanks to a booming global consumer technology industry, and are not a good candidate for large inventory due to the rapidly-evolving nature of the smartphone, tablet, and laptop industries.
3D printing helps to reduce waste and keep pace with ever-changing trends and consumer demands in this and many similar fields.
The Future of 3D Printing
The 3D printing industry is projected to nearly double from a 2018 total of $12.8 billion to over $21 billion in 2020, which indicates that its adoption and applications are still spreading rapidly.
Many major conventional manufacturers have already partially or completely transitioned from conventional manufacturing and inventory to 3D printing and ‘digital inventory’ models which allow them to create products on-demand while virtually eliminating tooling and prototyping costs.
The potential of this manufacturing model allows for far faster design and testing phases, ongoing product updates, and increased product ‘lifespan’ thanks to the ability to create replacement or updated parts without maintaining a physical inventory or active assembly line involving conveyors, lifts, pumps, balers, and CNC.
As commercial demand for 3D printing technology increases, it will continue to drive further improvements in available technology while making devices more affordable to a wider range of industries and businesses. Much of the technology for creating futuristic-sounding 3D printed products exists today but requires affordability and widespread adoption to become viable.
Alongside this progress in the commercial and consumer-facing 3D printed product realm, the medical field will continue to make advances towards transplant-ready 3D-printed organs, which many consider to be the ultimate realization of this technology.
The intersection of computer software that models and designs given goods, printing hardware that can turn these models into reality, and materials science that will continue to push the envelope of what’s possible in 3D printing will move us towards a future where 3D printing is less of a novelty and more of a given across manufacturing and medical realms.
Engineering: There’s Much More To It Than You Think
We’ll be honest: this article is going to primarily appeal to those who love engineering. Is that a small group of people? Probably. But engineering is critically important, if you’ve ever considered a career in engineering, this article is for you.
Engineering is the field of science concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, structures, and machines, and modern engineers use their skills for simple machines, computer technology, and building satellites.
Engineering is an occupation with extremely wide reach. Engineering covers many fields and many skills. Engineers are scientists, designers, inventors, builders and thinkers. They work to improve the state of the world, magnify human capability and make everyday life safer and easier.
Engineering requires a specific skill set:
Understanding and practice of the scientific method
Social, cultural and economic awareness
Exceptional mathematics skills
Awareness and competence in biology, chemistry, physics and other areas of science
The many fields of engineering give us machines and devices that help us in our daily living, and engineers of all stripes make things work and then improve upon the original. Engineers use creativity and invention to design solutions for global issues.
The Many Types Of Engineers
The reason many people are attracted to engineering work is because of the variety of tasks and environments available to them.
Originally, engineering had four disciplines: chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, and each discipline had several branches. Now, those branches have become their own disciplines.
Aerospace Engineers work on aircraft, aerospace vehicles and propulsion systems. They are in research and development for new planes, helicopters, jets, gliders, missiles and spacecraft.
These engineers work on conserving and developing the world’s natural resources including soil, land, water, forests, and rivers.
Biomedical Engineers work with physicians, doing research and development to improve health care and medical services.
Chemical Engineering examines the ways raw materials can be changed into useful commercial end products. Researching the properties of raw materials, design and development of appropriate machines, pumps, valves, gaskets, seals, orings, and ongoing evaluation of operating processes are all duties of a Chemical Engineer.
Food Engineers design and develop equipment and production systems such as using a heat exchanger and stainless steel tanks and tubing to create a custom fryer, and engineering processes that increase the shelf life of food while maintaining its integrity and nutrition.
Petroleum & Petrochemical Engineering
Engineers in this field explore, discover, harvest, use and improve oil and natural gas. They are constantly researching and testing new, safer, more economical methods of removing oil and gas from the earth.
The equipment that produces our millions of life-saving medications is designed and operated by pharmaceutical engineers.
Process Control Engineers create and maintain computer software and systems made to control the quality and quantity of products during manufacturing such as running a parts washer.
The stresses of nature on buildings are the concern of Structural Engineers. They must also consider human traffic, motor vehicles, and other creators of wind, vibrations, and instabilities.
Transport Engineers design, test and improve transportation systems, including traffic intersections, train lines, and other veins of transportation within populated areas.
Coastal and Ocean Engineering
Coastal and Ocean Engineers work at the border between land and the sea, in the open ocean, and understand the dynamic natural environment.
Electrical Engineering includes electronics, computer systems, telecommunications, and electrical power. Electrical Engineers design and build machines and systems that create, transport, measure, control and use electrical energy through cords.
Environmental Engineers assess the impact a project has on the air, water, soil and noise levels in the surrounding environment.
Industrial Engineers draw upon specialized knowledge and skills in mathematics, physics, physiological and social sciences to optimize the use of human and material resources for the most efficient outcomes in industry.
Marine Engineers design, test, and improve machinery and equipment used at sea. This can include propulsion units, electrical systems, refrigeration, air conditioning, cargo handling and domestic services equipment.
These engineers turn raw material into valuable products; for example, they turn bauxite into aluminum. After all, the right metal makes a spring much more effective. These engineers use different treatments to process materials efficiently, using physical or chemical separations and metallurgical processes.
Mining Engineers work with geologists to plan and execute the extraction of ore and mineral deposits, along with the extraction of non-metals like coal and uranium. They have to find the safest and cheapest way to remove the minerals from the earth.
Resource Engineering is about the development and use of natural resources. This includes the development, control, and conservation of water resources, soil conservation, and other land and pollution concerns.
Risk assessment by this type of engineer involves analysis based on chemistry, physics and other aspects of a project. They identify potential hazards, how likely those hazards are to occur, and what response should be made in the event the potential hazard becomes a reality.
Software Engineers design and modify software systems to support our businesses, transportation hubs, and even our digital games and social media.
Any one of these engineering disciplines can lead to a successful, long-term career.
Engineering involves many specialties and there are many opportunities for employment. Each of the disciplines listed above needs many specialists to work in the field effectively, like aeronautical engineers, agricultural engineers, automotive engineers, biomedical engineers, and many more.
Following is a snapshot of what one can earn with a career in engineering:
Engineering Occupation Average Annual Salary
Aerospace Engineers $107,700
Architectural & Engineering Managers $138,720
Biomedical Engineers $91,760
Chemical Engineers $103,590
Civil Engineers $87,130
Computer Hardware Engineers $110,650
Electrical Engineers $95,780
Environmental Engineers $86,340
Health & Safety Engineers $84,850
Industrial Engineers $85,110
Marine Engineers $99,160
Mechanical Engineers $87,140
Mining & Geological Engineers $100,970
Nuclear Engineers $104,630
Petroleum Engineers $147,520
Ship Engineers $74,600
(All data from the BLS, ABET, & NCES)
Future Engineering Challenges
Despite our society’s advancements, there are still engineering challenges facing the engineering field. Among these challenges are the following:
Upgrading the United States infrastructure
Educating first world engineers to solve third world problems
Promoting green engineering to improve sustainability
Identifying viable alternative energy solutions
Rethinking how cities are designed and function
Making STEM more appealing to young students
Safeguarding data and wealth from cyberattacks
Addressing climate change through engineering
Feeding the growing world population through bio-engineering and agricultural innovation
Improving health and well-being through life sciences, nanotechnology, and bio-engineering
To address these challenges, we need more students to join the varied disciplines of engineering as soon as possible.
Engineers of the future need to be good decision-makers who protect the environment and enhance the quality of life on Earth. They must also work well with others in making the best decisions when interdisciplinary projects are attempted.
As a result of our changing world, new disciplines of engineering are emerging:
Earth Systems Engineering
This type of engineering seeks to acknowledge the complexity of world problems and encourage the use of more holistic approaches, rather than simply seeking a single solution for a problem.
Engineering for Developing Communities
As the needs of the developing world for engineering solutions continues to increase, engineers in the industrialized can contribute to the relief of the hunger, injustice, exploitation, and pain of people trying to survive around the globe.
As the population continues to expand globally, engineers may have the keys to improving life for those who suffer in poverty, with disease, and without basic machinery to make life easier.
From our first practical artists and builders, to today’s computer geniuses, engineers have defined how we live our lives, make our contributions to society, and utilize our innate talents and skills.
Their contributions to society can be seen all around us. It is the future of engineering to take these machines and processes to places where the people have never dreamed of such technologies.
How The Robot Revolution Affects the Manufacturing Business
Since the inception of the assembly line , manufacturers have continually searched for ways to improve their efficiency.
In the past few decades, robots have taken over some of the functions of human workers, mostly in repetitive, routine tasks. This has caused alarm for some who are worried about robots taking their jobs.
So how exactly is the robot revolution changing the manufacturing business? Here’s what you need to know.
The State of the Robot Revolution
Last year, an 11-inch armless robot named Jibo — a so-called “social robot” — became the latest example of a clear phenomenon: Whether we care to admit it or not, exponentially smarter and more capable robots are coming soon. In truth, they’re already everywhere we look: in our planes, in our cars, in operating rooms, next to us on assembly lines, in the military, and on the last mile.
As more robots appear, a new product architecture and more computing power become essential. In 2015, Gill Pratt, who oversaw robotics technology at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said “robot capabilities had crossed a key threshold.
Improvements in electric energy storage and the exponential growth of computation power and data storage had enabled robots to learn and make decisions informed by the experiences of other robots.” Does that sound frightening? Robots learning from other robots? In a sense, it leads to a larger consumer interest because the smarter robots are, the more helpful they are to humans. The consumer market will approach $100 billion in the coming years.
Today, most of the world’s robots are used in factories. What’s different is that those robots are smaller, more observant and more cooperative than their predecessors. Venture capitalists are flooding the robot market, which means we will be seeing more of them in our distribution centers and warehouses soon. And it’s not just manufacturers who are utilizing robots. Companies from retailers to hotels are implementing the use of smarter machines.
So, not only will more robots become available, the manufacturer of the units, all of their parts, and their internal chips and other technology will greatly affect the robotics industry.
The Changes Wrought By Bots
The upcoming “robot revolution” will change the global economy over the next two decades, cutting the costs of doing business, as machines take over jobs like caring for the elderly or flipping burgers.
Robots can already perform manual jobs, such as vacuuming the living room or assembling machines. The development of artificial intelligence (AI) means computers and robots are improving their ability to “think”. They are on the verge of being able to perform analytical tasks once seen as requiring human cognition.
This begs the question: what jobs could eventually be taken over by machines? Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s analysts predict the following jobs to be at risk:
A San Francisco-based start-up called Momentum Machines has designed a robot that would replicate the hot, repetitive tasks of the fast-food worker: shaping burgers from ground meat, grilling them to order, toasting buns, and adding tomatoes, onions, and pickles.
Relatively low-skilled industrial workers in rich countries have become used to competing against cut-price employees in cheaper economies. Replacing workers with machines can cut jobs by up to 90%. Cutting processes such as die cutting is typically done via machine.
Bespoke financial advice seems like the epitome of a “personal” service, but it could soon be replaced by increasingly sophisticated algorithms that can tailor their responses to an individual’s circumstances.
Some 570,000 “robo-surgery” operations were performed last year. Oncologists at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York have used IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which can read 1m textbooks in three seconds, to help them with diagnoses.
Merrill Lynch predicts that the global personal robot market, including so-called “care-bots”, could increase to $17 billion over the next five years, “driven by rapidly ageing populations, a looming shortfall of care workers, and the need to enhance performance and assist rehabilitation of the elderly and disabled”.
Manufacturing Robots Running off Humans?
Should workers be concerned about the infiltration of robotic workers? While the US and Canada have lost more than 6 million jobs to overseas outsourcing, the majority of job losses in both countries was due to machines replacing humans.
The facts, however, tell us that over the past two decades, inflation-adjusted U.S. manufacturing production has grown nearly 40 percent. While there may be fewer jobs, more is getting done. Manufacturing employees have better education, are better paid and produce more valuable products — including technology that allows them to be more productive.
In the past few years, there have been millions of jobs remaining unfilled in the manufacturing sector. The aging workforce is not being replaced by younger workers. Youth are more interested in other work.
There are other issues to consider as well: Robots are safer. They are reliable. They are more ethical than using exploited labor overseas. They’re incredibly cost-effective, with manufacturers seeing return on investment in 12 months or less. Robots allow manufacturers to focus on innovation. This creates new jobs that require and build a more educated, highly skilled workforce.
So, will a robot take your job? Possibly. But, in return, workers of the future will likely find more meaningful work, for better pay. But there is also a distinct possibility that more white-collar jobs will be taken by robots with AI.
Jobs in Jeopardy from AI
Artificial intelligence (AI) will also change the face of employment. Digitaltrends researchers found jobs that AI could handle that we humans would never dream of handing over to a machine.
While genuinely bespoke legal work still requires humans, A.I. can help perform tasks ranging from legal discovery (the pre-trial process in which lawyers decide which documents are relevant to a case) to creating contracts. They can even argue parking fines and handle divorce proceedings.
If you want to go into law, study a combination of law and computer science. You could advise on how best to turn laws into algorithms or investigate the legal framework around new technologies like self-driving cars.
Data Entry Clerks
Given the enormous amount of data generated every day by companies and individuals, data entry clerks won’t be going anywhere. But, by its very nature, this repetitive and boring job seems designed for a robotic worker or AI. You can snag job security by learning about data science or how to oversee machines doing the data entry.
News organizations could use bots to generate sports reports, or they could try to use AI for more in-depth investigative journalism. Bots could be the hired researcher human journalists always dreamed of, able to pull up statistics and find interesting patterns in data.
Fleets of autonomous vehicles are going to have a huge impact on human service drivers, and autonomous trucks will mean the same thing for long-haul drivers. While the technology for autonomous vehicles is nowhere near perfect, taxi drivers and chauffeurs might want to consider furthering their education in a new field.
You wouldn’t think a robot or AI would do well in a sweltering kitchen, right? IBM’s Chef Watson can generate new recipes from scratch using an astonishing knowledge of taste chemistry and flavor pairings. And robots like Miso Robotics’ burger-preparing Flippy can prepare meals and serving them at speeds human chefs struggle to achieve.
AI gives financial analysts a run for their money. Computers can see patterns and initiate trades faster than even the quickest human analyst. The future for this industry will be in becoming a “quant”: someone able to combine knowledge of the financial sector with computer science and math are highly sought after to help develop the algorithms which increasingly drive this field.
Chatbots can convincingly deliver a script – just like a human. But, one A.I. company, Mattersight, uses voice recognition to determine the personality type of customer service line callers and connect them to humans with a similar personality type.
AI has algorithms to diagnose diseases, computers are being used to recommend the best cancer treatment, AI pharmacists fill prescriptions, wearable AI devices help treat physical disorders, and there are even robots carrying out surgery. But, for the most part, humans will still be needed in medicine. Immediate future technology augments human physicians and healthcare workers rather than replacing them.
There’s no doubt that manual labor jobs that once required humans are now be done by robots. Robots can work nonstop without getting tired. But, robots do lack manual dexterity, a skill that requires a human worker. We see this in factory work most often.
Cambridge Industries Group runs a large factory in China. Their goal is to replace 2,000 of its 3,000 workers with machines in the coming year. Shortly after that, it wants the operation to be almost fully automated, creating what’s called a “dark factory.” They want to switch the lights off and leave the place to the robots.
But, during a recent test, one of the packaging line robots stopped working, stopping the entire production line and costing the companies thousands. So even CIG acknowledges that replacing humans with machines is not foolproof. There are dozens of companies throughout Asia that hope to replace humans with robots for ultimate cost efficiency.
Introducing throngs of robots cannot be done overnight. That much is clear from the struggles faced by a $130 billion Taiwanese manufacturer named Foxconn. In 2011, the founder said he expected to have a million robots in his plants by 2014. The challenge proved much more difficult than originally thought, and just a few tens of thousands of robots had been deployed within three years.
Chinese robot companies and research institutes have managed to develop industrial robots fitted with a fork-like appendage that can perform routine factory work at terrifying speeds. But factory bots don’t begin and end with China.
Rethink Robotics in Boston created a pair of flexible and intelligent industrial machines. The products require very little programming and are equipped with sensors to help them recognize objects and avoid hitting people.
Robots have their place in many manufacturing companies all over the globe. It’s time for us to accept them as part of our global economy.
While many will continue to fear robots and AI for the damage they can do to the job market, when businesses are able to save money with cost effective machinery, they have more resources to higher more skilled workers.
The robot revolution is inevitable. Humans in manual labor jobs need to prepare for adding new skills or starting a whole new career.