If printing a toy for your child or a new dress on a whim sounds futuristic, then – in the words of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew of Muppet Labs – the future is being made today.
However, according to Dennis Mitzner, chief editor of the Inside3DP website, “There’s a lot of hype around 3D printing, and it’s still a guessing game. There are those who say it will replace traditional manufacturing al - together, but these are usually people who have some vested interest.
“The consensus is that 3D printing will not replace but rather complement traditional manufacturing.”
Inside3DP is a fascinating resource for anyone who wants to enhance their understanding of 3D printing.
Located in Herzliya Pituah, Inside3DP was established in December 2013.
The website, which aims to become the primary authority on the 3D printing industry, covers interesting and newsworthy items, and provides expert analysis of the technology in all its varied aspects.
It appears that 3D printing is more ubiquitous than the general public might understand. For example, industrial design students at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design have been using it for years to produce prototypes of their designs.
Says Mitzner, “One of the main reasons for 3D printing is to quickly produce a prototype which can then be manufactured elsewhere, using a different technology. For example, if you want to design a coffee mug, you can print out a cheap, plastic model of the cup instead of using some very expensive material to check if it’s some - thing you can drink from.”
Another advantage of 3D printing is that instead of factories having to manufacture products in bulk, an individual can print an item, such as a pair of sunglasses, in the comfort of their own home. Need shoes to wear with that new dress? Just print a pair.
For the general public, these examples are still in the future and, says Mitzner, it’s not yet clear exactly how things will develop. “There are two schools of thought,” he says. “Either people will get their 3D printing needs fulfilled at service centers set up for the purpose or, in an alternative scenario, people will have two printers at home. One will be for food and the other for novelty stuff, like toys for the kids or spare parts for the home, such as curtain rings.”
A service center already exists in Jaf - fa, the 3D Factory; it has seven printers and the customer pays NIS 1 for each minute of printing. Explains Mitzner, “That means that if it takes an hour to print out a pair of sunglasses, you pay NIS 60. You can access 3D designs for spare parts, sunglasses, toys, any number of things from several online stores. You simply download a design to your USB drive and give the center your file.”
Stratasys, an Israeli company based in Rehovot, manufactures 3D printers for industrial and home use, as well as 3D scanners and software for 3D design. A subsidiary, MakerBot, acquired by Stratasys in 2013, manufactures consumer desktop 3D printers costing just $2,000 or less. MakerBot, according to Mitzner, is the Apple of the industry, because the company invests in creating an aesthetically pleasing machine.
The machines function in the same way as regular printers, except materials such as filament, metal and wood are used instead of ink and paper.
“Right now,” Mitzner explains, “the output looks and feels cheap because it is not meant for mass production; it’s meant for prototypes, for being creative and making something cool for your son. It’s a fun thing to do.”
Mitzner points out that the pop - ularity of 3D printing depends to some extent on socioeconomic and environmental issues. “The affluent classes are rejecting goods made by cheap labor in Asia, and they want to save the globe. The food machine is a good example because it democratizes the kitchen. Download a pastry recipe, feed the machine the ingredients and print out a replica of that perfect pastry. I’m skeptical about the taste, though.”
The area in which 3D printing is expected to have the most signifi - cance for humanity is medicine. The technology has not yet reached the level where it can print a functioning, healthy liver, but there have been other, no less radical breakthroughs.
Just today, as this article was being written, Inside3DP published a story about a three- year-old boy from Wailuku, Hawaii, who received a pros - thetic hand that cost a mere $50 to print.
How will Israeli children now in primary school respond to this technology? Roy Keidar, CEO and founder of Cross-Lab Net - work (XLN) – a network of 10 techno - logical centers that provide access to digital manufacturing technologies – is a regular contributor to Inside3DP.
He is also active in promoting 3D printing in some 30 schools throughout Israel, to better acquaint Israeli children with the basic technological skills they will be required to handle as adults.
“We aim mostly for kids in seventh grade, for two reasons,” he says. “First of all, we want to introduce the kids to the technology before they make decisions on which stream to choose in high school. Secondly, we focus on girls who might not have been ex - posed as much as boys to the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] subjects. Girls usually opt for the humanities, and we want to show them there are alternatives.
“Our purpose is to use technology for education, as opposed to only educating for technology,” he says, emphasizing that both teachers and children are inspired by and receptive to the subject.
At the moment, it’s debatable how 3D printing will impact the lives of our children and grandchildren. However, it is certain that this new and exciting technology is already making inroads in many spheres, especially medicine – where the ability to replicate organs will one day replace the need for transplants.
Yet it’s questionable how many suitors would emulate a friend of Mitzner: “I know a guy who proposed to his girlfriend with a 3D printed ring, because he’s a 3D printing geek. She said yes.”
Muppet Labs notwithstanding, life is beginning to resemble Star Trek.