What is 3D Printing?
At the first glance it is easy as it sounds. It is the process of printing
3-dimensional objects. But it is not just adding a third axis to your printer.
There are several different techniques how to achieve the third dimension in
your printing. Let’s look below and check what different techniques are
currently on the market.
Fused deposition modeling (FDM) uses a heated extrusion
nozzle print head to feed metal wire or thermoplastic to a print head producing
fairly robust objects to a high degree of accuracy.
Selective laser sintering (SLS) builds objects by using a
laser to selectively fuse together successive layers of a cocktail of powdered
wax, ceramic, metal, nylon or one of a range of other materials.
Multi-jet modelling (MJM) builds up objects from successive layers
of powder, with an inkjet-like print head used to spray on a binder solution
that glues only the required granules together.
Stereo lithography (SLA) uses photopolymerization of a polymer
liquid in coordination witha moving platform to produce
successive horizontal “slices” of a three-dimensional object.
FDM is the most common technique when it comes to printers for the “mass” or consumer
printers. For example Makerbot is a typical representative for this technology.
Nevertheless 3D printing became popular over the last few years it is not a new technology.
3D Printing also known an Additive Manufacturing (AM) was developed in mid 80s.
In 1984 3D Systems Corporation developed a process called Stereolithography
(shortly described in the section above)
FDM is becoming popular because it is easy and clean. The filament just needs to be
heated and extruded through a nozzle. This molten plastic is “modelled” in
three dimensions by the three dimensional movement of the nozzle. But not only
because FDM is a rather clean way of printing had it become popular. During the
last few years the first patents expired which were covering and protecting the
technology. During the next years SLS patents are expiring and therefor this
technology becomes interesting for broader usage, because it will get cheaper
when no patents have to be licensed. The advantage of SLS over FDM is SLS can
build more sturdy and robust items.
How does 3D Printing affect the “daily” life?
What does the rise of the new technology mean for our daily life? Does it mean that we
have to print out our own spare parts to overcome planned obsolescence? Or even
more extreme, will 3D Printing make transport logistics redundant?
Not really. In my opinion none of the cases will come true. Some scenarios
which are current are objects for home decor, art pieces and hobby items like
technical gear wheels or simply gadgets. Or more on professional level it is possible
to have an on demand production of small series of configurable items or use a
printing service for rapid prototyping.
But more interesting is the infrastructure or the ecosystem which is growing around 3D
Do you really need a printer at home or in your office when you want to print
out just 3-4 items a month maximum? Or is it useful to team up with friends or
business partner to share a printer? Teaming up is always a good thing, but
there are commercial offer out that created a new ecosystem around 3D printing.
For example Shapeways is providing a marketplace and the printing
service itself. The process is simple. You design your product using you
favorite Software or you hire, even more professional, a designer to get the
object designed. Then you upload it to Shapeways and you will receive a pricing
for your item right away. After production it is shipped to you.
Even Amazon jumped on that train and offers via
his e-commerce platform configurable or customizable items.
You see these items in their web shop and you can configure them to your
need/taste. The product range is from creative expression items over home
decor, jewelry and toys to tech accessories. Amazon is just providing the
platform. The printing is done at the partners using Amazon reach to get their
products to market.
The approach of these two providers is a bit different. Shapeways is a service
provider who provides a marketplace for the designers to present their design
and does the production for them. Furthermore Shapeways is acting as a fab to
print out objects their customers are sends over for pure production. Rapid
prototyping if you will.
Amazon is connecting the designer of the
items to the market using their vast online reach and is enabling an on demand
production of more or less bespoke items.
In both of the above cases the design is physically protected by the designer or the
marketplace because the file itself is not sold just the printout is handed
out. But what happened if the design file is revealed? Does this point to an
old problem we have been through some years ago? Peer2Peer networks (Napster,
Kazaa, etc…) or simple copy and paste to share the files among friends. Does it
ring a bell?
What Intellectual Property Rights can be affected and how can we overcome possible
Typically there are the four IP types which might be affected.
Design Rights can be either registered or unregistered. Unregistered rights
lasts for several years (varies by country). The design right will protect the
external features of a product with some exceptions. If it comes to spare parts
manufacturing or items which must fit the design Rights are somewhat limited.
Copyrights are usually protecting artistic (drawings/paintings), musical,
literary (books/articles) and dramatic work done in 2D. Sculptures are
protected by copyright as well even they are in 3D. Since this issue was coming
up some years ago, the law was extended to protect the software/file which is
necessary to create the 3D object using the 3D printer.
Trademarks are the brand names or logo (distinctive shapes) of companies. Of course
they are protected and may not be reproduced.
A patent protects an invention. A 3D printer can be protected by a patent, but
single items printed by a 3D printer are usually not protected by patents.
That meansthat mostly Design rights and Copyrights are infringed by the 3D printing
As seen years ago in the music market he file sharing was very popular and was stopped
by one hand forcing lawsuits against the file sharers and on the other hand creates
alternatives to listen to music or watching movies. These alternatives which
become popular over time are music and video streaming services. The business model
is easy. You pay a flat fee or pay per use and you can listen to your favorite artist
or watch your favorite movie.
The important part of this service is that the service provider is not provisioning any reproducible
file out of their hand. They stream the file directly to the device where it is
consumed. This avoids unauthorized copies.
The San Francisco based company Authentise has
developed a way to stream the design file directly to the printing device.
Because there is no handover of the design file itself it cannot be printed
multiple times. This enables the ecosystem to develop a pay per print model.
Advantage for the designer is that the file itself remains in one hand and the
provider is counting the streaming events. Benefit for the End-user is the
possibility that the file is optimized for his printer model and the user is
not wasting consumables for a try and error process.
This secure streaming feature enables an income stream for the designer. The product can be
cheaper, because it is not cannibalized by unauthorized copies and therefore it
might be downloaded more often. The designer does not need to take care of the marketing
and digital delivery anymore. This is pretty much like the App-Store business.
The App-Store, e.g. Google play and Apple App-store are hosting the app and
distribute them digitally to the user.
Does this new technology disrupt parts of your business right away?
Maybe not today and maybe not in all areas of your business. But in my opinion it is
worth to think about the possibilities the matured technology reveals.
Service parts business: It is expensive to store spare parts for older equipment. Convert
to an on demand production model for rare spare parts or even let others
Marketing / personalization of accessories: provide a personalization feature on accessories
for your product, like a special designed personalized phone case.
If a large manufacturer of 2D printer is stepping up and enables a new technology to be ready
for the mass market, this may change the game even faster. And if the ecosystem
is getting as mature that the ordering of a file for personal printing or a
ready printed item will become easy as online shopping is today you may think
that it is worth rethinking 3D printing.
Oh, one more
HP revealed the ambitions for stepping into the 3D printing market. Read here
ComputerWeekly.com „The intellectual property challenges from 3D printing” Sep 2013
Computerworld “3D printing and the streaming model are changing everything “ Oct 21, 2014 1