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Science Technology

First Factory Use Of 'Replicator' For Spare Parts 239

Posted by timothy
from the building-the-feed dept.
maddogsparky writes: "Over at Spacedaily, there is an article about how a 3D printer was used to fabricate a replacement part in a production environment--the first known case. They've also done some tests in NASA's vomit comet and are planning on a shuttle test for applications on the ISS or Mars trip."
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First Factory Use Of 'Replicator' For Spare Parts

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  • by FatRatBastard (7583) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:18AM (#2273848) Homepage
    ...but until it can "replicate" a pint of Guinness I'm afraid I have no use for it.
    • ...but until it can "replicate" a pint of Guinness I'm afraid I have no use for it.

      You'll have to look elsewhere [amazon.com] for that.

    • by tenman (247215)
      could you define replicate? I worked at a Goodyear [http] tire plant where this thing was used. If you wanted a pint of your favorite ale, you could build the cup, and the liquid in your favorite CAD program, and the device would do it's best to match every detail, including the weight. to make items lighter it would put appropriatly sized gaps in the fab material. the lighter it needed to be the bigger the whole. It was a pretty cool deal.

      I bet it could make a replica so real that you could pick it up in one hand, and your real Guinness in the other, and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference until you put one to your lips.
    • Free beer! :) (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Balinares (316703) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:45AM (#2274006)
      That'd bring a whole new meaning to the words 'free beer', indeed. :)

      Still, that's *not* going to happen. Too much of our economy relies on scarcity of products (to the point that corps try to artificially reproduce a scarcity-based model in the digital world, as everybody here will already have noticed). The implications of a replicator that could duplicate anything, independantly of the material, are mind-boggling (richness for everybody and complete economy crash at the same time!). Material for a great sci-fi novel at any rate...
      • Re:Free beer! :) (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Sc00ter (99550)
        The implications of a replicator that could duplicate anything, independantly of the material, are mind-boggling


        Kinda like mp3s and online music?

    • by remande (31154) <remande&bigfoot,com> on Monday September 10, 2001 @12:15PM (#2274184) Homepage
      No luck on the Guiness, but it can make a nice mug for it, in nearly arbitrary shapes.


      After all, you'll feel pretty silly with your cupped hands holding your beer...

  • by L-Wave (515413) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:19AM (#2273853)
    Heh, cool you can now replace those *missing* lego pieces! =) (or create new ones??)
  • Next Step... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rackemup (160230) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:19AM (#2273856) Homepage
    Next step is to get the replacement time down from 4 or 5 hours to "push a button, shimmering light beam, replacement part appears". Sounds interesting, one of those machines could cut down on the amount of "extra" items that need to be shipped to the ISS (why take an extra wrench when we can make one when we get there?)... meaning more space on shuttle launches for other stuff.
    • It seems to me that 4 hours included the time to make a CAD model for the broken pulley. On another note, I wonder how much torque that crescent wrench could take before deforming?
      • The Other Note (Score:3, Informative)

        by virg_mattes (230616)
        > I wonder how much torque that crescent wrench could take before deforming?

        That depends upon the material they use. For polycarbonate, it'd be fairly close to steel for hand tool purposes (your hand can only apply so much pressure to any tool). The big problem is wear, since (unless you're using poly bolts, which have their own disadvantages) the tool would be softer than the stuff you use it on.

        Virg
    • Re:Next Step... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sydb (176695)
      one of those machines could cut down on the amount of "extra" items that need to be shipped to the ISS

      Yes, but you still need to take the raw material (ABS) to the ISS... once matter itself becomes zero-cost-copy then things will change...
    • They would still need to haul the raw materials up there. And since there is bound to be some inefficiency in the process, you would probably end up carrying more in raw materials than you would if you just sent up the wrench in the next service flight. But it would be a timesaver because they wouldn't have to wait several weeks for another service flight.

      • Consider the case where you might need a wrench or a screw driver. You can take up enough material to make one but not both. Just make the one that you end up needing (and hope that you don't end up needing both). If you could recycle the wrench and make the screwdriver out of it then you would have the ideal solution (you'd be screwed if you needed both at the same time though).
    • Oh dear. Having to wait 4-5 hours for a Ferrari what a drag.

      ;-)

      Seriously. This is a problem why? And if you're worried about tying up the machine, 3D print another 3D printer...
  • See, a 3d printer is exactly what I've been needing all these years!
    A personal transporter is next on my list...

    Whats incredible is that this stuff (well the 'replicator' anyway) is actually starting to happen.
  • by Badgerman (19207) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:19AM (#2273858)
    First of all, all things aside, this is just plain cool. It shows a potentially helpful technology doing its job under real-life conditions. This looks like a solid demonstration of the practicality of the technology. I expect this example will be used again and again to show why the fabrication technology is a good idea.

    Now, unfortunately, come the repercussions in our copyright/patent/IP-obsessed age. Now that someone can whip up things easily, we're going to see a repeat of the fears that led us to the DMCA, et al. These machines could concievably duplicate something you don't have the right to - time for massive government controls!

    Let's hope we're all well-armed mentally for the next conflict.
    • These machines could concievably duplicate something you don't have the right to - time for massive government controls!

      Of course, one day, when we all have 3d printers that can build things out metal, plastic, glass, etc, we'll all be able to build machine guns, tanks, artillery pieces, bombs, ICBMs, invisible psycho-killer robot fish, and what have you.

      It's just possible that the odd regulation or two in this area could be beneficial. Just possible.

      As far as the IP problem: we'll probably end up with both not-free and free/open-source mechanical designs, just like we have not-free and free/open-source software designs now.

      In fact, free/open-source material might meet with a lot more success in the "real world" of physical products than it has in the software realm, because the benefits would be obvious, the drawbacks negligible, and the audience larger. Everyone could see the appeal in free, print-your-own bicycles, wristwatches, tires, vinyl siding, etc. There's a definite limit on the level of excitement a new version of "grep" is going to stir up, though.
    • > Let's hope we're all well-armed mentally for the next conflict.

      'Mentally'? With these replicators you'd be well armed physically.

      "What do you need?"
      "Guns ... Lots of guns."

  • The article mentions that the failed part was made of aluminium, but that the rapid prototyper can only make parts out of polycarbonate, wax, etc. I'm guessing that the part they "printed out" was only being used as a temporary replacement until the actual aluminium pulley could be shipped to them. Still, we're on the way!

    Anyone know if there's work being done on stereolithography using a wider variety of materials? It seems to me that that's the biggest obstacle before we have bonafide "replicators."

    • Stereo Litho is pretty cool; the shop I work for has a couple machines, and they're always busy.
      That aside, it's apparent that you didn't read the article completely - it addresses that the original pulley was aluminum, but that they're leaving the polycarbon replacement in until it fails "just to see". Since polycarbon is pretty tough stuff, it may surprise them.
      Meow
    • Well, you can always use a milling machine to make stuff out of metal. Of course, that would require any space mission to haul around large hunks of aluminium (not to mention a fancy-dancy milling machine; those are quite large, no?).

      Now, I am no expert on materials science (but since when does not being an expert prevent you from posting on slashdot?), but it seems like it would be possible to make one of these prototypers that used metals. Only, you would have to make the machine apply really minute (molecules thick?) layers of metal, then figure out how to bond them.

      Or, alternatively, you could just use the prototyper to make a mold and then forge the part out of metal. Obviously this would require a forge.

      Still, I am sure it could be done, if we put enough money into it (like Star Wars, right...........).

      • Well...if one wanted to shape a relatively low-melt-point metal, then could one not just make the fabber out of high-melt-point material (say, graphite) and pour each layer on molten, then quickly cool it? You'd have to be careful not to spill drops from the new layer, and make sure not to deform the lower layers too much (thus the quick cool, and maybe other precautions), but if one did that...
      • (but since when does not being an expert prevent you from posting on slashdot?)

        Actually, if you read the bylaws carefully, expertise excludes one from posting on Slashdot :)
    • by Paul Neubauer (86753) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:43AM (#2273998)
      Yes, probably a temporary replacement, but don't count out what polymers can do.

      Some years ago I was told of a project to make a plastic clip for an overhead window (sunroof for houses). The window manufacturer was quite concerned about the strength and had the perception that any and all plastics were not likely to be good enough. Eventually the material used was a tougher nylon, with something like 30% glass fiber reinforcement.

      When the first pieces were tried there was an attempt to break them, to show that "mere plastic" just would not do. Sure enough the piece disassembled and a chunk went flying across the room. As comments were being made about inferior product someone retrieved the broken part. The nylon had held, but a steel pin had not. There were no more arguments about 'cheap plastic' from then on.

      While glass fiber reinforcement is probably out for this 3-D printing, polycarbonate is some pretty tough stuff (but subject to chemical attack by a few common things..) and plastics can be recycled. This may make much sense in space applications. If a part is needed, make it, and put the old part back into the source mix and use the molecules over again.
    • Maybe they could replace the cutting head with a focusable laser to be able to cut aluminium?
    • Towards the end of the article the guy is quoted as saying that though a metal replacement was shipped, he wanted to keep the polycarbonate part in place to see how it held up. I trust that if the part fails it is not likely to do so catastrophically and fly across the shop at 50 m/s...
    • The article mentions that the failed part was made of aluminium, but that the rapid prototyper can only make parts out of polycarbonate, wax, etc. I'm guessing that the part they "printed out" was only being used as a temporary replacement until the actual aluminium pulley could be shipped to them. Still, we're on the way!
      Read the article...it says they have a replacement aluminum pulley on hand now, but they're leaving the part they fabbed in the machine to see how long it'll last. When the article was written, it had been in there one month already...not bad for a chunk of plastic. (Then again, polycarbonate is fairly tough stuff...more so than most other plastics.)

      BTW, the correct spelling is "aluminum." :-)

  • These 3D printers have been around for at least 10 years. It's amazing that it took this long to finally implement one in a production enviroment... Good to see progress though...

    Let me know when they have one that can produce a ham sandwitch (made of han and chease and bread rather than polymer resin).

    --CTH
  • Stratasys (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I had a friend who worked at Stratasys for a while.

    It was a pretty cool place, their engineers were constantly making things out of plastics w/ their "3D Printer". Somewhere around here I have a small 4" high godzilla that was printed out.

    If you ever get a chance to see one of these machines in person printing out "something" it is fascinating.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:22AM (#2273879)
    Someone tries to get it to replicate Pamela Anderson. She's mostly silicone anyway, right?
  • by davey23sol (462701) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:23AM (#2273884) Journal
    I don't understand why this is news. At Siggraph they have had the 3D printers for years. You can get 3D printers that plug into networks via regular Ethernet and you can feed it CAD files. They have shown full working models of things like engines. Check out Z Corp [zcorp.com] and a whole list of resources here [geomagic.com].

    This is far from a "replicator." The items take quite a bit of time to built up. Even small items take over a day. Not an instant solution by far...

    • I believe the news is that this is the first confirmed case of a 3D "printer" being used in a production environment for more than just demonstration purposes - kind of a proof that these bad boys can really be put to use. If you know of any earlier cases like this, I'm sure we'd all love to hear about them, being the drooling tech geeks that we are...
    • Re:Why is this news? (Score:5, Informative)

      by WolfWithoutAClause (162946) on Monday September 10, 2001 @12:27PM (#2274253) Homepage
      No. Previous items built by 3D printers haven't been strong enough to actually use. The first ones were weak plastic, and then there were wax models- you could see what it would look like, you could turn it over in your hands and fit it together, but it wouldn't actually work.

      This is the only time anyone has actually put it straight into a real machine. (Although people have built molds using this technology; it's close but no cigar IMO.)
    • Re:Why is this news? (Score:3, Informative)

      by zeus_tfc (222250)
      This is an important breakthrough of an already existing technology. I work in the auto industry, designing plastic injection molded parts. We use an SLA (Stereo Lithography somethingoranother) machine to rapid prototype concept pieces all the time. We use them to show new ideas to our customer, and to check to make sure that our ideas will work in the real world, and not just in a CAD tube.
      For a long time there has been talk of using machines like this in other enironments. The example I've heard most is using it for creating spare parts in space, instead of having a stock of various parts taking up valuable space.
      As someone else already pointed out, the problems with the old machines is that they used weak polymers that were not viable for functional parts.

      I for one think this is pretty cool, but not entirely new. We won't upgrade our SLA machine, and won't replace our cheap aluminum tools for prototyping, but we are not the target buyers.
      Now, any astronaut with some CAD skills can replicate a whoopie cushion. Totally cool.

      Zeus_tfc
      Outside of a dog, a man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog its too dark to read. Groucho Marx
  • Scale? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bricriu (184334) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:24AM (#2273889) Homepage
    Does anyone know what the minimum scale that this gizmo can produce is? They've got some pictures of a fully-functional wrench (WOW!) on the Stratasys [stratasys.com] web site, which would imply that there's some fairly fine control (for the spinny groove things). I just ask since one of the coolest things I can imaging is a box like this spitting out a fully-functional (mechanical) watch. And of course, taking that to the most ridiculous extreme, having a box that could spit out a computer - in the form of Babbage's Difference Engine. ;-)
    • About 7 mils
    • What I'd like to see is have it manufacture a copy of itself.
    • Re:Scale? (Score:2, Interesting)

      I work in the medical diagnostics industry, and we use SLA all the time for mocking up examples of products.

      I have heard of (but not yet seen) a vendor sample that is a fully functional wind-up clock that comes out of the SLA machine all put together. Turning the wind-up crank breaks the parts free from the sprue and starts the clock working.

      I can tell you from personal experience that all the SLA plastic models I have eventually soften and deform after a few months, so I wouldn't want to rely on an SLA part for anything that is mission critical.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "While a humble pulley helps usher in an era of rapid manufacturing on earth.."

    What a novel idea for the first invention... the wheel

    Is this what you call re-inventing the wheel?
  • ROI? (Score:2, Insightful)

    While the technology itself seems absolutely fantastic, it's current state leaves me with some questions...

    How much does one of the fabricators cost? How long do the polycarbonate material parts hold up? Does it cost less to create X number of polycarbonate material replacement parts over a year than it does Y number of aluminum (or whatever material is traditionally used) parts over the same year?

    I remember the first time I saw rapid 3d prototyping devices like this: a television show (probably on The Discovery Channel) a few years back that showed a tour of a Tupperware facility. Tupperware was using a CAD tool in cooperation with a special plastic molding device to make prototypes for new containers. My immediate reaction was that someone would eventually use tools like this for quickly creating temporary replacement parts. Glad to see I was right about something for once. *laugh*

    • Re:ROI? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by norton_I (64015) <hobbes@utrek.dhs.org> on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:46AM (#2274014)
      The fabricators are pretty expensive, and the amortized cost of the machine + materials is probably much greater than the replacement parts.

      However, consider that an assembly line has thousands of different parts like this. The cost of keeping spares of every part around is much higher than the cost of just the failed parts. If you can just fabricate the part you need on the spot, you reduce downtime vs. waiting for a replacement part. On a high volume assembly line, my guess is the cost of a few of hours less downtime can pay for the prototyping machine.
  • This may be a great thing for manned space flight and work in treacherous conditions. Imagine if the supply vehicles sent up to the ISS were unloaded of contents and then disassembled to provide raw material for use in case a part failed. They would have a 3-d fabricator on the station that they could use to manufacture many simple parts like rods, sheets, bolts, etc... It could make sending up supply ships much more efficient. Then after something breaks, you break it down to raw material for re-fabrication or for other tools.
    NASA could keep breaking down the station and rebuilding it with its own raw material. Oooh borg-like. This could also be useful for some underwater stations/vessels and arctic or oil drilling where it is hard to get stuff shipped to people.
    Then if they could just get replicators to replicate themselves...
    • by Wyatt Earp (1029) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:42AM (#2273993)
      This is cool.

      Reading the novel of 2001 it said that Discovery had 2 or 3 spare parts for every piece on the ship.

      With a replicator/printer like this you can estimate how many of which parts might fail, send up X amount of polycarbonate/Aluminum/Steel and a 3D "Printer" along with spares for other things that can't be replicated, thus saving alot of space that might otherwise be taken up by spare "replicatable" parts.

      I can see this also being of great benefit to the Navy and Air Force for replicating complex CAD designed airframe parts instead of waiting for a replacement to be flown in by COD or Airlift. The USAF Europe had a fleet of little cargo aircraft just for flying parts around Europe.

      Why ship a LHA or LST to Korea with bins full of nuts, bolts, screws that might not be used and will just sit there and get lost or rust when you can ship 3D printers and bulk materials and fabricate them on the fly?
  • It seems that parts have been produced using stereolithographic techniques for years... While using a fused resin part for investment casting is not direct fabrication, that seems close enough to me.

    There is a lot cooler stuff than this going on right now.. Take a look at [nasa.gov]
    this for some other cool 3-D rapid prototyping systems that are in development. The LENS system (about halfway down) is especially cool since they can form parts directly using materials that are difficult to form otherwise (strange Ti alloys), and change the composition and cooling rates along the length of the part...

    Oh, and where the hell was this guy's boss when he used the quarter million dollar rapid prototyper to make a two dollar aluminum pulley for a sander... Don't even tell me that polycarbonate will be a good substitute for a pulley in a sander which was originally made from aluminum.

    This does have very cool applications in fabrication of replica parts for antique cars and the like... It would be cool to go down to NAPA in 10 years and have them print out brake pad rubber for my subaru...

    • by joss (1346)
      I worked at http://www.3dsystems.com for several years. The SLA machines produce parts from photosensitive resin that have very good material properties and several companies used these parts directly in machines with good results. In fact, one company found that the replacement worked better as a small piece in a vacuum cleaner than the material they were using. They wanted to switch until they found out this stuff cost > $100/litre.

      A more interesting useage was the rapid casting technology where they create a hollow inverse of the part, fill it with some kind of metallic powder and then use that directly to manafacture small runs of real parts.

    • Oh, and where the hell was this guy's boss when he used the quarter million dollar rapid prototyper to make a two dollar aluminum pulley for a sander... Don't even tell me that polycarbonate will be a good substitute for a pulley in a sander which was originally made from aluminum.

      When down, most production lines cost the company huge amounts of money per hour. The production lines in some plants cost hundreds of thousands of dollars every hour that they are down. Why? Well, first, no product is being made. Second, you're paying x hundred employees to sit on their butts waiting for the line to be fixed. The labor costs alone are staggering.

      The guy who made this part had two choices: Leave the line down for a few days while waiting for a replacement to arrive (and likely costing the company $Millions), or create a new one and get the line back up and running in just a couple of hours. Wherever his boss was, I bet he gave him a nice fat raise. The guy just paid for the quarter million dollar machine and then some.

      As for the new part not being a good substitute: "It's been a month now, and the belt sander is still going strong... I have an aluminum replacement pulley now, but I'm in no hurry to install it. With the way this one has performed, I want to see how long it lasts!" (Link to quote) [stratasys.com]
  • my morning space news, you bastards had to link to spacedaily.com and put the slashdot effect on it. dammit. you hosed my favorite space news site.
  • by perdida (251676) <thethreatproject ... m minus caffeine> on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:32AM (#2273932) Homepage Journal
    "Although we have many sanders throughout the shop, most of them are continuously used. I didn't have to make the decision to pull a sander away from a less-critical production line. I was able to keep right on going. If we would have had to wait for a new part, that production line would have been down for a few days. It's been a month now, and the belt sander is still going strong.

    "Now if anyone asks me about the durability of the rapid prototype parts that come off the Titan, I take them over to the sanding station and tell them the story. You can see the sparks flying off the sander and hear it grinding away - it really opens some eyes. I have an aluminum replacement pulley now, but I'm in no hurry to install it. With the way this one has performed, I want to see how long it lasts!"


    This is a bit of a hype situation for several reasons.

    First of all, a production situation is rife with bureacracy and regulation. A polycarbonate part cannot always replace a metal or ceramic part, and to alter the machines in a way that would impart agility and flexibility -- the very purpose of the "3-d printer" - would take a mountain of paperwork.

    This leads into a second critique. Globalization confers both interdependence and indepdendence.
    Right now, production facilities are dependent on parts from distant places.

    If facilities can design and fabricate new parts, and put them into use, at various backwaters all over the place, this will place many office workers -- and, perhaps, the entire concept of a centralized "headquarters" -- into obsolescence.

    • >This leads into a second critique. Globalization
      >confers both interdependence and indepdendence.
      >Right now, production facilities are dependent
      >on parts from distant places.

      I don't see this, you are just changing who you are dependent upon. You still need the raw materials to make the things out of- they still need to be shipped, and they may well turn out to be more expensive materials than getting someone to mass produce the item for you.

      In fact, even if the 3D items were completely free, it wouldn't destroy the global economy- most businesses are a result of the ideas, and knowledge of the people in the company- the objects they make would still be protected by copyright, patents and licensing.
  • ...and in only three days, it can replicate velociraptor larynxes!!!


    (come one, somebody else has to have seen Jurassic Park 3...)

  • by ehud42 (314607)
    Back in shops class (well over 10 years ago, when I was just entering my teenage years and didn't care about school...) we played around with plastics that could be remolded if we screwed up. I'm sure plastics have improved.


    I see a huge benefit here. Send a 3D printer and a bucket of resuable plastic to a remote location (South Pole, remote desert, under water research, even space). Metal tools are expensive, heavy and take up a lot of room to have every wrench size required. If the machine could make a spanner that had enough strenght to fix one or two things, then broke - who cares. Just reuse the plastic. Need a different tool? Just reuse the plastic.


    Obviously, critical tools should always be on hand and made from appropriate material.


    Also, equally obvious (or should be), standardizing on style of screw heads, socket sizes, etc. should make parts more interchangeable and keep the number of tools required to a minimum.

  • repliclator? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dermotfitz (470733)
    Well I think replicator is a total misnomer. I am pretty sure that in this case the engineer involved drew up a 3D rendering of the part he wanted including any microstructure (he could have made it hollow if he wanted).
    I mean it's not like this thing scanned in the broken pulley and made a replica based on the scan.
    Now I know they can do this (someone mentioned a Godzirra) and I saw on Beyond 2000 (10 years ago) how this thing was used in surgery. A guy had his skull smashed to bits in an accident. They did an MRI and built a model of his skull including the broken bits. This enabled the surgeons to examine the fragments and figure the best way to put them back together (of course this was before they operated).
    I thought that was a way cooler implementation and closer to a true replicator.
    • I mean it's not like this thing scanned in the broken pulley and made a replica based on the scan.

      Probably not, but the Roland Picza [rolanddga.com] will scan in smaller objects. You can then use their Modela [rolanddga.com] to print out an exact duplicate. I saw a review of these products where they scanned in a little Yoda figure and printed out a copy. It was nearly perfect in every detail, save for the coloring... Best part: These things aren't all that expensive. A couple thousand dollars for both.
    • Why would you want to replicate a broken item?
  • In our world of absolute copyright protection, that is. I see a day, not now, and not ten years from now, but certainly in a hundred, where a replicator is simply a molecular printer, or molecular copy machine. You'll simply put in the raw elemental materials in one end, and your product will come out the other.


    This would be great for mankind, as the cost of production would be driven down dramatically, and you could literally have whatever you wanted for the cost of the raw materials to build it. I think in a world with laws as ours were even twenty years ago, this might be possible. A molecular Xerox machine certainly, a printer with downloadable "templates" might require a small fee for the templates for a limited time.


    But, in our copyright driven world today, I see a future will these machines will not be allowed to exist at all -- or if they are, they will be tightly regulated and locked down. They will only be usable in production plants, by licensed professionals, and only for reproduction of the respective company's own products. Using GE's replicator to build a 1960's Ferrari GTO, though possible, will be quite illegal.


    I'm afraid that we are seriously heading down this path, and rather than helping everyone, we'll be keeping prices artifically high and helping a few select companies who happen have more money than everyone else to begin with.

    • This would be great for mankind, as the cost of production would be driven down dramatically, and you could literally have whatever you wanted for the cost of the raw materials to build it.

      You're repeating something that's also been said elsewhere in the thread, as well as being a standard doctrine of nanotechnology, which is that this kind of fabrication would be cheaper than current mass production techniques. What is the basis for that assertion? The equipment itself is currently quite expensive even in the limited forms which are now available, and there is a floor to the cost (unless you know somewhere I can buy a good refrigerator for $10?) Then there is energy, time, and waste, as well as distribution of raw materials and raw materials cost itself.

      I haven't seen any basis for the assumption that all of these can be driven to near zero. If they can be driven way down, then so can the costs of mass production, which could be driven down even further due to economies of scale. A machine that only builds one thing is going to produce that one thing faster and cheaper than a machine that can build anything. That's true even of theoretical nanoassembly systems.

      Tim
      • You could be right, but:
        A machine that only builds one thing is going to produce that one thing faster and cheaper than a machine that can build anything.

        s/builds/computes and you have the conventional wisdom of the pre-computer age. A machine custom built for computing mortgages would be cheaper than a general-purpose computer, right?

        I was reading an interview with a Bell Labs engineer in which the engineer discussed the reluctance to go digital. Bell Labs had perfected the electromechanical switch - with bistable ferreeds they were approaching something like 5 cents per crosspoint. How could digital possibly compete?

        I think the answer to all these questions lies in the concentration of engineering effort on one task. If a certain replicator technology becomes viable, companies will keep focusing on making it cheaper and faster. We could get a 'Moore's Law' of fabrication.
        • A machine custom built for computing mortgages would be cheaper than a general-purpose computer, right?

          It's an interesting counterargument. The fact is that a special-purpose computer is faster than a general-pupose computer for any real-world algorithm which turns out to be computational expensive. That is one of the main reasons why we have ASICs. However, an ASIC is not necessarily cheaper, since many algorithms run fast enough on the general-purpose processor, and the separate chip would not pay for itself given the lack of demand.

          It might be that a general-purpose fabricator would prove to be fast and cheap enough for some common goods, and so undercut the need for mass manufacturing of those goods. However, I think this remains entirely speculative given that we don't have anything like a general-purpose fabricator today, and don't know what its characteristics would be. It probably wouldn't work anyway -- see the current Scientific American, in which the world's only nanotech Nobelist explains why there will never be a nanoassembler

          Of course, there is a wide range of possible special-purpose fabrication techniques well short of the dream of general-purpose fabricators, and some of these might be useful for distributed manufacturing. Food and clothing come to mind. Reprogrammable cell cultures together with a robotic chef might be able to make reasonable biological simulacra of most possible foodstuffs, while a robotic loom/sewing machine could produce a great deal of high quality clothing. I submit that in either case, the specialization would allow for faster and cheaper production of the goods than attempting to build them molecule by molecule -- if that were even possible.

          Tim
      • First, a little bit of fun, paraphrasing your comments:

        You're repeating something that's also been said elsewhere in the thread, as well as being a standard doctrine of personal computer technology, which is that this kind of distributed computing (a general-purpose computer in nearly every home) would be cheaper than current specialised super computer techniques. What is the basis for that assertion? The equipment itself is currently quite expensive even in the limited forms which are now available, and there is a floor to the cost (unless you know somewhere I can buy a good computer for $1000?) Then there is energy, time, and waste, as well as distribution of software and the cost of software itself.

        I haven't seen any basis for the assumption that all of these can be driven to near zero. If they can be driven way down, then so can the costs of specialised super computing, which could be driven down even further due to economies of scale. A machine that specialises in computing a type of problem is going to process that one thing faster and cheaper than a machine that can process anything. That's true even of theoretical personal computing systems.

        Okay okay, I took some liberties, but your comment basically boils down to "it seems counter intuitive, so it can't be true". Nano skeptics are becoming an increasingly endangered species, mainly because the technology looks so promising. And if you think my analogy above is flawed because processing information is qualitively different to processing materials, then I gently suggest you've not thought about nanotech enough. :-)

        Your comment:
        The equipment itself is currently quite expensive even in the limited forms which are now available (...)

        Is like pointing to any new technology and saying "it's more expensive than the way we do things now, so it always will be more expensive, so it won't work". Do I really need to point out the flaw here?

        Your comment:
        A machine that only builds one thing is going to produce that one thing faster and cheaper than a machine that can build anything. That's true even of theoretical nanoassembly systems.

        No it isn't. Or to use your words - what is the basis for that assertion? A nano-assembler is a nanoassembler, whether it's in a factory or a suburban nano-shop or your basement. Why would we build a nanoasembler that is only able to build one thing?

        Sure, I can imagine a big assembler being able to produce goods faster than a small one (it can literally churn out more per second because it is bigger and can suck in and push out more material), but why significantly cheaper?

        Besides, this misses the point - with widespread nanotech, the very concept of mass-produced identical items is redundant. Why would we do this? Why fill warehouses with product X and then try to sell it, as we do now? Heck, we're moving away from that model even with current technology, why do it that way with nanotech?

        Items could be produced that are individually tailored to the user, and only when needed by the user. These items may cost a little more than an identical item that had been mass-produced, but items tailored to me are not going to be mass-produced, so the comparison is moot.

        As nano-tech becomes possible, cheaper, and widespread, the advantages of just-in-time and just-for-you manufacturing will outweigh the advantages of mass-produced for-everyone, I predict. There are other things to worry about (like how to prevent abuse of cheap widespread nanotech assemblers).

        Skevos

  • The example given of the replacement pully, while very cool, is not as exciting as it seems. As they had that 3-d printing CAD-CAM equipment, of course that is what they used.

    For other, less technically inclined companies, a production manager would have a replacement pully fabricated by either an onsite maintainance department, or an on-call machinist. Critical production lines can't wait for the FedEx truck to show up.

    It's really cool that this type of technology is implemented, but downtime on the line would be minimized regardless of technologies available.
  • Umm, I've had a plastic part generated by one of these "santa claus" machines... the 3d printer/fabricator/etc... and the durability of anything that comes out is highly questionable. First the things stink to high heaven from the resins, they are cleaned so they aren't sticky anymore but they are easily broken. I would reccomend putting a module onto the ISS that has a CNC, Lathe, and a milling machine capable of working at least aluminum. That way they can make plastic parts also.

  • "I had a CAD model of the pulley drawn up, and we built it from polycarbonate on the Titan. It took only a couple of hours to run the part. We bolted the pulley on and continued with production."

    Interesting. Might we see more factories, one day maybe even homes, with replicators and CAD databases of all the small mechanical objects in them so that, if one breaks, we replicate a replacement and just order more polycarbonate goo from some company the next day? I can see it now: cars, planes, houses, factories, printers... everything coming with a CAD database containing all its mechanical parts.

  • Their main use was to "materialize" the designs
    of graphic artists. Also they were QC tools of
    object-scanning machines.
  • by msheppard (150231) on Monday September 10, 2001 @11:57AM (#2274079) Homepage Journal
    Xerox officials held an emergency press conference Wedensday to announce a
    total recall of all Reprotron 5000 Three-Dimensional Copy Machines.

    Xerox stock has plummeted to a new all-time low since the release of the
    innovative device. Xerox hailed the Reprotron 5000 as a "new revolution in
    copying" when it introduced the machine just two weeks ago, and market
    insiders were certain that the copier would send Xerox stock through the
    roof.

    At a demonstration of the Reprotron in August, Xerox staffers made full
    three-dimensional copies of an Oriental vase, a bowl of fruit, and a perfect
    red rose. Reporters were invited to sample apples and oranges copied from
    the original fruit, though Xerox technicians did warn that the copied fruit
    might taste slightly of toner. John Thompson (inventor of the Reprotron)
    stepped forward to make a copy of a Manhattan phone book, but accidentally
    copied his hand and forearm. He quickly disposed of the highly detailed,
    frantically wiggling half-limb as it slid out of the copier's delivery slot.

    But Xerox wasn't ready for what happened next. "We assumed that people would
    behave as responsible, thinking human beings with this copier, and obviously
    we were wrong," Thompson states. From all across the USA, reports have been
    filing in of the copier being used in what Thompson calls "sick, greedy
    ways."

    At a Copy Center in Austin, Texas, a couple was arrested for making 15
    copies of their three-year-old son, Jeremy, and then refusing to pay for the
    copies, claiming that some of the new children were "smudged." Local
    authorities were uncertain as to which charges should be pressed.

    In Union City, Arizona, Treasury Department officials are investigating
    reports of a secretary who allegedly copied a single bar of gold bullion 150
    times. A task force investigator stated, "Granted, it takes money to make
    money, but we're almost certain that this action is in violation of some
    laws."

    Xerox officials are also under fire from consumers, due to rumors that the
    three-dimensional copying technology is imperfect. Harold Butz of Peoria,
    Pennsylvania, made a copy of a common cement brick spray-painted gold. Butz
    claims he was "shocked and dismayed" when he discovered that the
    machine-made copy was 22-karat solid gold. "All I wanted was a really good
    copy of a cement brick spray-painted gold'" Butz stated. "What the hell am I
    going to do with this thing?"

    Xerox plans to scrap all the machines they are able to recall, but Thompson
    expressed concern over the so-called "black market Reprotrons."

    "Apparently some sick and greedy people discovered that if they had two
    machines, they could use one to make a working copy of the other," Thompson
    revealed. "To tell the truth, we only sold two machines in all - to the
    Cappelli family, a New Jersey based Meat packing firm. These copy pirates
    should be aware that as with anything that is copied from a copy and so on,
    there are bound to be defects in the copies produced. We have no idea what
    kind of stuff will pop out of the slot when a person copies something on a
    fourth- or fifth-generation machine." Thompson declined to comment on
    reports that hundreds of the pirated machines have a human thumb attached to
    the coin slot which constantly wiggles - the result of a person's thumb
    getting in the way during one of the original copier-to-copier copies.

    "Ultimately, we're not too worried," Thompson stated. "People owning the
    copiers will eventually run out of the fluid that make the machine work, and
    we've taken all the fluid off the market. A machine can only last two weeks
    or so without a fluid refill, and there won't be any fluid refills." When
    asked why people with copiers couldn't simply make copies of the fluid
    cannisters they already have, Xerox officials hastily ended the press
    conference, stating that they "need to reconsider a few things."
  • Anyone know if a good replicator could violate any copyright laws in some interesting ways?

    Just trying to get the discussion on the proper Slashdot track...
  • When a belt-sander-pulley failure halted production in the customer's finishing area, the company rapid manufactured a replacement unit from polycarbonate on a Stratasys FDM Titan(TM) prototyping system.

    Several hours later, the company was sued by the belt-sander-pulley manufacturer for patent infringement utilizing the Rapid Litigation system.
  • 3D printers/Von Neumann machines are cool. You can't argue with exponential growth of production capacity.

    Imagine if we could send a 3D machine to the moon and get it to build solar panels and mining equipment, and then another 3D machine... it could send BACK materials and even power to the ISS and earth.

    1,2,4,8, who do we appreciate Voooooooon Neuman!!!
  • I seem to remember about 10 years ago, when rapid prototyping machines were all in the news, a story in an engineering journal about the use of such a "replicated" part from a rapid prototyper in the field. I believe it was a pedal or some similar part in the cockpit of a B-52 that needed some slight modification. The engineers made a model on a rapid prototyper and took it to the plane to do a test fitting, and the prototype worked so well that they left it in place. Does anyone else know the source of this story?
  • ***Disclosure**** Yes, I do own 1000 shares of this stock. ***Disclosure**** That said, check it out. This company's stock is a great deal.
  • by YuppieScum (1096)
    imagine the bongs you could make...

    ...and after using them, then imagine the bongs you could make!
  • Over at Spacedaily, there is an article about how a 3D printer was used to fabricate a replacement part in a production environment--the first known case.


    I've personally seen steel parts created directly from CAD drawings years ago. The machine I saw was made by Mitsubishi. It's standard fare in an auto-parts factory.

    This has been going on for a lot longer, too. You can see all kinds of articles about the technology at Don Lancaster's site [tinaja.com].

    There are also some custom auto shops that have deals with factories to get parts made for their customers, at a *very* high cost, of course.

    For continued production, this is only cost effective for one-at-a-time parts. It is always significantly cheaper to retool your presses (one produced every few seconds) than to waste time with a 'Santa Claus machine' (one produced every few minutes) when you have to ship 1,000,000 units.
  • The real irony in this to me isn't that it's been done. I've known about 3D Printers for a while.

    What really blew my mind reading the article is the fact that this morning I turned in a 10 page report for my Production Operations Management class, and in that report I specifically mention 3D Printers and how they would be used for this very thing before too long.

    Little did I know "before too long" was going to be ... oh ... uh ... right about now.
  • It's impressive that polycarbonate objects can be fabricated by stereolithography. Such machines have been around for about fifteen years, but until recently, they were limited to rather weak materials. This is real progress.

    Unless you're building something with complicated interior structure, a computer-controlled milling machine can do the job.

    In the real world, though, most manufactured objects are made by some mould-based process; casting, stamping, injection moulding, or another of the fifty or so common processes for making stuff in quantity. Few objects made in volume are machined out of solid stock. It's too slow, by orders of magnitude.

Always draw your curves, then plot your reading.

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