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March 10, 2015 By Joseph P. Farrell

There's been one of those "quiet developments" in the world of 3-d printing, or "additive manufacturing" as it's sometimes called, that is well worth pondering. It occurred in Australia. and was shared with us by Mr. K.L.:

3D printing: Australian researchers create jet engine, breakthrough captures attention of Airbus and Boeing

There are so many things to notice in this article it's difficult to know where to begin, but I want  to point out this biological and surgical possibility(especially in the wake of yesterday's head transplant blog):

"For example, if you're unfortunate enough to have one of those serious car accidents, you can be scanned in the scanner, that information can then be taken to a 3D printer, and while you're on the operating table we can print those precise body parts you might need."

So: benefit number one: three-d-printing can literally manufacture body parts, using DNA donor material from the donor him- or her-self.

This is coupled to (2) quick-turn-around times:

"Getting spare parts is not easy – it can take quite a lot of time. What we can do is turn these parts around very quickly."

Forget about waiting for that spare body part, that organ transplant from the donors' list, or that spare jet engine part to be shipped from Singapore: if you have the printing schematic and requisite material, just print it right there. What this leads to is

(3) Dramatically lower labor and transportation costs.

But all of the above advantages are further coupled with something new, here, and this is where we're approaching the high octane part:

"The breakthrough opens the door for engineers to make and test parts in days instead of months.

"'[In the past you had to] melt, mould, carve and turn to get the final product,' said Professor Ian Smith, Monash University's vice-provost for research.

"'This way we can very quickly get a final product, so the advantages of this technology are, firstly, for rapid prototyping and making a large number of prototypes quickly.

"'Secondly, for being able to make bespoke parts that you wouldn't be able to with classic engineering technologies.'

"Professor Smith said he believed Monash was well placed to take advantage of the technology because the university made the materials as well as printing the parts."

Note what's really being said here: (1) prototyping turnaround is much faster with 3d printing, lowering manufacturing costs even further; (2) it is possible to manufacture things via 3D printing that simply cannot be made, or made only with difficulty, using standard current methods of machining, which are all subtractive methods(rather than 3D printing's additive method), and (3) the capability of 3D printing has now advanced sufficiently and to the point that the precise tolerances necessary in precision manufacture of equipment such as jet engines is now within practical capability.

Stop and ponder that last point for a minute. Today, right now, it is possible to manufacture jet engines with the process. Such capabilities are, of course, for the present, restricted to the expensive commercial and large scale printers available to corporations and universities. The three-D printers available for home use currently are akin to the Commodore "home computers" of the 1980s...

And that's my point. We've come a long way from the Commodore home computer. Yesterday's game-playing curiousity is today's essential, for everything from communcations to (in my case at least), the necessary equipment and technology for publishing and research.

And that means today's "widget" and "pencil holder cup" 3-d printing toy is tomorrow's "home manufacturing plant," enabling you to dial up and download that spare part for your car, or, for that matter, to dial up Detroit, download, and print your new car. Car dealerships will increasingly deal with used, rather than new cars, and used cars will have a new lease on life with 3D printed spare parts, possibly driving the price of the horirbly overpriced new vehicles down. For that matter, why bother with buying the latest new model from Detroit at all, when you could dial up, download, print, and drive your favorite 1931 Dusenberg? Can you imagine the effect on society? Commercial transport - the shipping of "parts" or finished goods by train, truck, or ship - might conceivably diminish dramatically, leaving the raw materials themselves to constitute the bulk of commercial transport. Actual physical transportation will consist, perhaps, of more leisure transport than that of finished goods. Manufactured finished parts - just as Pratt and Whitney jet engines - might be manufactured in private garages by "certified manufacturers" with a license to do so from a "non-traditional school", and so on.

Austraila just gave us a glimpse of the future, perhaps not one that those of us in our 50s or 60s will see in full flower, but one that we can already project, based on past experience with the computer.

See you on the flip side...