THE 3D PRINTING SCRAPBOOK: RESPONSIVE MATERIALS, AI, AND THOUGHT ...

September 19, 2017 By Joseph P. Farrell

It's been a while since I've posted anything in the 3D Printing Scrapbook, but here's one that was found by Mr. B.H., and it really made me think of some new scenarios and speculations for the phenomenon of 3D Printing, or additive manufacturing as it is also sometimes referred to (copy and paste into your browser):

New Brunswick researcher investigating 3D-printing powered by thought

You'll note here that this particular Canadian company is seeking to expand the scope of capabilities being integrated into and with additive manufacturing:

FREDERICTON—New Brunswick researchers are plotting what they call the “factories of the future” by developing 3D-printing technologies they said could pave the way for the next industrial revolution.

Mechanical engineer Ed Cyr is studying the applications of artificial intelligence in manufacturing 3D-printed materials as part of a $1.25-million innovation program from the McCain Foundation announced at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton Sept. 5.

Cyr will spend his UNB fellowship, valued at $50,000, working to understand the behaviour of 3D-printed materials with the goal of harnessing their special properties to improve conventional methods of manufacturing.

...

Cyr intends to take the advantages of this technology to the next level by developing 3D-printing methods capable of introducing new behaviours that cannot be found in conventional materials.

For example, he said he is studying a printed aluminum alloy that, when put under certain types of stress, increases in strength far more than a typical sheet metal.

“That would be would be useful for something like armour, perhaps, or maybe even building the wall of a ship,” he said. “For impacts happening at higher speed, like an icebreaker, it would become stronger instead of more brittle.”

Let that sink in for a moment, for what is being suggested is that additive manufacturing, combined with other advances in materials engineering such as nanotechnology, might be used to design entirely new types of materials and then deploy them for specific purposes via the additive manufacturing process. Indeed, a few years ago, when I first became fascinated by this technology, I purchased a rather sophisticated computer-aided-design program just to see if, indeed, all the hype was merited. Needless to say, I have been amazed at what one can design, once one learns all the ins-and-outs of the program. But now imagine such programs expanded to be able to design things all the way down to the molecular level all the way up to various parts and so on, and one gets an idea of how rapidly this field is expanding. We've already seen programs being sold for "do-it-yourself-in-your-garage" genetic engineering; couple this to additive manufacturing and this sort of materials engineering, and one gets the idea of the promise both of good (and ill) of the new technologies.

But there's more in this article, and it's this statement that really caught my eye:

Later in his research, Cyr said he wants to “push the boundaries” of manufacturing by investigating the possibility of 3D-printing powered by thought.

“For a human to sit down and come up with the optimal design, we would have to come up with thousands, and thousands, and that would be incredibly time consuming,” said Cyr.

“The beauty of a computer is it has the ability to go through those thousands and thousands of designs. It can actually model a total design space and tell us which one is the best, and it can even come up with things we might not even think of.” (Emphasis added)

Most readers of this website have probably seen those videos of monkeys, and in some cases, humans, with a "neural net" on their heads, making computer cursors, or even mechanical arms, move merely by their thought. Now imagine a similar apparatus, connected to a computer-aided-design program, and a 3D printer, and voila! a design unfolds on the screen and is printed in the computer, a step that would take prototyping to an entirely new level, one that, conceivably, would greatly diminish "lag" time from design to first model output. Think,  for example, of those newsreels and films of design team draftsmen at their tables, manipulating their slide rules and carefully drawing and designing things, from the 1940s and 1950s, and you get the idea: months are compacted into days, or perhaps even a few hours and minutes. My father was an engineer and an architect, and I well remember those long hours he would spend on occasion, spreading blueprints out on the dining room table and going over calculations with his slide rule and later, calculator, making corrections in designs that would often take several hours and nights of after-work devotion. Now, I - an amateur - can do this on a computer-aided-design program and print out designs in much less time.

All of this, of course, implies that mind-mapping-and-reading technologies will proceed at a similar pace, and this recalls former President Obama's "brain project" to map the human brain and its processes in minute detail. Of course, the thing that immediately springs to mind is that such mapping would be of extreme benefit to improving mind-manipulation technologies...

... but if Mr. Cyr and others have their way, it will also transform manufacturing in ways that would have seemed like magic just a few decades ago. And with that compaction of idea-to-prototype time, costs go down.

See you on the flip side...