Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The future is mine. We'll sell you some for $9.99 plus shipping and handling

Looking to the future we could all easily be replaced with machines. Such is the case with the development of 3D printers. Still in it's infancy yet taking strides forward they can be viewed much like personal computers were twenty five years ago. At present they can't do much more than produce plastic toys and nick nacks on a consumer level but companies like Boeing and GE do make parts with more sophisticated units. That may soon change with a few enterprising folks. Just like computers of old that once took up an entire room and had to be run by people with higher technical skills (Cobal and Fortran was not something everyone could easily learn), the newer 3D printers are as simple as learning a design program and a few mouse clicks. And the prices have come way down as well. What was once relegated to architectural and higher end manufacturers at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars can now be purchased in the two to three thousand dollar range, not much more than the desk top computers of the 1990s. The model airplane pictured was produced using a 3D printer by a mechanical engineering undergraduate student. It is fully functional and was test flown reaching speeds of 45 mph. All the components including the turbo fan motor was made with the printer. At present most of these printers use plastic resins but the more advanced models can use metal dusts and glues to produce metallic parts. There is one drawback at the moment which is the cost of the resins. A liter of resin can cost $149. Rather expensive if you're planning on making a few simple toys and no match costwise for mass produced products. But the possibilities do have promise when you consider making unique items that would be home made. And as the costs continue to drop we might just see these machines making their way for home use although more likely showing up in a garage rather than the living room.

But in looking at the way we've shifted from the likes of mass production to a self centered technology model there is a great battle going on at present. We've moved from an agrarian society through the industrial revolution and now to the information and high tech age of modern times. It was after all just a little over 30 years ago that cars had no computer modules. The gray haired executives still think in terms of massive projects and the fact that they'll be long gone when the oil runs out. What do they care if they leave behind a legacy of pollution, illness and destruction. Their heirs will be well taken care of from the profits. All the while the younger generation seeks a self centered unique experience and neither our educational system nor our business models are equipped to handle this shift. The days of preparing a student for the factory or farm are just about over. Younger people today seek praise for their own accomplishments rather the an award to a department or the company's quarterly sales figures. And we always though we had cornered the market on the the term "me generation". All this comes with a price. Call it a lack of empathy or downright rudeness, we see it from school yards to the halls of congress. There is a disconnect. We've gone from a wave while walking to a flash your headlights and on to a hastily scrolled twitter comment in our interactions. And with each step up in the technology march we've become more isolated.

So keep your doors locked and get off my lawn! I'm busy building my next drone. Now where'd I leave that resin?


The Blog Fodder said...

This post totally resinates with me. I had heard of 3D printers but never knew they were coming down to consumer price levels. Trying to imagine the technology of the future is impossible. Imagining the political and economic future of the world is much easier but far more ugly.

BBC said...

We'll leave so much litter behind that it's going to take nature a few years to hide it all.

Randal Graves said...

Now there's nothing wrong with a little oil on your salad of rotten lettuce.