You are just a few clicks away from being a builder
By Alex Paikada
A surprising encounter
Patterns generated in art, let it be colors, sounds, words, or designs, have an appeal. In nature also we are fascinated by curious patterns. When we follow a pattern layer by layer, art is the result. In the present century, apart from man and nature, machines also are capable of generating patterns. In 2006 I happened to visit a company manufacturing mats and curtains, on a technical mission. The company was an export-oriented enterprise on the west coast, close to the relentless roar of the ancient sun-bathed sea that rolled up against the coconut palm orchards mantling the shore. The company had a humble beginning making coir mattings and rugs in the mid-fifties. When returns increased and technology advanced, they migrated to new avenues and switched over to synthetic resins as the basic building material. But the curious part of the story is that the company did not look like the run-of-the-mill sooty, noisy, dusty, and oily production environment. the traditional Kafkaesque infernal world of manufacturing is a thing of the past, and the Dickensian industrial suburbs are also on the wane, The entire milieu had a suave and sophisticated look. Still more interesting, I did not find any swarms of poor devils sweating it out in the trying debilitating environment. There was no dust, no sound, and no effluent to insult the water table.
Polished-looking technicians were on the computers, doing some prodding and iterations. All the dirty work was done by the machines, abiding by the commands given by the computers. Indeed, Italians are the Masters of Design. It was state-of-the-art Italian technology. The machines were conditioned to weave mats and rugs exactly as the designs presented to them on the computer. In other words, the human intervention in the production process had migrated to airconditioned computer kiosks for good. I was immensely impressed by the magic wand of technology at that time and did expect many more numbers up the sleeve. And over the next one and a half decades, much more miracles have happened. The very philosophy of manufacturing has undergone a dazzling revolution of sorts. now it is hobnobbing with the charms of 3D printing.
The evolving realm of 3D Printing has many interesting things stacked up in the womb of time. The challenges and opportunities are daunting and enormous. The show has just begun only. 3D printing is the process of generating three-dimensional objects as per a specific design using a suitable building material. The job is done by laying the building material layer by layer as per the predesigned digital image. The basic building material has been plastics, given their affordability and pliability. However, ceramics and metals also have entered the field as serious candidates. In the coming years, 3D printing technology could expand its empire into more areas of production and research. And the cost involved also will plummet when the technology finds variegated applications. As of now, 3D printing is a curiosity and a sensation and real business applications are a few steps away.
The emerging scenario
The shape of things to come in the rarified realm of 3D printing is worth some contemplation. For example, high-precision custom parts on high-end cars are a possibility. The shapes and profiles could be precise and close-fitting. The advantage is that there is no room for manufacturing defects and manual errors. There are ample chances for a performance check and design fine-tuning. Thus, savings on prototypes would be substantially saved, it is estimated that up to 90% saving is possible. High-performance automotive could become more affordable as a result. The promises include the production of customized but intricate high-performance prototypes. Another advantage is that the spare and replacement parts could be produced exactly as the original one on-demand as the design is preserved.
One of the latest advancements has been in consumer audiology. Skin-safe biocompatible headphones have never been so perfect. Music experience is bound to take a new turn, filtering out noise and gadgets becoming more ear-friendly and close-fitting. Also, the customer's individual preferences could be easily accommodated in the designs to make the music experience more personal. Another important advantage is that the delivery time is minimal, it could be produced and delivered in a matter of minutes. An important sector where 3D printing is destined to make a huge difference is surgical instruments. The promises include the design and production of custom foolproof implants and special purpose instruments catering to the individual preferences of the surgeon. Once an in-house 3D facility is in place the supply and logistical issues will be solved once and for all and hospitals are likely to become more self-reliant. Desktop production of specialized instruments is not a long way off possibility. In architecture and building construction, 3D prototypes offer a novel pre-fabrication experience. For that matter, in the none-too-distant future, original buildings also could be constructed according to an approved design. This development will substantially reduce construction costs and time taken from a matter of years to a few hours.
There are many more areas where 3D printing would make a footprint. Human tissue replacement, fashion, footwear, jewelry, eyewear, food industry are areas where 3D printing would make a huge difference. In criminology, especially the recreation of a scene of the crime, in the restoration of damaged artifacts, in the design and production of artificial organs, and in the cosmetic and experimental aspects of dentistry this would be a quantum jump, so is in the design of film locations, indeed the list is endless.
What does the Techtracker tool say?
The autogenerated Techtracker reports offer a realistic overview of where we are and where we are headed in any technological context. In fact, Techtracker is a must-see tool, if you are into any strand of technology to be abreast of the latest trends, and the policies of different companies, particularly of your competitors. Here is the link to a report on 3D printing: https://tracker.relecura.com/index.php/dashboard/openShareLink/862816731574f66bb808e863306dbdef
The salient features emerging are as follows. The report shows that there is a steady rise in granted patents over the past five years. however, from 2019 onwards there is the curve on applications has plateaued, probably due to covid impact. As usual, the major countries leading the show are China, the US, Japan, South Korea, Germany, Taiwan, Canada, France, and Britain. and almost half of the innovation space is claimed by China. The major innovations were in the domains of 3D printing, plastics shaping, metallic powders, metal working by heating, shaping clay, macromolecular compound composition, metal alloys, etc.
The important corporate organizations claiming a major chunk of the innovation are HP, GE, Siemens, XYZ Printing, Xerox, United Technologies, Boeing, Ricoh, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, etc. But HP and GE are predominating the domain with Siemens taking the third position.
The emerging technologies include Additive manufacturing by 3D printing, stereolithography, laser sintering, Driving means >> for motion in a direction within the plane of a layer, heating elements, feeding, Arrangements for irradiation >> using laser beams; using electron beams [EB], Enclosures for the building material, e.g. powder containers, Metallic composition of powder or its coating, Filters implantable into blood vessels, Prostheses, etc.
At the same time, there are some emerging companies in the field. They include DESKTOP METAL INC, SHANGHAI 9TH PEOPLES HOSPITAL SHANGHAI JIAOTONG UNIV SCHOOL MEDICINE, KOCEL INTELLIGENT FOUNDRY IND INNOVATION CT CO LTD, ADDUP, NAT INSTITUTE CORPORATION OF ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING XIAN, JABIL INC., XIAN BRIGHT LASER TECH CO LTD, CHANGSHA YUANDAHUA INFORMATION TECH CO LTD, etc. For more details, please take a look at the report in toto.
3D could be the rage of the days to come. It is likely to take over the production, design, sculpture, sophisticated high precision instruments, and research actors, to name a few. ultimately concrete-based building construction also could be taken over by this greenhorn technology. That would revolutionize the real estate, construction industry, and urban planning. Time will cease to be a limiting and nagging factor and the labor force in the field will become more suave and sophisticated. Just wait, the best is yet to come.