The Incredible Potential of 3D Printing, 4D Printing and Beyond

3D Printing is one of the most promising new technologies as far as increasing access to industry goes. Along with reducing barriers to entry this technology could eventually eliminate the need for factories filled with many different kinds of machinery. With 3D printing you can print a whole product from the comfort of your own home, just by downloading a file or even creating a product yourself in virtual reality. Public interest in the device speaks it for itself: “The market is expected to hit $7,240 million by 2019, with global forecasts calling for $30.19 billion by 2022.

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It is not necessarily common knowledge that manufacturers utilise a business strategy called “Built in obsolescence” to increase profits by decreasing the lifespan of a product. They may refuse to use the best material, or release more models than they need to. often allowing it to “expire” shortly after the warranty does. This creates a problem with pollution, but beyond that it’s not actually that useful to the corporation either.

With 3D Printing anybody with access to a printer and the right material can potentially create the strongest version of a product, every time and without excess waste. It is becoming increasingly evident that the future of our economy will depend more and more on space, and computer technology, including the control of electromagnetic and quantum forces at the subatomic scale. The best thing about 3D printing is that it lies at a rare intersection between all of this.

3D printing and Cryptocurrency are just the start. Quantum Computing will allow the exchange of  information through entangled subatomic particles like photons. Add to the formula machine learning and you have a potent dose of unfathomable complexity. 3D Printing will need to play a pivotal role in the unfolding of a new economy through bridging the disparate physical and digital realms. We are certainly seeing the effects of the internet, and information processing power in politics.

If that is any testament to the future than we will need to pay an equal amount of attention to the development of sustainable energy as a countermeasure to pollution that will accompany an increased energy output. It is also a necessity that we expand in to space in order to avoid out of control inflation and environmental collapse. Luckily 3D printing is useful on the great frontier as regolithic rock can be crushed, smelted and printed in to seamless parts for a colony or spaceship.

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For as far back as we can remember access to manufacturing equipment has been a privilege granted to a handful of wealthy corporations.   It is true that for a long time billowing pillars of smoke spotted the urban landscape and dangerous factories defined much of the employment available. This was especially the case in the 1940s where competition with axis forces propelled the US in to a manufacturing frenzy unparalleled in modern history. The mortality rate of factory workers probably only rivalled by those soldiers who fought on the battlefield.

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Luckily, Since World War II breakthroughs in robotics and engineering have streamlined the process of assembling products and alleviated much of the manpower required for the job. Concerns over safety and climate change have shut down a lot of the older, more obsolete factories. However, access to manufacturing for the most part has remained in the hands of a select few. In order for a company or individual to acquire a sophisticated object they still have to buy it or the expensive, heavy industrial equipment required to produce it.

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It has certainly become a trend of the 21st century to mitigate irrelevant steps to production and distribution.  Whether it be Amazons delivery drones or the growing tendency to shift from mass storage to a “just on time” model of delivery. It is becoming less and less necessary to employ intermediaries. Along with Decentralized Autonomous Organisations 3D printing is on the cutting edge of this transition. 3D printing utilises a process called “additive manufacturing” where thermoplastic layers are oozed on to each other by a nozzle linked to a computer interface. The heated plastic then cools to form a product in 3 dimensions.

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This technology actually began with the invention of stereolithography by japanese inventor Dr Kodama. Of course, stereolithography machines were much larger than 3D printers and were originally meant for heavy industrial environments. They also did not employ the same computer interface technology. For the longest time, stereolithography and even the earliest prototypes of CAD based 3D printing remained patented by industries.  It wasn’t until 2009 that the expiration of a stratsys patents allowed for the adoption of this technology by mainstream consumers. Only 4 years later in 2013 President Obama proposed 3D printing as a way to bolster the US manufacturing economy in his “State of the Union” speech.

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Since the increase in media visibility and adoption of 3D printing by consumers it has advanced exponentially. Two years ago Dollo released the first 3d printer that can almost print an entire version of itself minus the electrical circuitry and metallic alloys. This soon may change as recently engineers have actually figured out a way to print small circuits, super strong aluminum, and even concrete.

It will only take so longer before someone  “puts together the pieces”. When you can print an entire 3d printer with another 3D printer the price of production will reduce to the cost of thermoplastic itself and probably not so far after that will it become commonplace to see one in every home and library.

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Though advances in 3D printing certainly benefit the individuals, there are a few companies who have embraced the change including Ford Motors and Adidas. The latter of which has teamed up with Carbon 3D to print 100 000 “futurecraft” midsoles by 2018. Carbon 3D is by far the most influential company in the industry and in 2015 released the fastest 3D printer on the market. Recently they’ve also announced their plans to release a ‘Meter Mix Dispense’ system which will reduce the cost of ‘RPU’ polyurethane thermoplastic material by 40% positioning them as the fastest and cheapest company in the market.

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“No other 3D printing company has offered this because they do not have the combination of a complete system for 3D manufacturing combined with first-class materials that enable additive manufacturing at scale. Carbon now does offer that complete package.”

Another useful quality of additive manufacturing is the ability to print “seamless” objects. This feature is of particular interest to NASA, who recently printed the first seamless rocket engine igniter using automatic blown powder laser deposition. A 3D printing strategy where layered nozzle ejection of alloy powder is combined with a superhot trailing laser beam. Like Thermoplastic, the alloy powder is melted in to place and solidifies in to a single seamless object upon cooling.

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Rockets undergo an intense amount of kinetic and thermal turbulence. From take off pressures, to micro meteorites, solar currents and even space junk – the kind of unpredictable events that can occur in outer space require more structural integrity than pretty much any other technology on the planet. Seams often present a challenge to such high standards as any kind of turbulence or heat can loosen and deform the individual compartments. Aside from obvious safety issues periodic repairs can hamper efficiency and increase the time required to travel somewhere.

This is only part of the reason why 3D printing is so appealing to the organisation.  Not only will they be able to keep their astronauts safe but reducing steps to assembly will eventually allow them to build rockets in half the time and cut costs by 1/3rd. This efficient, clean and automated construction technology is especially useful for asteroid mining among other ventures.

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One of the most interesting innovations by far is 4D printing – a new technique that transforms the concept of assembly as we know it. Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Tech, Xi’an Jiaotong University in China, and Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have figured out a way to eliminate the mechanical post processing step from 3D printing. Instead they are programming an amorphous memory polymer to change shape in exposure to heat or water. No need for layers of hardened thermoplastic when you can actually program materials to transform in response to the environment. Just use software to simulate your object, print sheets of polymer and you have a material that can print a house that changes with the weather. This is also useful in space.

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Probably even more useful to NASA is the advent of 5D Printing. It employs the same additive manufacturing technique as 3D printing and simply adds another axis of rotation to the printing press. What you do is program the “base” of a printer to rotate and tilt as well. That is the space where nozzles eject thermoplastic on to. 3D printing may be more durable than conventional plastic objects but apply enough pressure to the “adhesion lines” and you can still damage it. 5D printing eliminates adhesion lines by getting at the difficult angles required to cover them up. The result is smoother curvy objects that are 3 to 5 times stronger and use 25% less material.

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With all the benefits to 3D printing it certainly seems inevitable that this technology will come to replace contemporary manufacturing as we know it. One concern raised by economists is the effect that this will have on global trade. If anyone can print an object from home than what is there to motivate countries like China and the US to co-operate in exchange for goods or services? In one report, 3D printing is expected to whipe out one quarter of global trade by 2060. It’s important to remember that the effects of trade are felt throughout the entire political infrastructure. Countries often use sanctions as a preliminary, safe alternative to armed conflict – even the name of larger alliances like NATO have trade written in to their acronym. What can we do to prepare for this?

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It would seem that with the development of an international media and  With the introduction of Aethers Decentralised Autonomous Organisation and “Bitnations” model for a digital jurisdiction we may very well be able to scale the introduction of 3D printing with the equally autonomous Blockchain technology, and various crypto-currencies that have expanded so rapidly over the past decade.


04/16/17 Introduction to 3D Printing: History, Processes, and Market Growth

04/24/17 New 4D prints transform into permanent shapes when heat is applied


06/24/16 3D Printing is So Last Week…Say Hello to “5D Printing” at Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs!









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