3D Printer of the Gods, Part 1


Sure 3D printers are cool, but where will they ultimately take us? In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Robert and Julie discuss some of the amazing things happening in 3D printing, what the future will bring and whether it will destroy us all.

Unknown Female: Welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind from Howstuffworks.com.

Robert Lamb: Hey, welcome to Stuff to Blow Your Mind. My name is Robert Lamb.

Julie Douglas: And I'm Julie Douglas.

Robert Lamb: And recently we talked about objects. We talked about the world of objects we live in, the way we become attached to different objects. But another huge part of that is of course how do we create objects. How do objects enter our world for us to relate to?

Julie Douglas: Also this idea that, you know our ability to make objects easily, which we talked about being one of the hallmarks of the 20th Century and perhaps the reason for an uptick in collecting things and hoarding, you know that this idea of putting our hands on something easily is the reason for our object fetishism. So of course we look at something like 3D printing and we begin to extrapolate the future and the future of our collection of objects and our making of objects.

Robert Lamb: Right. Because I mean one of the big things about creating objects is of course manufacturing, the ability to make objects that are the same. And this is important to varying degrees. I mean just on an esthetic level, there's like an amulet you like, then somebody is probably pouring - using a mold to pour those amulets out to make identical amulets via manufacturing.

If you're having something that requires precise parts in it, then you need all the parts to be the same so you can mass produce that item, be it a gun, an automobile or whatever. I mean obviously manufacturing is crucial to our modern object-filled technological world.

Julie Douglas: I love how you say amulet, like - like in the world of wizards and warlocks.

Robert Lamb: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Amulets - you know.

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: And -

Julie Douglas: That really is sort of a niche market.

Robert Lamb: Well, yeah. But still there are amulets as we discussed in the objects pockets, there are amulets in the sense of something magical or religious that I might buy say in an amulet market somewhere, like in Bangkok or something. But then there's of course - there's jewelry, jewelry that is molded, jewelry that is all the same, action figures, et cetera. Bits of art that are mass produced.

Julie Douglas: Okay. Yeah, so I think what you're getting at here is that we are now at a turning point in mass production, which is actually now in a more customized realm thanks to 3D printing. And 3D printing has been around for about 20 years, but we're at a point technologically where we can really take this - or the industry can really take this and do something with it in a very significant way.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Because earlier on it was more expensive, 3D printing - it was more about just creating prototypes. But we're already in an age where, like we have a 3D printer. There's a 3D printer here at How Stuff Works that we purchased for about 600 bucks. And we can print out - not anything, but a surprising variety of small plastic things can be printed out.

So everyone has seen 3D printing. I mean it doesn't really do us any good, just wastes a lot of time discussing what it is. But essentially we're talking about additive manufacturing as opposed to subtractive manufacturing.

Subtractive manufacturing means I have say a sheet of metal or I have a block of wood and I look at it and I know that the object I want to produce is inside of that. So if it's in a block of wood, then I have to carve it down or I have to have an assembly line that carves it down. If it's in a sheet of metal, then I have to have a press that punches that particular piece out of the sheet metal.

Or it could be a sheet of wood, you're using you know some sort of mechanical saw device to create the part that you need out of that wood. So I'm taking a whole and reducing it to the part I need or the thing I need.

And then we have additive manufacturing. And this means that there is no large piece that I'm cutting things down from. I'm not whittling something out of a log; I'm starting from the very tiniest bit and building up.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. What I think is so cool about that is that is that you're taking the sculpting process, which you would normally do in manufacturing, and you're sort of abstracting it into a CAD file -

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: - which then does the sculpting for you. So as you say, you're not taking away, you're sort of depositing layer upon layer. And I like to think of it in terms of an ink jet printer, right? Because that's something everybody is familiar with. You've got your ink that is deposited when the printer goes back and forth, back and forth on a piece of paper.

Well 3D printing is similar except that instead of just going back and forth and back and forth, it can go forward and backwards and up and down and that allows you to get a good spread of depositing whatever sort of polymer or plastic that you have. So - or rather than having ink, you have this plastic and it's this sculpting process, this layer upon layer, and in traditional 3D printing so far, when I talk about the layers I'm talking about the thickness of about a sheet of paper.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And there are various types of 3D printers. Of course there are the ones that just essentially are printing with a heated plastic that then cools. And then you have even more - you have crazier versions that are using say, that are using metal, that are using other substances, curing them with lasers or ultraviolet light. Sometimes it's two different types of materials that are coming together and chemically curing into a single one.

So there's a lot going on not only at the physical level, but also sometimes at the chemical level. It's some pretty fascinating stuff. The one we have here that you'll be able to see in some videos, is just a simple heated plastic situation though.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, and that's the direct 3D printing that you just referenced. So that's going in multiple layers of material over the same surface. And then as you'd mentioned too there's binder 3D printing and that is like direct 3D printing. It uses inject nozzles to apply a liquid and then form each new layer. But unlike direct printing, binder printing uses two separate materials that come together to form each printed layer. It's quicker and you can use more colors and materials.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: And then there's the photo polymerization, and this is a 3D printing technology where you have the drops of liquid plastic and they are exposed to that laser beam of ultraviolet light. And SLS, this is a really interesting one. This is used a lot. It's used sintering and it relies on a laser to melt a flame-retardant plastic powder, which then solidifies to form the printed layer.

Okay, we're gonna talk a little bit more about that in terms of a certain dress that a certain burlesque queen wore.

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: But that is awesome because it really does give you the flexibility and the strength of materials to create these objects.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And another one we're going to get to also involves this same technique except it's using a titanium powder and the laser hits the powder, fuses it together into, you know one little bit of titanium.

Julie Douglas: Okay.

Robert Lamb: It's not a dress. You'll find out what it is later.

Julie Douglas: Yes.

Robert Lamb: It's not a bulletproof dress.

Julie Douglas: No. But all this is really cool and it's very important because I mean it really has implications in nearly every corner of our existence. I mean not only can you dream up and make whatever you want from a CAD file, but 3D printing really will be incorporated into everything you touch.

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: You know from the airplane you board to the medicine you consume, and we'll talk more about this. We'll talk more about the current applications and the future applications. But I just wanted to point this out that this is not just some sort of like oh cool, I would love to have this in my home, it's gonna be like the next thing that really doctors are looking at in terms of technology. It really is going to be a game changer in how we live and how we consume.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And I think one of the cooler examples I was running across, in part because it cascades over into some of my hobbies, but I think it also serves as a good example - was an article called War Hammer at War: How Home 3D Printers are Disrupting Miniature Gaming by Alex Castle, and this is an article from January.

And he was taking a look at miniature war-gaming. If you're not familiar with this, this of course is the idea that you're playing like a role-playing game or a military strategy game on a tabletop and you have little miniatures to represent individuals or individual forces. Now of course you could use just a little cardboard cutout. You could use a piece of paper with a number, but as we all know, it gets us more into a game if we have an object that we can identify with more. It looks more like the thing it is, it looks interesting so we attach to it more.

In War Hammer miniatures and most - a lot of miniature games anyway, you'll buy the piece unpainted and/or unassembled. So there's also that IKEA factor level involved.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. I was gonna say, that I did it and there's a sense of pride, right?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. So you get it in the mail, it's like oh, it looks really cool. And then I actually painted it and I might have painted it really well. Some people out there paint these things to within an inch of their life. Other people, you know not so well, but still they did it so they have even more personal attachment to it.

Now to get a fine resin model kit like this you can spend upwards of 20, $50 on a single figure like that's smaller than your pinky. I am guilt of this at times as well. Because it's just that if you want something that's that fine a quality, there aren't that many people putting it out and then you have to pay their prices for it.

So enter 3D printing. So suddenly we have a situation where people have the ability to low and behold print small little miniatures in a pretty awesome degree of detail. Not quite up to the detail of these resin molded kits that you can buy for 20 to $50, but still decent quality.

So the article really dealt with, first of all the question of well how does this affect the bottom line for a company like Games Workshop who puts out these models, and their whole business line is selling more and more of these models to hobbyists.

Because we're fast approaching the age where someone could instead - I mean right now if you wanted to steal a bunch of these things you would have to physically steal them from a store or off the back of a truck. Or if you were really elaborate you would get them and create your own mold off them and start manufacturing themselves. But there's a lot of work involved in that.

But 3D printers see us fast approaching the age where it would be equivalent to stealing music or a movie. If you want to steal music or, you know an album, then you just need to go to the right slum on the Internet, find the right link and download it to your machine. And then if it's music then you just transfer it over to your listening device. If it's a book you just transfer it over to your reading device or print it out.

But then we're reaching the age where you would just get the CAD drawing, just the computer assisted drawing for that particular object, that miniature say, transfer that to your machine and then print it out on your printer. And then you have the little device and you have it basically free, I mean just the cost of printing it out with the plastic in your printer.

But the thing that Alex Castle argues in this article is that that's not the real danger to companies like Games Workshop. It's not the idea that everyone can print their own Games Workshop figures; it's that everyone will soon have the ability to not only print, but design their own figures.

And that doesn't mean necessarily like every Joe out there is designing his own, but it means that instead of having this one particular artistic vision you can print from, you can print from anything. It's the democratization of design. And that is what he's arguing is the real - the real risk to object manufacturing companies like Games Workshop.

Julie Douglas: Right. Because war-gaming miniatures really represents a microcosm of what's going on in the larger world. Or what will go on, right?

Robert Lamb: Right.

Julie Douglas: Because you're talking about mom and pop shops that carry these. We're talking about a community of people who gather around this, right? Who trade ideas about it and their enthusiasm about it. And so if you can just go ahead and print what you want, then you remove, you know the storefront, you remove some of the community, although I think some of that's still alive via online. But it does kind of give you an idea of what's going to happen at the macro level when this becomes more part of our life, this ability just to print off objects.

I wanted to mention too this democratization of manufacturing of creativity will also get you things like a sad little Keanu Reeves miniature if you want.

Have you seen this?

Robert Lamb: I did not see this one. No, no.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, it's a little miniature and he kind of looks like The Thinker although he doesn't have his head in his hands like the famous sculpture, The Thinker does, but he looks pretty downtrodden and you can just hang him on your monitor or really your shelf at home.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. I mean it drives - because ultimately one of the questions that comes to mind with that is how many people want that, how many people need that?

Julie Douglas: I don't know. I mean I have a connection to him through the Matrix movies, but I don't feel like oh, I've got to - I really have to have a sad little Keanu Reeves. On the other hand it makes me kind of happy inside to know that it exists.

Robert Lamb: But see that - yeah, but 3D printing is gonna allow for an age where objects like this can exist for basically one or two people. In a sense it's mass-produced but without any of the overhead. Like I think back to publishing, right? Like how much does a paperback tend to cost? Like you're talking what? Something like eight to ten bucks these days?

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: And so much of the costs that are wound up in printing - I mean it's in the actual printing of the book, the transportation of the book, the storage of the book, the amount that's going to go to the company that's producing the book. And then there's also just a little bit in there for the author generally as well.

And so when you have an eBook, generally when you're paying like say $14.00 for an eBook, you're paying an inflated price. Because you do not have to worry about for the most part where you're storing that eBook, about transporting that eBook - yes, there's some digital costs entailed there, but you don't need a warehouse, you don't need a fleet of trucks.

So we're gonna see - and already there are people are saying, you know all these eBooks - not all of them, but certainly the bigger name eBooks, they're over priced because they're still priced as if they were physical books.

Julie Douglas: But they are immediate so you're paying for that as well.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Yeah. But see - but we're going to see a similar thing then with objects, where people are going to realize hey, actually I shouldn't have to pay as much for this thing because it doesn't really exist in space until I make it exist in space on my end, or at the local 3D printing kiosk.

Julie Douglas: Right. Well - and when the technology becomes so cheap -

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: - and ubiquitous that it's just another option.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: You know you can either - you can get this as an add-on, you can customize something.

I also wonder about the arbiters of taste out there, those people who say like this is the thing you should buy and, you know I'm knowledgeable about it because I'm the design expert. You know as soon as you get more democracy in design some of that will fall away. Now, you know what are the implications of that? Who knows yet. Does that mean that, you know bad design is going to rule the world? Probably not.

Robert Lamb: Probably not. Because for the most part - well, this is arguable - but bad literature doesn't rule the world, bad art doesn't rule the world, bad music doesn't rule the world. Of course the Internet allows for there to be a lot more bad art and literature at your fingertips because it's kind of - I mean often people talk about it as the age of the amateur because everything then - anybody can publish a book on the Internet if they just write something and then find out where to publish it. And anyone can get some music up on SoundCloud or on BandCamp or something. And then we could see a similar thing with design.

But we were talking about this the other day. To what extent then do we have to worry about it becoming like MySpace. Because MySpace, for those of you old enough to remember, was the pre-Facebook social media page. And unlike Facebook where you're only allowed to do so much to the design, MySpace just let you do whatever you wanted to the design.

Which meant that you had friends when you went to their MySpace page it was completely unreadable. They would use just an obscene collection of colors, there would be sparkle fonts and guts and music playing in the background and videos and then your machine would lock up and catch on fire just trying to look at their page. Because when there's a democracy of design like that and people can do whatever they want, there's some bad things are gonna happen.

So, yeah, do we end up in a situation where we're just overflowing in just bad objects - bad sculpture art, bad poorly conceived figurines and amulets and what have you, and as we'll discuss later, clothing items? Because ultimately we're talking about all manner of things that exist physically.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. And I can't help but think about something like Pinterest, which is you could say a democracy in taste, right? Or interest. And design is simply one of those. Although Pinterest has done something very interesting, they have put a lot of sort of protocols in place about how you upload, what you upload and the quality of that.

Robert Lamb: Oh, okay.

Julie Douglas: So that when you see it visually there's a cohesiveness to it. That's the reason why I think Pinterest works out well is that those are all - they all have something that's tantalizing to the eye and again, it's in really good quality - it's reproduced in good quality.

So you sort of wonder if, you know - and this is stuff that we'll talk about more in our second part of this podcast about the future, but you sort of wonder if companies will begin to take that on if, say like Amazon says you can now have a customization option via 3D printing.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And customization is going to be huge. Because we've talked about, you know that I can make new things that I want. But we'll also have the ability to tweak things slightly. Like one of the big things that comes to mind instantly is ergonomics. You know the idea that something will - you know fits in the hand and works with your body correctly, right?

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: Be it say, just a speed a keyboard or some sort of handheld device or of course clothing. But the idea with 3D printing is that every time you bring the object into the real world after you take that CAD file and transfer that into an actual object, you have the ability to customize it to the individual. Which means color, which means making it the right size for their particular hand, left hand-right hand situations, actual clothing sizes, et cetera.

Julie Douglas: All right. We're going to take a quick break, but when we get back we are going to talk about Dita Von Teese, guns and gamers have in common.

Robert Lamb: You know Julie, when you have the entire team together it's amazing what you can get accomplished. Projects that take weeks, decisions that take days, you can boil it all down and get right to it. Get it done, right? But gathering everyone together from different locations can be time consuming, expensive, often plain impossible. I mean look at our team. We have people in house, but then we'll also have people that are teleworking from their home, we have people we're working with, they're in other cities, in other time zones -

Julie Douglas: From their bunkers.

Robert Lamb: From their bunkers even. So how do you deal with that? Well, that's why there is such a thing as GoToMeeting with HDFaces. It makes it easy for your entire team to get together online whenever you need to, no matter how far away everyone is.

Julie Douglas: That's true. With GoToMeeting you can share the same screen so you stay on the same page. And the built in HD video conferencing makes your online meetings just like being in the same room, which is really important right? Because the way that we present ourselves, our body language is, you know just a huge part of our communication.

So here's the thing, it's really simple to launch or join a meeting from anywhere using your computer, Smartphone or tablet, you can even present from your iPad.

Robert Lamb: So we love GoToMeeting and we're pretty sure that you'll get a kick out of it as well. So here's what's going to happen. We want you to try GoToMeeting free for 30 days. Don't wait. Take advantage of this special offer right now by visiting GoToMeeting.com, clicking the "Try it Free" button and then also use the promo code STUFF - that's S-T-U-F-F. Remember the promo code is STUFF, GoToMeeting.com is the website and virtual meetings are in your future.

All right, we're back. We're talking about 3D printing, which you know on the surface is just a word that you see in a lot of headlines on the Internet along with some sort of weird photo of something being printed with a thing that looks kind of like a crazy futuristic slushy machine. But we're also talking about the - what is essentially the unholy gateway through which the Internet can take physical form and destroy the world. It is the mouth by which the Internet may vomit into the real world.

Julie Douglas: And vomit the sediments of plastic upon us.

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: That is the future for us.

Robert Lamb: Everything that is - that is thought of on the Internet, you know because on the Internet we have a democracy of ideas, and imagine all of that to take physical reality. And you can imagine all of the best and worst case scenarios therein.

Julie Douglas: All right, well before we start prognosticating about the future, let's start talking about what we have currently available or what has been put out there by 3D printers -

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: - because it's pretty interesting. You had mentioned ergonomics and the ability to customize. Well it turns out that in 2012, the University of Warwick, some researchers there created a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices.

Okay, so what does all that mean? Well that means that gamers could have a really cool controller that is ergonomically fit to their hands that they could print out. Now, I think that if you're a gamer - if you're not a gamer that probably is like so what. But I think that if you spend a significant amount of time, you know playing games, then this is really actually a very cool thing. Because the ability to customize that means that you probably can get that, you know shave off that 1/18 of a second to do whatever it is that you're doing in a game.

Robert Lamb: You could blast the enemy, you know et cetera. Really, it would change your life. Life changing.

Julie Douglas: It could. It could. The material that they are using is called carbomorph and then that's what enables users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structure. So very cool.

Robert Lamb: And then of course there's the realm of jewelry and dresses. Now already, even if you just go on Etsy you can find some - a lot of different opportunities to purchase 3D printed jewelry. Because right now the technology is easily at the level where you could design and print jewelry. Like if we really wanted to with our 3D printer here at work, we could design some jewelry, print it out and it would look pretty good. I mean because the level of detail, even by the thing we have here -

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: - is pretty phenomenal because it's layering - you know all these layers are coming together, it's building it from the ground up. And you can have a single piece of plastic that has details inside it even that you just would not be able to produce through other means of production.

Julie Douglas: Right. And right now the jewelry that is produced by 3D printing is - you know you can look at it and say that was 3D printing because there's a sort of style to it -

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: - that is being mandated by the materials that you can use right now and by some of the designs or the CAD files.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, most of them are not in titanium, right?

Julie Douglas: Yeah. Yeah.

[Crosstalk]

Robert Lamb: [inaudible] we were talking about sort of 3D printing plastic that you see in most of these operations.

Julie Douglas: And awesome geometric shapes, very sculptural looking. But you can look at a piece and go ah, that was 3D printed.

Robert Lamb: Right. But then there's the world of dresses and fine eveningwear, which brings us to Dita Von Teese.

Julie Douglas: Yes. Of course. A New York designer, Michael Schmidt and architect Francis Bitonti created a 3D printed dress for the burlesque dancer, Dita Von Teese. And it is so - I mean it is beautiful to look at it and it is amazing.

And I will say this, like the dimensions of her body are architecturally suited to this endeavor. It's a floor-length nylon gown and it was made using the sintering - the SLS method where the material is built up in layers from plastic powder fused together with a laser. There are spirals based on the golden ratio that were applied to a computer rendering of her body so the garment fit her exactly. But not only that, I mean just - again if you're talking about the golden ratio and you're talking about someone with her proportions then you can really see this design and the golden ratio at play. So that's a very cool thing.

Robert Lamb: Now it's worth pointing out that the dress was not printed as one piece or anything like that.

Julie Douglas: No.

Robert Lamb: They designed it and essentially it's kind of like plastic chain maille as a dress. It's the kind of dress that Dita Von Teese would wear for a photo shoot. But not necessarily the kind of dress that the average person or even Dita Von Teese would say, wear to dinner.

Julie Douglas: I don't know. She's -

Robert Lamb: She might. Okay. She might.

Julie Douglas: She might. She puts the effort in them, you know.

Robert Lamb: She does.

Julie Douglas: But yeah, 17 pieces.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, so they print out each piece and then the pieces are there and you have to blow them off, deal with any, you know dust or flap that needs to be removed from it in some cases, and then I believe they applied a coating to them as well and then you have to stitch them together.

Julie Douglas: I think they painted it too.

Robert Lamb: Painted, yeah.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. But it really is a gorgeous piece and actually reminds of something that you would see in Blade Runner.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: I can't remember the actress who played the part, but I mean that's -

Robert Lamb: Sean Young?

Julie Douglas: Yes. It looks like something Sean Young would wear as that character.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Yeah. She does look like a replicant in that photo for sure. But it is a great example of something really - really cool, really artistically sound that the pieces of it are generated through 3D printing. So a lot of the things we end up looking at - the current and near future applications of 3D printing involve printing out the pieces that are then assembled to create the finished product.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, like guns, right?

Robert Lamb: Guns. Yes.

Julie Douglas: And this is a very loaded - no pun intended - topic here because 3D printing makes obtaining an actual working gun really easy.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: Because you can get gun kits, right? But there are certain parts of the gun that cannot be supplied because you can't just put together a semiautomatic firearm. Although in the case of 3D printing you can print the receiver of an AR-15, and this is one of the most restricted pieces of semiautomatic firearms.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, there are a couple of different projects with a goal of creating working 3D printed firearms. One is called Defense Distributed and one is called Have Blue. And they're both pretty - it's really hard to get a - I get the sense that both of these products are as much about exploring and publicizing and causing - and stirring public conversation about 3D printing as opposed to actually like hey guys, let's make a bunch of guns. Like these are not - these are not international terrorists - not here or anything.

But it is an interesting idea because some people are worried about this. Some people will say what are we gonna do when we reach the point where you can - everyone can print out a gun at their home. And, you know we frequently find that technology gets here before legislation catches up with it, before even culture catches up with it and realizes how to handle it.

Like right now you could probably print a good shiv or knife without question with a 3D printer. But they're talking about indeed printing out all the pieces you would need to create a gun except for the bullets of course. Because there are chemical components there.

Julie Douglas: Now, the gun - this picture again was tested and it was fired six times before it fell apart.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: So of course people are like oh, it's nothing to worry about. But then other people are like, well it is actually because this is just the beginnings of this technology and this ability to produce a gun.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Because there were - because the thing was that basically the force of firing it caused it to snap off at the - either at the handle or at the stock.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. And it was a less powerful cartridge than is normally used.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: So that also is - for people who are saying - proponents who are saying oh it's fine, are saying well, it's not even the right cartridge. But again -

Robert Lamb: But still they were able to create a gun that fired. And to me that alone is impressive because you only - how many bullets do you need to cause irreparable damage, you know?

Julie Douglas: Right.

Robert Lamb: How many bullets do you need to - I mean you don't even need a bullet to rob a bank, you know. You could just - you could have soap in the shape of a gun, right? So, if you were able -

Julie Douglas: Or a duck.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, a duck. I mean if you're able to make a Saturday night special on your printer, then that is terrifying enough. Though as pointed out in this article we're looking at, Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and former editor of Wired U.S. said we don't have to worry about it in America because right now it's far easier to just go to Walmart and buy a gun as opposed to actually figuring out how to print one out at home.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. I guess you could say that gun legislation is sort of up in the air anyway.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: That being said, I think it's nice to look out, you know five, ten years from now.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Totally. Because like I say the technology will be here - inevitably the technology will be here before culture and law catches up with it.

Julie Douglas: All right, so - okay, we've talked about guns, dresses, jewelry, gamer controllers - what about adult novelty items?

Robert Lamb: Yes. Now this is interesting. There was a Vice article that dealt with this - and we're not going to go into detail on this because this is - I passed the article off to Cristen Conger over at The Mom Stuff - Stuff Mom Never Told You, so maybe they'll do something with it a little later on. They can go a little more risqué with their content.

But essentially we're talking about the same thing with any of the 3D printing, the ability to print out what you want with the specifications that you desire in the comfort of your own home. So take those factors and then apply that to the world of adult novelty toys.

Julie Douglas: You know what I thought was interesting about that article was that they profiled several women entrepreneurs in this field who were saying, you know we see that there is a lack, and there's this customization available. And the author, Kelly Bourdet, she had a really interesting take at the end of the article to say that there's kind of two directions here going on.

When you think about adult novelty toys and you think about this technology, she says there's a camp that utilizes it to capture reality and provide normal people with the opportunity to possess a hyper-realistic object that reflects their anatomy. And she says it's grounded in this idea that there's something meaningful in possessing a physical extension of our bodies.

And then she says there's another camp that says that there's an emerging open source design which re-imagines what a sex object can be. Like for instance Freud's bust or Just Bieber's head.

Robert Lamb: I saw that, yes. Because there was a whole website already that has -

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: - different CAD files that you can download and print.

Julie Douglas: And I'm sorry I just had to say that, but I did because I'm reading her quote. But she says that these are creative innovators and they're newcomers to the sex industry. She says they're pushing forward the vision of a sex toy for better or worse.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: I thought that was kind of interesting because that really - at the end of the day when you're talking about customization and you're talking about creating your heart's desire and you're talking about imagination, this really does allow someone to take it to the nth degree -

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: - and to re-contextualized normalcy.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And it also comes down to who would - I mean some people don't - you know have no qualms about walking into a shop and purchasing such an item. Some people have no qualms about having it show up on their credit card history or their Amazon purchase history or what have you. But for some people, like just printing it out - like that's fewer steps removed from either of those, so -

Julie Douglas: I just see like - I think the early adopters - I know I hate to say this because it sounds like I'm trying to be perverted, but I'm not. But I really think it's gonna probably be like seniors.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: Because if you look at the data in terms of STDs, it's actually the senior population that this is growing in, which points to this fact that people are living longer and their sexual appetites are not necessarily going away. And yet this is a group of people who would be a little bit more modest or conservative.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: Although I would really hate to sort of walk in on my grandmother printing one of these.

Robert Lamb: It's a lovely sight.

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: Now, of course this is not an area where lives would be saved. Their lives may be made a little happier in some cases, but 3D printing is also something that is already improving the quality of life and is only going to become more and more of a lifesaving technology as the years roll on.

For instance, of course important here is the idea of printing bones. Printing - in one case we saw a 3D printed implant that was used to replace 75 percent of a man's skull in a surgical procedure and this was pretty recently. So this is pretty fascinating. Because again we're talking about a very personalized object. It has to be customized to fit a particular skull, a particular wound or a placement area, and this is right up 3D printings alley. Like this fits it to a tee.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. And what's really cool about that is that the implant is made of polyetherketoneketone and it's a biocompatible polymer that won't interfere with x-rays. So you also get the material right here.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Yeah, the manufacturer in this case was Oxford Performance Materials, FDA approved just in the last month or so. And it's estimated that 500 people in the U.S. each month could take advantage of this new procedure once it, you know really gets - it's rolled out to everybody.

Julie Douglas: Another current use is - it is used in the dental industry in the creation of crowns, bridges and temporaries. And using this technology even long-term temporaries can be created now, meaning that 3D printers can really print you new teeth.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: I mean this is - when we start talking about transhumanism in the ways that we can augment ourselves, our humanness or even keep - just maintain our bodies in the style of operative grade, this is what we're talking about. Like just go ahead and print some new teeth out.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. It's pretty amazing to think about just printing new teeth. And then - and we're not limited to teeth either.

Recently we had - well, this wasn't recently, this was in 2011 in the Netherlands, but they were able to use a 3D printed jaw for an 83-year-old woman's face. She had lost the jaw due to some bone infection. And the implant is really incredible because it has articulated joints and it has all these porous areas that are there to promote muscle attachment, and then grooves to direct the regrowth of nerves of veins.

So it's not just - it's amazing because we're not just producing a rough facsimile of the jaw, you know like just a piece of plastic or metal or what have you that we just shove in there, but a piece that works with flesh. That becomes a part of the body in a way that other objects just cannot.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. And of course that actually is pointing toward like future future when we are able to get a little bit more nuanced and complex with what we can do now in terms of printing human tissue and actually print organs. We'll talk more about that in Part 2.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And I should also add the jaw in this case, this was the example that was printed using titanium powder that's been heated and fused by a laser.

Julie Douglas: Oh, okay.

Robert Lamb: But I can't help but think what if they had done that with Dita Von Teese's dress. That would have been kind of cool. Titanium, bulletproof, you can wear -

Julie Douglas: You just can't stop thinking about the dress.

Robert Lamb: It's a pretty cool dress.

Julie Douglas: It is cool. All right, so the end all be all is a printer that can actually print out its own parts.

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: Is this happening?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. I mean - well, my understanding is that there is a 3D printer where they say, hey, these are the parts made to make this printer, here are the CAD files, go at it.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, it's a company called Rep-Rep and they have 3D printer and they have open sourced it to say like here are the parts. So it allows anyone to share the fruits of their 3D printing.

Robert Lamb: It's pretty phenomenal. I mean you would have to stretch - it would be a stretch to say that it is self-replicating technology -

Julie Douglas: It is not yet.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. No more than say a Xerox machine is self-replicating because you can take the blueprints for a Xerox machine and copy them through a Xerox machine. But it's still - it's still pretty phenomenal. It sort of is foreshadowing of things to come when we reach an age when we have self - it is foreshadowing of an age to come when we have self-replicating technology everywhere.

Julie Douglas: And you know what happen when that - when we get there?

Robert Lamb: Then we have the singularity. Then we have -

Julie Douglas: That's what I'm saying.

Robert Lamb: - robots taking over.

Julie Douglas: Robot doom. All right. So that's probably a pretty good place for us to stop. We will pick up with Part 2 in the next episode.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And for the time being though I want you to think about this. What do you think is the biggest threat posed by 3D printing? Because we don't have any problem going negative here. Is 3D printing more liable to bury us under a mountain of ridiculous junk that we've printed out?

Julie Douglas: Sad little Keanu Reeves.

Robert Lamb: Sad little Keanu Reeves, Justine Bieber, adult novelty items, I mean every random toy or figure or amulet or thing that we just happen to see. Are we going to be buried under the vomit the Internet?

Or is the threat more coming from singularity, from self-replicating machines later on or from everyone being able to print out a Saturday night special, you know in their basement? Or is the threat going to be just poor design taking over and just our infrastructure collapses under it? I don't know. There are various points to look at it.

Julie Douglas: Or is this humanity's savior?

Robert Lamb: Is it?

Julie Douglas: Will it allow us to live until we're 500 years old?

Robert Lamb: It reminds me of the old song, "I don't care if it rains or freezes, as long as I've got my plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of my car," you know. Plastic savior. There you go.

Julie Douglas: All right.

Robert Lamb: Okay, so if you want to chat with us, if you want to share something with us, shoot us a link - what have you, you can find us on Facebook and you can find us on Tumbler. We are Stuff to Blow Your Mind on both of those. And we also have a Twitter feed where we go by the handle Blow the Mind.

Julie Douglas: And you can also drop us a line at Blowthemind@discovery.com.

Unknown Female: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit Howstuffworks.com.

[End of Audio]

Duration: 39 minutes

Topics in this Podcast: 3D Printing