3D Printer of the Gods II

<strong>3D Printer of the Gods II:</strong> Oh, you're into 3D printing? How 20 years ago. It's one thing to print in the three spatial dimensions, quite another to factor in the fourth dimension of time. But it's happening. And in this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Julie and Robert break down exactly what it's all about and discuss the future of manufacturing.

Unknown Male: This episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind is brought to you by JackThreads.

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 this is Part 2 of our two parter on 3D printing, 3D Printers of the Gods. The idea here and the snazzy title of course refers to the idea that 3D printers essentially allow almost any idea that's out there to take physical form, which in a way is kind of God-like. And it forces us to really rethink what the future's gonna be like, what our relationship with objects is going to be and really also it makes us think what our relationship with objects is now.

We talked in the last podcast about some of the current things that are going on, such as Dita Von Teese wearing a dress that was 3D printed, people trying to 3D print the perfect plastic gun, like an actual gun that kills people.

Julie Douglas: Octogenarians printing out novelty adult toys.

Robert Lamb: Exactly.

Julie Douglas: Adult novelty toys.

Robert Lamb: Exactly. And today we are going to - we talked a little bit about the future in the last one, but this time we're gonna go a little more detailed on that. We're going to talk about some of the near future revolutions in 3D printing that are really going to change the world.

Julie Douglas: It's true because although 3D printers aren't quite the transporter devices we hoped for at this point, the fact of the matter is that they are rearranging matter and they are sort of defying space and time when it comes to objects and to consumerism and to making what you want when you want it.

Robert Lamb: So some of the things that are going to be happening very soon with 3D printing that are going to change everything. First of all, we're looking at 3D printing reaching the industrial strength level. Now 3D printing as we had mentioned before has been a part of industry for about 20 years now. And it's been useful in rapidly producing prototypes in some cases. But we're talking about a situation where 3D printing will be able to produce objects of high quality, industrial grade that can be a part of automobiles, et cetera.

Now some automobiles already have some 3D printing parts, but we're talking about an age when pretty much all parts are going to be produced by 3D printing as opposed to traditional subtractive methods such as printing the pieces out of a sheet of metal or using a mold to pour - you know, pouring a mold to create the device.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, because I mean at the end of the day when you're talking about the future of 3D printing you're talking about materials that are lighter, that can be made faster and can be customized, so it's a perfect fit for manufacturing. So you know you're going to see more of these printers in factories just printing out parts. You'll also see them in the nanomanufacturing industry, which we'll talk more about.

And then you're gonna see it just in actual like, hey, we're gonna build something - we're going to build a building. And so imagine large blocks of like custom building materials being printed out on a job site.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And to go back to prototyping real quick, you're just going to see that speeded up even more. The ability to quickly produce a working prototype for a new product, it's just going to be - it's going to be expedientially improved.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. In fact the D-shaped printer, which was created by Enrico Dini, is capable now of printing a two-story building complete with rooms, stairs, pipes and partitions, and it uses nothing but sand and inorganic binding compound. And then the resulting material has the same durability as reinforced concrete with - this is super cool - the look of marble.

Robert Lamb: Wow.

Julie Douglas: Of course now you can only use this on rounded structures, but the process itself takes approximately about a fourth of the time as traditional buildings. And it doesn't really require any specialized knowledge or skill set.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Because a lot of - you know we get into the idea of printing nanomaterials, and we've talked before about like - when we're talking about space elevators or super tall buildings we always come back around to these nanomaterials. Because when you're building things up from the smallest level up, which to a certain extent is 3D printing in itself, it's the idea that I'm starting small and building everything up from the bottom.

But if you start really small, if you're building things up from the smallest structures possible, then you're able to create super strong materials capable of tethering a space elevator in place or creating the sort of skyscrapers that right now we can only dream of.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, it doesn't change physics, but it changes the way that materials act in the realm of physics.

Robert Lamb: Right.

Julie Douglas: Which is really cool because that is really liberating as someone who is a designer and someone who is trying to do something like say a spacecraft.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. I mean it's the difference between me sewing two things together or me sewing up a hole in my hoodie or something as opposed to an actual seamstress or a sewing machine doing it. You know, and the difference between a big visible stitch and an invisible stitch. And it's just the finer level of detail, the finer grade of craftsmanship that you get when you build things up from that very small level.

Julie Douglas: And when you're speaking about building up things from a very small level, of course you have to start thinking about the medical ramifications of this.

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: Because -

Robert Lamb: Because we're built up from a very small level.

Julie Douglas: Exactly. Exactly. And we have experiments in printing soft tissue that are under way now. But the idea is that if you can master that you may begin to print veins and arteries -

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: - to be used in operations. And then, you know taken to the extreme, you can then print organs. And this -

Robert Lamb: Oh, and you're not even taking it to the extreme. The extreme is of course -

Julie Douglas: Whole body.

Robert Lamb: - printing whole bodies.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. I mean which not only would vanquish the whole organ donor problem that we have, right? But I mean you - right, you just hey, here's another me.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: I'm just gonna keep it in storage until I need to replace myself.

Robert Lamb: And this is a great example of 3D printer of the gods here because we're essentially talking about a 3D printer creating objects, creating a person as nature creates a person. You know the idea that it's - it's just - it's created from the smallest piece, it's grown.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, and there's an element of biomimicry about this. We'll talk about this more when we talk about 4D printing. But it is interesting that we're getting sort of back to the basics when we're talking about 3D printing because it really is sort of saying let's take nature's way of building up and see if we can recreate this process in a machine.


Robert Lamb: Yes. This is going to be huge, yeah.

Julie Douglas: I mean this is what I think is going to be one of the most interesting aspects about 3D printing because I think it will greatly change our behavior. And you and I talked about this in the last podcast, the last episode, is that you know one day you could go to Amazon and you could click on a box there that says I want to customize this because Amazon has now decided to use this technology with their companies and their manufacturers. And it's just going to be something pretty route, like hey, I need to get this new sink but I really would love to have - I don't know, some sort of crazy design of the Empire State Building -

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: - you know, in it. Or -

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I mean - well, yeah -

Julie Douglas: - I don't know that's not a good example, but -

Robert Lamb: - I mean we already have some of those options for instance with some of our digital and some non-digital media. You want a book? Okay. Do you want it in hardback, do you want it in soft back, do you want it in paperback or do you want it digital, you know?

Julie Douglas: Right.

Robert Lamb: And how do you want that album? Do you want it in vinyl? Do you want it on CD, do you want it on a retro cassette, which is coming back in some cases. Or do you want it digitally? All right. Well, we have five options for that. Do you want it in FLAC, you want an MP3, you want it in - and you know it just goes on and on.

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: So you'll see that kind of stuff when you buy things. All right, what size do you want it in? What color do you want it? Also upload the dimensions of your hand - upload your actual physical dimensions and we'll make sure that it fits you to a tee.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. So try to imagine that. So let's say that you want a specific design that you can get to pick from all these stock files of this specific design or, you know stock art. And then - yeah, you can upload - if the object relates to your body, then you upload your own dimensions.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: And then Amazon surely will deliver that to you within the hour because now - even now they're trying to do same day delivery -

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: - so since we're extrapolating the future we have to think about this, you know five years out.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And you're gonna see that it's gonna be like with any technological innovation, there are going to be companies that adapt and shift and survive, and then there are going to be ones that fall to the wayside. And there are going to be new entrepreneurs that pop up that are like hey, this is how people are going to be consuming, what can we do to game it? There are going to be products that come out that are specifically aimed at 3D printing.

Julie Douglas: Well see, I'm glad that you brought that up because it really does change the landscape of companies in their ability to produce. So, you know I wonder does Amazon then begin to produce items instead of just distribute? Because essentially they can take over. If you can print anything, then why even have manufacturers that you distribute? Why just - why not just be the point person in that process.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And then to what extent do these companies become the means of creating, you know. I mean because like we mentioned before, I mean everybody - everybody wants to be an artist, everyone wants to be a writer, everyone wants to be a musician to varying degrees. The Internet is a great example of all sorts of different people producing something and wanting to share it with the world. And then take that and translate it to the world of objects. So, do these companies end up becoming more and more involved in user-generated content, like the Wikipedia of objects.

Julie Douglas: Right. And, you know our storefronts replaced by just a storefront?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Do you go to the mall and it's just one 3D printing kiosk -well probably multiple kiosks, where you go in and you print out the things you want. I mean maybe you have a situation where the stores are still there so that you can shop. People like to look at things before they buy them. But then when you decide, you print it out. You go to the kiosk, you print it out. And you can print out, you know your new shoes, your new dress, a toy for the kid and maybe even your hamburger.

Julie Douglas: I was just gonna say, you could also print - if you're a little bit, you know you feel like you need a nosh, then hey, this is an ability that Cornell University's Fab Home - Fab@Home project can actually do right now. They use gel-like substances that can be combined with other materials including artificial flavor - yum - to mimic the taste and mouth feel of many different foods.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, this was really interesting because they also talked a little bit about the Uncanny Valley of foods with this because the gel-like substance called hydrocolloids is apparently a little unsettling. Like it's filled with artificial flavoring, and you can print it say in the shape of a turkey leg, sure, but if it doesn't taste like a turkey leg, it's gonna be a little weird. So they've really kind of decided that they need to work on the taste first and then worry about printing it out into the form - into the actual shapes.

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: Which makes sense. And maybe to a certain extent it's - I mean it makes me think of candy, right? And specifically banana-flavored candy. You ever had banana-flavored candy?

Julie Douglas: No, I don't think I have.

Robert Lamb: It doesn't taste like bananas.

Julie Douglas: Okay.

Robert Lamb: And to a certain extent orange candy doesn't taste like oranges, but you get into that area, how close can the taste be to the thing and still get away with it? And to what extent does it become a new thing?

Julie Douglas: Well, yeah - yeah.

Robert Lamb: Because like when you're eating orange candy it's nothing like an actual orange in flavor or in texture, but -

Julie Douglas: I know. I was just thinking back to the '20s and we talked about - when we did the food episode and we were talking about the candy that became a stand in for a meal.

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: Because you remember people didn't have much money and they had those turkey meals and it was - I don't know if it actually was supposed to taste like a roast turkey or roast chicken, but -

Robert Lamb: No, I think it was just - I think it had chocolate in it, but it was -

Julie Douglas: Yeah, I think it was the idea.

Robert Lamb: The idea was hey, you need a meal? Here's a meal. Peel it back and eat it.

Julie Douglas: So we have evidence that we've done this before and certainly if you don't have the resources, then maybe you can accept that. And after all, it's a shot of glucose anyway, so your body needs it.

Robert Lamb: Look at some of the stuff people eat already. Like a chicken nugget is nothing like anything real. It's - you know it's made - you know you look at stuff with pink slime. I mean we're already manufacturing unreal food out of strange things, so -

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: - and people love it. So -

Julie Douglas: Pink slime is found in hamburger meat, right?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Yeah.

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: So I have no doubt that 3D printing could easily create something that people would love if not tolerate.

Julie Douglas: Okay, so -

Robert Lamb: And specifically when you're talking about like say long-term space missions.

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: I mean these are environments where yes, you want people in space to want to eat because sometimes there's less of an appetite there. But ultimately, you know that's survival food, right?

Julie Douglas: Well, and so that just made me think about the parallels between the Uncanny Valley and similar acronyms for food, right? Because there are some people who will say the Uncanny Valley isn't as uncanny or creepy as we think.

Robert Lamb: Right.

Julie Douglas: You know we see a robot that's supposed to look like a human or act like a human or move like a human and they don't because they are not. And it unsettles us, but we get used to things, right?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. I mean new food is Uncanny Valley when you first have it.

Julie Douglas: That's true.

Robert Lamb: Like, you know have Thai food for the first time and you'll be like this is a little uncanny. But, you know you'll love it in a week.

Julie Douglas: Guarantee you.

Robert Lamb: Guaranteed. All right, we're gonna take a quick break and when we come back we're gonna talk even more about the future of 3D printing and we're gonna talk about 4D printing. Wows a.

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All right, we're back. And we're gonna talk here about 4D printing. And just to be clear, the term 4D printing, it's a little bit of science headline bait, you know.

Julie Douglas: It's misleading.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. It looks great in a headline, but when you really get down to the meat of it, it's not - you're not really printing in space and time - no more than you're always printing in space and time.

Julie Douglas: It's kind of like 3D printing on steroids. And what we're talking about when we're talking about 4D printing is passive self-assembly systems.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Which is still pretty awesome, don't let me underplay it.

Julie Douglas: It's very cool. Self-assembly MIT researcher, Skylar Tibbits is sort of the face of this right now in terms of self-assembly. And when I talk about it being on steroids we're talking about it allowing 3D printers - allowing to print parts to self-assemble and reassemble into a number of products. So each part would be comprised of a regular rigid plastic layer along with an outer layer made of smart materials. Not dumb ones.

And then when they're submerged in water the smart materials absorb and they expand and they cause the parts to move and form a pre-specified object.

Robert Lamb: It's like if you're wearing tight jeans and then you get rained on really heavily or you fall in a swimming pool and then they start to shrink up and then your form changes. And you go into like stiff-legged mode because you can't move your legs anymore. It's kind of like that. The outer layer is the jeans - the blue jeans, and then the inner layer is you.

Julie Douglas: Yeah. Well, I mean I think what's really interesting, and this is from a ten talk that you sent me that Tibbits is talking about the future of this and why it makes so much sense. He's saying that currently we build skyscrapers with about 500,000 to one million parts, which all told takes about two years.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. And that's not even counting the dead gangsters in the concrete.

Julie Douglas: Exactly.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: Or the vampires.

Robert Lamb: Yes.

Julie Douglas: And then he says though that we should look toward natural systems to get a better idea of how to use 4D or self-assembly. He says that we have proteins that have two million types that can fold in 10,000 nanoseconds. And he says we also have DNA with three billion base pairs we can replicate in roughly an hour.

So he said that out of all this complexity in our natural systems there's still this idea that they're really efficient at what they do. Far more efficient than anything that we can build and far more complex than anything that we can build. And so he says we should look toward this model because it's really good in making something out of as little energy as possible.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. I mean and right now we're talking about again little - like a 3D printed stick that when water is added it becomes a cube. But he's talking long term the idea of the self-assembly of large-scale structures, which is pretty phenomenal. I like how in the talk he gets a philosophic too and talks about ultimately objects that have desire. Not only do we desire them, but they have - they have a desire in the sense that there is something that they will be. I mean it gets a little weird when -

Julie Douglas: They want to be something?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. When you get into - I mean it's kind of like when you talk about memory, like say a spring -

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: - having memory. A spring, it doesn't have memory in the sense that we speak of it, but it does have engineering and a physics level of memory and this would be at that same level of desire. So you could also argue that say, my ear buds always have a desire to break after one year.

Julie Douglas: Well this is - this kind of goes back to Susan Blackman when she talks about Dawkins and she talks about means and how humans are just mean machines, right? We're meant to communicate certain messages over and over again and just spread the means. But then she says technology is really the thing that we're spreading. So that's why she calls them teams. And so I think about this in that instance, like we are creating a technology to ultimately reproduce itself -

Robert Lamb: Yeah. Which brings us -

Julie Douglas: - and -

Robert Lamb: - brings us back into the world of nanotechnology.

Julie Douglas: Right. I was gonna say really at a very small scale, which is now possible in nano 3D printing.

Robert Lamb: Right.

Julie Douglas: I mean if you're talking about really fine resolutions that enable the creation of intricately structured sculptures as tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny as a grain of sand. And there's actually a great video - we'll try to remember to post this, but it shows that in 50 seconds this aircraft is created through a nano 3D printer. And if you look at it through obviously those like magnified - you can see the details and it is perfectly scaled. It's a beautiful rendering and it is an object and it is as big as a tiny grain of salt.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. I mean it comes back again to what I've been talking about with the idea of building things with the smallest parts possible. The smaller the building blocks, the more power you have over the structure, over the ultimate finished product. It's like with Lego's, think about to the Lego's you had when you were really young when they were kind of big and boxy because they would be harder to fit in your mouth. And then the smaller Lego's you eventually grew into. Which blocks allow you to create the more detailed model? The smaller blocks of course.

Julie Douglas: Of course. And then when you think about something that we mentioned before, the gaming controllers in which there's the ability to lay down electronics in those objects that are 3D printed and you look at nano printing and you know that it's just a matter of time where you can get the same sort of electronics into the object. Then you start to think more about what the does the future look like long term 50 years from now. It's not just about creating nano printed scaffolding to grow tissue on, or to use in other nanomanufacturing parts. There is a real ability to say, create a robot that is at the nano scale.

Robert Lamb: Right.

Julie Douglas: And what happens then?

Robert Lamb: Well, then we have the idea that we have machines that can repair themselves. We have structures that can repair themselves, buildings that can heal, bridges that can build themselves, little tiny robots that can peak into your private life. We were talking about this the other day when we were shooting a video.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, we were saying that - I mean how do you combat that? Well you have your own little army -

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: - of nano-robots to combat -

Robert Lamb: Your own immune system really of nano-bots to protect your privacy and your interests -

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: And we all kind of - we're just all crawling with them like fleas that we just - and maybe they're also programmed to cut our hair and to groom ourselves.

Julie Douglas: Which is nice.

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: It's lovely. Other considerations, we talked about this and we talked about the anthropocene. This is the idea that we are now in the age of man and that human activity has left a stratigraphic signal in the soil.

Robert Lamb: And scars in the earth and chemical signatures, et cetera.

Julie Douglas: Yeah, and we find this in ice cores, right? There's data retrieved from glacial ice cores that show the beginning of a growth in atmospheric concentrations of several green house gasses, in particular CO2 and CH4. And the starting date actually coincides with James Watts' invention of the steam engine in 1784. So you begin to see this layer of sediment.

So the question is, you know if a human or some other intelligent being were to look at the soil a thousand years from now, would they look at the soil and say ah, this is - this is the year that they really began to use a 3D printer because now we have this huge polymer sediment.

Robert Lamb: Yeah. This is the age in which they took all available mass and used it to print a whole bunch of nonsense. So you just have to - and just drowned themselves in it. Again, I come back to the idea of the Internet vomiting into the physical world as 3D printing is this gateway by which the Internet and all of its nonsense and all of its beauty and all of its horror can actually take physical form.

Julie Douglas: Well, and don't you kind of think about this as another prong in the Internet of things?

Robert Lamb: Yeah.

Julie Douglas: We talk about the Internet of things being that data is alive around us at all times. In other words, you know you could have a refrigerator that could tell you if you needed eggs or your eggs were expired. And you know this is just another idea of how objects play into this.

Robert Lamb: I like to think of it in terms too of our work printer. Like think of all the things that you find printed out that people have forgotten about. You find like say, you know detailed tax information, legal information, personal information, private correspondences -

Julie Douglas: Resumes.

Robert Lamb: Recipes, work - once I found somebody had written - and it wasn't me, somebody else in the office had written like a large portion of like a sci-fi novel or something. It was just sitting there on the printer. If we had 3D printers what kind of stuff would you find there just sitting - sitting there on the desk or clogged up in the printer? Would you find like -?

Julie Douglas: And by the way, we're not giving anything away when we say that someone wrote a chunk of sci-fi novel here -

Robert Lamb: No.

Julie Douglas: - because there's a good many people here who could have done that.

Robert Lamb: Yeah, I can't even narrow down who it might have been at the time. But, you know -

Julie Douglas: Now the manifesto on popcorn, there's only one person.

Robert Lamb: Right. But just think, you know you'd go to the printer and then there's somebody has printed out, you know a size-perfect dress for themselves that they were going to wear that night and left early and forgot to pick up. Someone printed out some sort of rather personal adult device that, you know they could be fired for. Someone else printed out just a toy that they thought was interesting or they needed another action figure to go on their desk so they printed out eight of them by accident - by accidentally hitting the button eight times. I mean you could just go on and on.

Julie Douglas: I know. I'm just trying to figure out if this is glorious or awful.

Robert Lamb: I know, that's the -

Julie Douglas: Or a little of both.

Robert Lamb: - that's the question we always ask in technology. And probably - yeah, a little column A, a little column B.

Julie Douglas: Yeah.

Robert Lamb: All right. Well there you go. A little more Stuff to Blow Your Mind there with 3D printing and 4D printing.

And we would love to hear from everyone. What are your thoughts on the future of 3D and 4D printing? How do you think it's gonna change our lives? How would it change your life? How do you think it's gonna change manufacturing? How do you think it's gonna change business? How do you think it's gonna change the way we interact with objects?

And to what extent our personalized, like hand-crafted objects - I mean I can't imagine it would go away. There's still going to be a value for things that are created in the old way, things that are created by hand, you know. It'll be the same what that people are really into craft beers. People will still be into the idea of say, a miniature that was created with a mold rather than a 3D printer.

Julie Douglas: But at the same time will intellectually - intellectual property, will that become a really archaic term?

Robert Lamb: Yeah. The legal ramifications are crazy in and of themselves. So hey, let us know what you think. You can find us on Facebook, you can find us Tumbler; we are Stuff to Blow Your Mind on both of those. And also check us out on Twitter where our handle is blowthemind. And there's different content on all three of those, so don't think that they're all just replications of the same material.

Julie Douglas: And you can always drop us a line at blowthemind@discovery.com.

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

Unknown Male: This episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind is brought to you by JackThreads.

[End of Audio]

Duration: 26 minutes

Topics in this Podcast: Food, Nanotechnology, 3D Printing, Futurism