Tobold's Blog
Monday, March 11, 2013
Tin soldiers

Back in the 70's, when parents still thought their children weren't complete morons and thus allowed them to play with potentially dangerous things, I was making tin soldiers. That involved melting metal and pouring it into a hard rubber mould. As you tended to have only a few moulds, you ended up making lots of identical tin soldiers. You could paint them or not, and you could play little tin soldier battles with them, having armies of identical clones. There was also a system to make tin items by pressing an original item in a mould made out of wet sand, and then creating a reproduction by pouring liquid metal into that mould.

I had to think of these tin soldiers when I read about the 3D scanner from a company making 3D printers. Right now a combination of 3D scanner and printer is still several thousands of dollars, but that is just a matter of time. Maybe even the price for the printing material will drop, because for example the market price for the plastic PLA is around $2 per kg, while 3D printing supply companies will happily sell you 1kg of PLA for over $50. Or maybe not, printer ink is still one of the most expensive liquids on the planet per liter. But at some point in the not-so-far future, children will be able to "print" plastic soldiers, or whatever other plastic toy they want. That is pretty cool!

While you can print guns, or gun parts, you obviously can't print gunpowder and bullets. So these printers are only useful to make plastic items or reproductions. But that could still end up with a lot of legal problems: Printers used to copy keys. Printers used to copy copyrighted designs. Printers used to create weapons. Printers used to create sex toys (that one will be illegal in America before the printed weapons are banned).

Nevertheless many people are ready to pronounce 3D printing to be the manufacturing technology of the future. Need an item? Print it! I'm not so sure it will be all that: If you want a kitchen knife for example, buying one at a dollar store is probably as fast and cheaper and better than printing one out of plastic in a current generation 3D printer. Mass production makes things cheap, and can handle a far more complex mix of materials than a 3D printer. But 3D printers sure are interesting, and future generations will have a lot of fun with them. Just don't expect them to replace all industry.


Games Workshop might be in a spot of bother here... I can see people printing Warhammer and 40K figurines for sure.
3d modeling your figures for D&D and printing them, would also be pretty cool.

Custom made, home-made board games, with unique and interesting pieces.

The ability to print interesting and unique costume pieces.

This would be very popular with DIY and Arty-Crafty people.
3D printing is just the current trend among tech-geeks.
Simple molding is a very trival use for 3D printing and it is very unlikely to be the optimal method of production for a long time (if ever). The key feature in this is that it can make almost anything including complicated items with moving parts and internal structions.

It would be incredably useful for remote locations to have the ability to fabricate parts for any repairs or upgrades on critical units. Essential supplies that are unlikely to be used are no longer required, reducing cost and waste.

Shunt a printer and goo into orbit and you can produce satellites too large for current technology to get into space. Rovers could repair or even design themselves mid-mission. Redundency is now automated and choices can be taken later and based on the best information.

Ultimately, a printer + goo + limited reagents = Self-assembling off-world mine/factory -> Self-sustaining automated colony. Just pray that that the printer goo isn't soylent green!
While my expectations of space exploration are depressingly smaller than my youth, it would seem useful there. And even transformative inventions tend to get overhyped in the short-term.
I read of a number of people working on the low-end 3-d scanner problem with next-gen console(or leap?) scanners.

TTP will be very short; you can make not just make a sex toy but scanning enables a *personalized* sex toy or trophy. Or 120% of same.

Autodesk has a number of 123* apps for ipad, including 123Creature where a child/artist draws a 3-d model on the ipad. When done, there is an option to have it printed and mailed to you.

Certainly you could have personalized D&D tokens/creatures. Can you leave a void in a cube so EVE players could print loaded D20s? And why not play Monopoly with a little statute of yourself?
3d printers!? Future tech is cool! Would be great if it could print edible (and yummy) food. :)

As a side note my grandpa also used to make tin soldiers with a mold. Fascinating process to watch.
You're right about cost per item being cheaper for manufactured goods over 3d printed, but don't forget this is very early stage technology. It's only really been commercially realised for hobbyists only in the last few years.

Give it a few years. Back not that long ago, laser printing was prohibitively expensive per sheet, and the early printers were somewhat crude. Now it's as cheap as chips to buy a laser printer and print, and the quality of even cheap lasers is quite high.

I figure 3d printers will follow the same path.

The really interesting thing is that there are now business printing 3d models of your World of Warcraft characters. How will this be treated legally?

Will Blizzard crack down on such 3rd party businesses?

What about the private owners of 3d printers who use third party software to rip the print instructions of such models to their privately owned printers?

Will they be referred to as pirates?

The thing to watch here isn't the technology, although that is impressive, it will be the reaction of IP owners.
@Joseph Skyrim -- There are designs for food printers that print out proteins in patterns that look like meat. I did read about a demo of that tech some months ago; there was a video but I didn't watch it at the time.

If something like this becomes commercially viable, and gains consumer acceptance, would it be acceptable to vegetarians and vegans since it doesn't involve live animals?
Protein-printers are nothing new, they are in use in R&D for quite some time now. The porblem here is the cost, creating food with the machines is just not cost effective. In R&D they are used for creating tailored enzymes for example.
@strop - I was watching one of the TWIT videocasts, and the Chicago columnist made the point that 3-d printers/scanners were where the 2-d ones were a couple of decades ago. E.g., you could put a $20 bill in the scanner and print it on your color printer. He also said it was a good thing that the people who would want to lobby / restrict the technology, (I assuming like 3-d MPAA/RIAA), don't quite know what to lobby for at the moment.
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