Goodbye, wrench video. I'm going to start showing everybody Markus Kayser's SunCutter instead. Not only is it cooler, but I actually think the video of him printing the bowl in the desert helps you see what's happening more clearly.
His SunCutter is a demonstration of SLS (selective laser sintering) which traditionally uses a laser (or in the above example, focused sun beams) to fuse small particles together.
We're using SLA (Stereolithography) to print the glasses, which uses a UV laser to cure a liquid resin which turns it into a solid. For a good demonstration of SLA in action, check out this video of one of the printers we use: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTWFWh1x-yo&t=1m46s
Finally, some shameless self-promotion... we're about to launch the private beta for our startup and we're actively seeking beta testers to kick the tires on our eyewear-designing software. If you're interested you can sign up at http://www.oyoglasses.com
Imagine if we landed robots on the Moon to gather up moon dust into piles, and then satellites orbiting the moon could capture sunlight and direct that energy in the form of laser beams pointed at the moon dust. The robots would periodically brush away the excess dust, or add more to the pile.
This idea might sound far fetched, but back in 2005 some guy actually sintered moon dust in a microwave oven. ( http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2005/09... ) This, combined with the op's article form a good proof of concept for 3D printed lunar homes.
One problem with this design is that the light would deflect off the center particle and melt other sand around it. In the video, pretty much everything in 1cm radius gets melted. Unless he can somehow make it print in greater details, I can't think of a better use for this other than producing planting pots.
This technology could be used to make water sills and collectors in the desert. If you spend a week out there making water collectors, a couple weeks later you may find you have enough water for a village or two.
Glass-forming in the desert could be the basis of an extraordinary micro-permaculture effort to build oases and gardens in otherwise impossibly hostile environments.
This, plus a lot of water harvesting, could solve a lot of very difficult problems.
If SunCutters can be made to make more SunCutters, and if templates for the SunCutter can be easily made, then I say once this tech is available to the desert masses, it could very much revolutionize restoration of these difficult lands.
The machine needs to be scaled and cheapened - but it MUST be made to make bricks - over time, the bricks will be refined and they will be available for sale in the Organic or Fair Trade aisle of Home Depot.
A smaller version shall be made and refined to allow girls in west africa to make beads and cups and such.
I think there are lots of uses for coarse-scale 3-D printing of fused quartz. (Did he mix in any lime to lower the melting point, or is that more or less pure quartz sand?) Furniture, coarse parts of machinery, sculpture, buildings, and the like.
Yet I think it is time to stop calling devices which create something and connected to a PC via USB a "Printer".
Printer, print a material which you read. Anything else, is a robot which does X or Y.
Actually, it's not. In ancient Egypt, bricks for house-building were mass-produced by casting mud in reusable moulds. That's the oldest example of mass-production I know of, but it would't surprise me if there were others of a similar vintage.
I guess the Roman army mass-produced weaponry, too. Ships, forts, and bridges were semi-mass-produced (one design, adjusted to circumstances, small numbers)
Even today, you still get production runs of fairly large ships, such as http://telstarlogistics.typepad.com/telstarlogistics/2011/01.... It has two companies each build a series of 10 ships.
I don't think producing ten items of any design qualifies as "mass production". Even at complexity levels like ten wooden barrels, at ten items, you're still trying to figure out what the causes of variation in your products are. You are a long way from deskilling the individual tasks and doing time-and-motion analysis on them (you probably haven't even identified them yet) and you can only afford to produce the most rudimentary specialized tooling for the product.
So I don't think ten ships constitutes "mass production".
Wikipedia suggests that the Venetian Arsenal might have been "mass production" when it was producing one ship per day --- but that was with 16000 people, so that's still 45 man-years per ship. Compare to Edison's ore processing plant (2000 tons of ore per day per employee, as compared to craft production with 5 tons of ore per day, a factor of 400 times) or the printing press (a Bible now costs two hours of unskilled labor rather than a year of skilled labor, a factor of a few thousand) or Adam Smith's celebrated pin factory (48000 pins per day by ten men, instead of one to twenty pins per day by one man, a factor of 2400 or more).
If we could really mass-produce ships, then we should expect their cost to fall by a factor of 100 or more from the cost of craft production. Everybody could have a yacht. So far, though, mass production of ships seems to be as elusive as mass production of theorems, software, or happy marriages.
Coming back to the 3-D printing idea, printing a newsletter on a laser printer still costs about ten times as much as mass-producing it with a printing press. But only about ten times as much, not a few thousand times as much. You probably could 3-D-print workable ships out of fused quartz, although it will take a lot of work to get the necessary resilience out of such a brittle material. You could surely do it out of fiber-reinforced concrete, as ferrocrete ships have been sailing the seas for decades.
Printing is a process for reproducing text and image, typically with
ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a
large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing
and transaction printing.