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Criticized for overpriced parts, company gives away 3d schematics instead (synthtopia.com)
96 points by anigbrowl on Sept 25, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 45 comments

3D printing is exciting, but it's easy to get carried away. Paper printers exist, yet people still purchase books and magazines. By the same token, even if everyone had a 3D printer, they wouldn't necessarily print every object they own instead of purchasing it.

In addition, our culture has slowly eroded the usefulness of printing parts. Parts are great if you fix things, but consumers don't fix things. They break them and buy a new one!

IMO 3D printing will provide a huge boon to 1-2 person commando hardware startups more than consumers, in the same way that access to free development tools and cloud services have been a huge boon to 1-2 person commando software startups. In that way, consumers lives will certainly be changed by 3D printing because of being provided more products, but not necessarily by actually owning them and printing things with the printers.

If printer cartridges were cheaper and if home printers bound books, people might not buy as many books.

To me, the key is going to be the cost of the feed stock. Get it low enough and people will 3D print everything.

A side note, this weekend my 74 year old stepdad was asking me about the state of 3D printing. He has a mechanical engineering degree, so a bit atypical of his age group I guess, but he was really excited about the possibilities.

I also told him about HN so he's probably reading this now. Hi!

Indeed, you should check out the Espresso Book Machine. It's being installed in libraries around the world [1]. I've seen computations that suggest printing your book on demand might be more cost-efficient [2] than maintaining book inventories and hiring librarians to restock shelves.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Espresso_Book_Machine

[2] Though probably much less environmentally sound!

> [2] Though probably much less environmentally sound!

Don't count on it. Paper isn't an environmental liability - all paper you can buy in the US and Europe is from sustainably farmed wood and recycling. As long and the resulting books are recycled, not inefficiently burned, it's fine.

Also, remember, the cost to maintain libraries isn't just financial, it's environmental as well.

Do you have a source re: sustainably farmed/recycled wood? I was not aware of this, and so often hear about disappearing forests in Brazil and Russia. But I'm curious.

Here in Brazil, most of the forest currently disappearing is because farmers want the land to raise cattle and make money off selling meat. Not paper.

Though forests used to be cut down for paper. That's no longer the case because it's not profitable anymore. Because of lack of demand.

But while the parent poster is right that virtually all paper today comes from sustainably farmed wood. That's still an ecological problem. Because sustainably farmed wood is not native to our eco system. Brazilian flora might take centuries to grow, so farmers would chop down local trees to plant European pine trees instead. Their propaganda, which the parent poster bought into, is that if you chop a tree to plant another, then no harm is done. But that's not how eco systems work. Local fauna cannot live in foreign pine trees, just as they wouldn't live in a concrete city. So many local species are now endangered or extinct because of paper farms.

I live on an area where a lot of paper farming used to happen. I had an American friend come here once. He told me the forest around the highway we were on surprised him. Because it looked nothing like the movies he seen, instead it looked just like Europe, with regularly spaced tall pine trees. He asked "is this where the monkeys are?", looking closely to the pines hoping to see one. Unfortunately, I told him, during my whole life here I have never seen a monkey in the wild. Even though this same place used to be the home of some really interesting species, like the golden lion monkey. But we could go to the zoo to see one if he wanted to.

Source of this is my experience as a local who used to be an active Greenpeace volunteer, back in the day.

It pretty rich for a Greenpeace activist to accuse others of buying into propaganda. Greenpeace is nothing if not a propaganda organisation.

For the record, I didn't suggest that replacing old growth forest with fast-growing trees foreign to the ecosystems is neutral or sustainable.

First, it's not the wood that's recycled, it's the paper.

Most paper you can get is made from tree that are grown specifically to be made into paper (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tree_farm) - those are managed and replanted just like any other kind of farm. They are also brilliant CO2 sinks (as long as the paper isn't burned). Look for any of the organisations mentioned in the WP article -- ATFS, FSC or SFI -- next time you're in an office supply store in the US, similar schemes for other parts of the world. You'll be hard pressed to find paper that isn't certified as being sustainably farmed under one of these schemes.

I can't speak for Russia, but the disappearing old growth rain forests in among others Brazil isn't for paper production, it's getting cleared for farming or harvested for the exoticness of the wood (for furniture etc) - not for paper production.

To be fair, I was only considering the fiber-end of the equation. Processing fiber (from wood or recycled paper) is energy, and (in particular) water intensive.

Note that a tree farm is not (usually) a forest. A tree farm is usually just trees, all the same type and age, in a relatively uniform grid, with minimal other flora or fauna. A forest is a complex ecosystem that happens to have trees as its largest component.

As neat as it is, the potential problem with the Espresso Book Machine is the quality of the resulting book. IIRC, the binding was not something that would hold up very well over time. There's a limit on what it can do; you can kiss hardcovers goodbye! It does, however, get the job done; it reminds me of the Wired piece "The Good Enough Revolution": http://www.wired.com/gadgets/miscellaneous/magazine/17-09/ff...

> IIRC, the binding was not something that would hold up very well over time.

I could say the same about a number of books I have bought at bookstores over the years. I mean, ask a librarian how well books hold up over time, and how often they need to be repaired simply from normal usage. And then when the paper itself begins to go south... (Admittedly, that was more of a problem before acid-free paper caught on.)

How long until the "Home printing is killing the small parts manufacturing industry. (And it's illegal.)" campaign?

The 'You wouldn't download a car' campaign will have to add another dimension.

I was thinking the same thing. Gonna go print me a Ferrari on my Replicator :-)

> You wouldn't download a car

The universal response: "Fuck you I would if I could."

3d printing is theft. You wouldn't shoplift a toy, so why would you print it?

Reminds me of Cory Doctorow's "Printcrime": http://craphound.com/overclocked/Cory_Doctorow_-_Overclocked...

One of my favorite of his stories. I'd strongly recommend his novel 'Makers' as well, if you're into this sort of thing.

Oddly, I just finished reading that. Can't say it's terribly prescient -- it was published just three years ago -- but it does echo lots of things that are just happening now.

SF authors have always predicted the present. Given that most people seem immersed in the past, this works for them.

I really enjoyed reading that. Thank you for linking to it.

Companies will resort to making patent or trade dress claims against people who offer 3d printing schematics.

When the court system decides that Samsung can't make a phone that looks sort of like an iPhone, it's a good bet that courts will find that it's illegal to print, or assist printing of, a replica of some $megacorp object or part.

The question is, which will happen first -- viable 3d printing of useful items, or the generation that grew up on Napster getting old enough to write the laws?

Will the Napster generation be able to maintain its ideology for the 30-40 years it will take to get them into office? Will they just represent another archaic viewpoint when compared to their future grandchildren?

So in 10-20 years, we'll be exactly where we are now?[1]


How is that a theft at all?

You know the part and can replicate its look... why not?

You wouldn't steal a cake, so why would you bake it?

You know, at first glance, it seems like 3d printing has exactly the same issues as music and movies, but you make an awesome point. It's actually far, far more complicated.

It'll be interesting to see the large scale disruption that happens once 3d printing becomes ubiquitous. My guess is they'll have about as much luck shutting down 3d models as the MafiAA types did to various types of piracy.

I can't tell if you are being sarcastic, but I'll bite. My guess is never. CNC plastic printing has been around for 30+ years, and is only practical for making one of a kind parts. As soon as you are making something that 1000 people need, there is a better manufacturing method.

Maybe I lack imagination, but I cannot imagine a plastic piece of junk that need to be tailor-made poorly.

When the cost of a PC went from $30k to $2k, most people couldn't see the revolution happening. Maybe I am the same fool.

>Maybe I lack imagination, but I cannot imagine a plastic piece of junk that need to be tailor-made poorly.

I know a bunch of people printing off models of their characters from the game 'City of Heroes' (incidentally if you ever want to see how not to close a service, check out NC Soft's behaviour over the last couple of weeks) before the doors shut and a lot of them would probably pay a substantial amount for a slightly better quality painted one.

For small-to-medium manufacturing runs, you could use a two-stage printer that first CNCs a metal mold, then uses it to injection mold. All of this off a 3D model and within hours.

As 3D printing becomes truly mass-market, people who want to print copies of objects will start attacking physical product patents as strongly as they attack software patents and digital media copyright today (strong, coordinated opposition to these grew only with distribution channels).

You're ignoring the massive grey area that is "fair use"

There's a huge difference between me building something for my own personal use, as opposed to building a product and trying to sell it.

I'm not ignoring it -- people used to make mixtapes for friends and copy games on 5.25" floppies (see the classic "Don't Copy That Floppy" -- but only when online distribution became a reality did people start arguments of the nature that "IP should not exist on this category of entity."

This is a great idea! Those with 3D printers can get their parts almost for free and those without can pay Shapeways a "reasonable" amount.

As the quality of 3D printing improves I can see lots of companies doing this, especially for legacy parts.

> I can see lots of companies doing this, especially for legacy parts.

I wish I could agree with your conclusion, but I have had a lot of trouble looking for "out of print" arcade game roms [0]. I want build and use an arcade machine for my house (legally). However, it's amazing how protective old companies seem to be of people playing their games which they no longer distribute.

I get the feeling it will probably turn out the same with 3D printing out of production components.

[0] (for example) http://mamedev.org/devwiki/index.php/FAQ:ROMs#How_do_I_legal...

I love it. Those that have the printers can print their parts, and pay for the raw materials and the printer and the time. For those that do not, well, they can STFU about the cost of parts. I actually see this as more of an STFU move in reality/practicality, but it's a very cool way to say it. I wish I could do this with my products, but its not applicable.

Now if only I could convince the wheelchair industry to do the same.

Can you explain what your problems are with the wheelchair industry in regards to parts? I'm actually very curious.

Just off the top of my head:

* One manufacturer and one manufacturer only of the parts for my particular wheelchair (A Quickie GTX by Sunrise Medical)

* High prices as customers often don't have any other options

* Occasionally the company won't deal with me as I'm only ordering 1 or 2 parts at a time, not hundreds

* Proprietary parts requiring complicated installation - unfortunately I can't direct link but have a look at any of the front brace/fork assemblies on http://www.sunparts.us/

* Slow shipping times from the US to Australia, requiring me to plan ahead for any future damage/repairs!

You need an open source wheelchair.

Theres a startup idea if I ever heard one

Am I not seeing them, or are there no links to TeenageEngineering.com in the piece, or links to the actual announcement, or to where the CAD files can be downloaded? Very poor journalism, IMO. The linked Shapeways blog post has all of those links in the first sentence.

Anyways, I think this is a great development. If TE wasn't making much money on spare parts, might as well not sell them, and with companies like Shapeways around, it doesn't force every consumer to have a 3D printer, either.

Isn't the main point here that it's not the parts themselves that are expensive, but that the shipping for those parts is disproportionally expensive? So the company does in fact not loose anything by providing the designs, since they never made any significant money on the spares anyway. Still, it's a cool idea.

I have a huge business crush on Teenage Engineering, I think they have handled this situation extremely well. I don't know of any other company that has done this with their products.

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