What if everyone had a “fabber”..

When moving office last week I came across this written on my whiteboard, “What if everyone had a 3D printer?”. A 3D printer is also called a fabber, slang for fabrication machine. Think of a printer, the ability to print hard plastic and the ability to print many layers on top of one another making a 3 dimensional object. These sort of devices, many times the mainstay and crutch of futuristic SF, will soon be with us. These devices have been around for a while now but are very expensive, roughly $30k. However there is growing groundswell of DIY people aiming on making cheap versions soon available. For example look here at the Fab@Home site.

You might be unimpressed and rightly so as it’s early days, the resolution isn’t that great, the materials are rather limited and there is no killer product..yet. This is exactly the same situation as the home computer market was in the late 70’s, trust me, I was there. And yet within 10 years of the first home computers we had the first Macs and the PC was up to the XT and in most offices. Within 20 years most people had a P100 and could do publishing at home on both paper and on the web and within another 10 years we find ourselves at Internet 2.0. Given that technology generally builds on what has gone before and we already have full plans on the Internet and a growing gaggle of people being involved, and the fact the machines can to some extent clone themselves, this sort of technology is probably going to develop very quickly.

This leads to my opening title and what will happen when these machines are everywhere and the plans for making things can be moved around as fast and easily as the latest movie on the net. We’ll assume they can make coloured items from plastic for the sake of the argument. Now initially people might be thinking “So what?” but lets examine what can be made by looking around my lounge. The sorts of things they could make easily, without thinking of complex machines with electronics, can se seen: photo frames, some computer parts like customised speaker housings, various containers for nicknacks, DVD cases, power point fittings minus the guts, lamp shades, sporting statues, keys, small collectible toys, plastic thongs, puzzles. Although this doesn’t sound too flash all of things are part of our consumer society and were bought from others who made them, and sold them for a profit. There might not be a big business in lamp shades but items like toys, puzzles, games and photo frames are the sorts of simple things which could be handy.

However I’ll predict the real killer product will come from left field, in the same way this computer is being used to write a blog that enables global publishing from home, something that wasn’t predicted when hobby PC’s were exactly that. This is exactly the technology that has that “you haven’t seen anything yet” feel too it. There is a company that uses this technology for making statues of your avatars in VR worlds like Second Life and the Mii of you, from the Nintendo Wii world. They cost from $50 to $100. You could also make moulds for making items from metal, which opens up the opportunity of making mini busts of your family members rather than just 2D photos. Some sort of plastic mold with a metal powder that could be cooked in a microwave would defiantly open up possibilities. Oh btw, I’ll copyright that idea. 🙂

The ability to perform our own publishing hasn’t destroyed the paper industry, the Internet hasn’t closed down Hollywood (mores the pity) and MP3’s haven’t seemed to destroy every band on the planet. (For that we have Idol.) So I’m not too sure home fabbing will destroy the manufacturing centers any quicker than China will send them to the wall. But it does open up an interesting future. Need a certain key?, no problem. Need a gun?, what model? Need a copy of that collectible Star Wars toy? Hmmm, download version 1.71 or 2.0 with the extra detail? Like all technologies and advances, they can be a two edged sword and human creativity is bound to give us more than we bargained for.

What will you use your fabber for?


3 Comments on “What if everyone had a “fabber”..”

  1. ogremkv says:

    Man, I could recreate the battle of the bulge in 1:200 scale in an hour or two. Fake reefs for my fish and an infinite amount of Legos!!!!!!!

    Where do i sign?

  2. […] skepticssa wrote a fantastic post today on “What if everyone had a âfabberâ..”Here’s ONLY a quick extractHowever I’ll predict the real killer product will come from left field, in the same way this computer is being used to write a blog that enables global publishing from home, something that wasn’t predicted when hobby PC’s were exactly … […]

  3. Derek says:

    pm ogrmkv, you’d need an infinite amount of plastic for an infinite number of Lego bricks, but I like you’re enthusiasm. ;o)

    NDK, you can’t copyright an idea, just the implementation of it. :o)

    I like the idea of the post, but I think the limiting factor will be similar to pm ogrmkv’s issue – availability of raw materials, and, more specifically, the appropriate amounts of a variety of raw materials. I suspect information is the only resource we have that will simply keep growing.

    Neat post though.

    PS “lets” is actually “let’s”, short for “let us”, btw. ;o)

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