Tin soldiers
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 March 2013, 10:23 am
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.
Tobold's Blog

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