Getting Ready For When The Industry Tries To Kill 3D Printers

from the replicators-redux dept

Back in 2003, we noted that once 3D printing came around, just imagine how crazy various industries would go once 3D printing became commonplace, and people could “file share” the printer instructions for various physical products. If you think the RIAA’s madness is bad, just imagine how insane things would get when you had actual “replicators” everywhere. In the intervening years, of course, 3D printing has matured quite a bit, and many are realizing that such a theoretical suggestion from years back is actually a pretty serious concern. Public Knowledge has put out a paper trying to warn the world of the impending political madness that will come down as 3D printing becomes more common — and we start hearing stories about “pirated” physical goods. While I’m glad to see a group like PK sounding the warning bells now, I doubt it will change anything.

I used to hope that in spending over a decade explaining how the music industry could have responded better to file sharing, that other industries wouldn’t go down the same path. Yet, what we’ve seen over and over and over again is that every new industry that faces disruptive innovation involving a previously scarce product suddenly becoming an infinite good — and that they pretty much all react the same. They try to prevent the inevitable. They try to fight the technology. They go against consumer wishes. They try to protect the old business models. They invent moral panics and bogus statistics. And, of course, they throw a ton of money at politicians to make laws that preserve their old business models. It’s happened plenty of times in the past, and it will definitely happen once 3D printing technology reaches that tipping point.

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Comments on “Getting Ready For When The Industry Tries To Kill 3D Printers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

When I started reading your blogging about the music industry (a few years ago) I liked it; you were pretty much saying “look we can see something is wrong here, perhaps if we get together we can figure out a solution…”.

But at some point you started thinking you had the answers and you just needed to “explain” to the industry how they should be doing things, and backing that with all the expertise of someone who has never worked in the music industry, nor been a musician – your only a music fan.

Complaining that the music industry doesn’t listen to you is like claiming your favorite football team would be more successful if only they would do what you advocate … but football coaches don’t tend to listen to people who have never played or worked in the industry either (even though they are fans).

Berenerd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Your comparison fails in the point that, there will always be ways to get the music, and the films, for free, legal or not. The Music/movie industry try and hold on to the idea that people don’t buy movies because they simply can get it illegally for free. they DON’T consider the fact that some do it because they really don’t want to have to cart plastic disks around or have to store them on shelves when getting what they want, when they want, even for a reasonable fee, would curtail the illegal usage that currently exist because its in a format the people want.
Its not just the entertainment industry that need to listen. If ANY industry didn’t listen to the people they are looking to profit from, they are doomed to die because noone would buy their crap or they would find cheaper and easier ways to do it themselves. If the NFL went and said “Sorry, you can’t cheer for the Patriots because they are not your home team. You need to vote for the Cowboys cause you live in Texas, How many patriot fans do you think that live in Texas would just sit there and say “ok. GO COWBOYS!” Hmmm? Business, no matter what industry, is about adapting to the needs of your consumer and finding a balance between making money and keeping your consumer buying.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s funny, without Fans there isn’t a music ‘industry’ at all.

Saying the fans are at fault because technology is changing the environment is short sited and pretty one sided.

My favorite way to describe things is that computers and the internet are going to take music back to the 17th century.

In that a musician made money by playing *live*. There were no recordings, there were no copies, there was no radio, nothing. Just live music.

When technology created the ability to store and copy music for later use, the music industry as we know it was born.

Today, as Mike frequently shows, the value of that music ‘copy’ is now approaching zero. The ability for musicians to ‘print money’ is going away. The cost of making a CD is pennies, yet sold for $15. That’s 1000% markup. It won’t last now that infinite copies can be made for even cheaper and distributed with no cost.

So musicians will need to adapt to use this ‘free copy and distribution system’ to drive sales to things that aren’t infinite and lacking in value; i.e. concert tickets, t-shirts, meet & greets with the band, etc. The Grateful Dead showed this decades ago. It works.

We likely won’t see the likes of the multitude of super groups again, but we will see lots more bands making live music since steady income can be earned when your advertising budget is literally nothing; and of course your music is desirable.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, the price of that ‘copy’ is approaching zero. The value of the music is still how the audience values it. I value the music I possess, regardless if it is from a free download or a $15 CD.

However, if you know you can easily and freely replace it whenever you want, you might decide you don’t need to possess it. That’s what is now happening in music. Streaming is replacing downloading. And as other items become free and constantly available, we are likely to decide we can dispense with ownership of those, too.

I think the whole nature of ownership and work is changing in a massive way right now.

Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

Re: Anonymously Cowardly

Complaining that the music industry doesn’t listen to you…

But many members of the music industry have listened to him (or at least come up with similar ideas), and done quite successfully thereby.

Unless … by ?music industry? did you really mean ?recording industry?? As in the people who aren?t actually in the business of creating music, but only in distributing recordings of it? They do seem to be beyond help, I?m afraid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’ve worked in the digital publishing and promotions industry as an architect and have been asked, since I can remember, for a silver bullet to stop “piracy”. The people in the industry are powerful and clueless, that’s a dangerous combination. While, I tend to be skeptical of all information I can tell ya’ Masnick isn’t unique in his philosophy here. He’s part of a movement that started some time ago and he’s building on the knowledge of countless experts. That’s kinda what the whole free culture movement is about. I can understand your sentiment though. I’ve read a few articles that were eye rollers myself. 🙂

That’s what Blogs are though.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And what does your comment have to do with 3d printers?

“Complaining that the music industry doesn’t listen to you is like claiming your favorite football team would be more successful if only they would do what you advocate … but football coaches don’t tend to listen to people who have never played or worked in the industry either (even though they are fans).”

That is a total … “I’m on a horse statement” … its a moment in time where I wish you had a sister that lived under a bridge so I could ask you to go stay with her.

Adam (profile) says:

The fashion industry

I think we’re already seeing some preliminary ideas of what it will be like from the fashion industry. Counterfeit goods that you buy on Mulberry St. vs. ones that you print in your basement.

I suppose the primary difference is that printing them at home is non-commercial infringement as opposed to the counterfeiters making money off the street sales.

scarr (profile) says:

Infinite good?

My only economics education has come from this blog, so I might be wrong, but physical goods can’t ever be infinite, can they? I thought that was part of the whole model for selling a scare good instead of digital files.

The information about how to shape a particular object would be infinite, but the hardware itself wouldn’t be. The real money is to be made in selling raw materials.

As a secondary question, isn’t the law setup so you can “counterfeit” anything you want to, as long as it’s for yourself? Or is it just never prosecuted?

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Infinite good?

For all practical purposes goods may become infinite depending on the end user interest in the stuff and how many do-it-yourselfers there are who take that interest.

(If nothing else the recession/depression has reignighted interest in DIY rather than buying the latest and greatest.)

You’d be surprised how much you can do on your own given the right tools and time.

One of the things I remember clearly from my childhood is my mother at the sewing machine making my clothes from patterns she got in the mail or from neighbours. That’s probably one of the main concerns of the fashion industry but people no more recreated the horrors of the catwalk then than they’re likely to now.

So in those senses goods become infinite.

As for your last question the MPAA/RIAA and their allies across the planet have answered that. They’ll sue if you make your collection for yourself as much as if they will for sharing it with your partner or children.

pixelpusher220 (profile) says:

Re: Infinite good?

A physical good can never, by definition, be infinite. But making things at home with a turnkey system reduces the scarcity of something to low enough that it might behave as if its infinite.

If I can get a plan for making something, all I need is the materials. I would pay for the materials and the cost of running the 3D printer, but not for distribution of the finished product etc.

I remember toy machines at the zoo 20 years ago that would create a hot plastic mold of an animal for you on the spot. 3D printers are nothing more than scaling this down to something you can do in your home. So now the scarcity is lowered, so the value of the item goes down closer to the cost of materials rather than inflated because you can only get it at the zoo (or whatever store you’d buy the thing from).

BigKeithO (profile) says:

Re: Infinite good?

I would think that they would begin to resemble an infinite good. The “RepRap” 3D printer can actually replicate itself with a 3D blueprint. The creator is currently working on a system where the RepRap will use common household “garbage” plastics to create its designs.

When the 3D printer can build more of itself using nothing more than your old shopping bags things start to look cheap to create.

Anonymous Coward says:

You seem to think that 3D copying is a process similar to photocopying a paper document, but a little though will reveal things are a lot more difficult (e.g. it really matters if your copied car isn’t made from the right kind of paper).

From there it is obvious that your future view has little integrity or relevance.

That’s the problem with bloggers – you never do your homework !.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And look at how successful the music industry has been using their solution. It wasn’t originally to sell downloadable music online so they could continue to have total control of the “cradle to grave” distribution of their media, but only to sue, sue, and sue some more. It was the “music fans” that made them finally wake up and smell the coffee over the way in which the people wanted to receive music.

Blank 8 tracks, cassette tapes, VHS and Betamax, recordable CDs and DVDs, the entertainment industry has been dragged kicking and screaming through all of them, and still in spite of it all they’ve made massive amounts of money.

Paradigms change and are made to be broken. “The customer is always right” is not just a catchphrase, but a motto for any company to live or die by. If you aren’t selling what the customer wants, you’ve lost a sale. The sooner the industry realizes that fact, the quicker they can react to the shift and make even more money. That’s what it’s all about after all… isn’t it?

Freak says:

Re: Re:

The cost of materials of a human body is little over $20CAN if you make it from the elements of the periodic table.

Even if you need exactly the composition of materials that exist in the finished product, (as you will. The above $20 is a bit of thought-jerker than anything relevant to a 3D printer), I imagine the cost of materials for an iPod is much cheaper than the iPod costs at the store. Assuming those circuits can be made by the printer . . . that’s if is precise enough that is.
But okay, maybe it can only make basic circuits. (But 3D printers can already make basic circuits, at least. I’m not very familiar with their capabilities)

If, somehow, you had the method to get tons of iron to your house, as well as everything else involved, I assume it would be cheaper than buying the car, too.
But okay, that’s non-practical and the 3D printer in your future basement probably isn’t large enough.

In the reasonable range of both size and difficulty, what about furniture? That latest thing from Ikea? Just 3D print the custom parts, and hey, one of the benefits of 3D printing is that it’s cheaper than a wood shop for proto-typing, so why buy furniture ever again?

I would argue about small statues or arts & crafts as well, but as far as I can find, artists are already embracing the technology. There’s one project I found, seems to be made by a group of artists and historians, dedicated to reproducing historic statues where molding would damage the original’s surface.

I am certain that if the technology continues to advance, than at least one industry will be greatly changed by it.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And it’s people like you that brush off the inevitable as the impossible that will be in a real bind when it does become a “problem” for whatever industry you are in.

Somewhere, someone is helping the 3D printing process evolve as we speak. They will come up with a way to print with particles at a smaller and smaller level until they can piece together molecules from a tiny fixed set of materials. At this point, they will be able to “print” a chair that is made of wood, metal, and fabric without any trouble. They will start by “copying” an existing chair design and realize that they can make the pieces previously joined by fasteners one-piece and end up with a better chair.

At some point during this process, a chair manufacturer is going to freak out. Instead of investing in this 3D printing “garbage”, they will have ignored it until it was too late. This is when they will complain and argue and lobby for laws that prevent this new invention from killing their business.

The problem with the 3D printer is that it is getting scary close to a ‘universal replicator’ of sorts. So, rather than disrupting a few industries, it is going to disrupt EVERY industry – and that is an economic nightmare. We are probably decades away from anything really workable, but it really is coming.

Oh, and I plan to patent printing 3D printers – because once there is one, it becomes the most sought-after product ever.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You miss the point : 3D printing may well become a legitimate manufacturing technology, and if it does the existing industry will embrace the new technology.

But the Masnick notion that this will allow private copying of complex engineered products and cause disruption in a similar manner to how digital reproduction impacted the music industry is just obviously wrong.

Freak says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Why is it wrong?

Assume we have the 3D printers capable of the followingand answer each question:
Why should a furniture manufacturer make furniture?
Why should a car manufacturer, say, ford, continue making cars?
Why should apple continue making iPods?

In each case, the marginal cost would drop to the cost of the materials.
For furniture, it’s already not much more than the marginal.
For cars, it’s a damn lot more.
For iPods? Yeah, I can get a $40 portable music player from another manufacturer that holds 16 gigs of music. And that’s still quite a bit over the marginal cost. iPods at $200 . . .

And then, we wouldn’t HAVE TO buy these products at the store. Why would we?

The important point is whether or not they will become commonplace. If there’s a 3D printer in every home. And honestly, seeing at how they might pay for themselves so many times over, (and seeing how cheap they would be, given the manufacturing process is effectively free), I don’t see why they wouldn’t be.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

How is it obviously wrong?

It is getting closer to a reality. There are currently 3D printers that can print complex shapes using multiple materials. It is currently possible to print electronics and the printing technology is getting less and less expensive.

How is that not moving toward being able to print anything?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“It’s obviously wrong because with music the product is digital and essentially independent of the raw materials (the storage medium).”

If only the music industry realised this. Their entire problem is based on the fact that they’re trying to force music to remain tied to the storage medium (CDs) and physical location (regional restrictions) like they were before Napster.

“With 3D printing the product is not digital; the product and it’s design are intricately involved with and dependent on the raw materials”

Indeed. But, why would you pay the originating company to make a copy for you, if all you need to do is “steal” the design and process your own raw materials? It would almost certainly be cheaper to use your own materials.

It wouldn’t be the “free vs. paid” situation we currently have with music, but the difference in price would probably create the same problems for manufacturers. Not to mention that the design would probably be digital data that can be freely copied and transmitted.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

With 3D printing the product is not digital; the product and it’s design are intricately involved with and dependent on the raw materials etc.

Are you claiming that 3D printed goods will never adequately substitute for traditionally manufactured products? Or that they will, but it won’t disrupt existing industries? I don’t see how either is a defensible position, I’m just curious how exactly you’re wrong. 🙂

out_of_the_blue says:

' actual "replicators" ', eh?

You’ve been watching way too much Star Trek.

I’m sure you don’t know, because your knowledge of manufacturing physical goods seems to be only of “widgets” that are produced in some magical way by Oompa-Loompas or similar sub-human slaves, that Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines already have this “problem” — which is a NON-problem because requires *actual* material costs. These “printers” won’t produce anything but entertainment in watching them work, and a few examples to look at. Don’t expect to be designing your own fashions just yet, Mike.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Re: ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

Haven’t kept up with the latest in 3D printing then, eh?

I’ll list a quick breakdown of 3D printed things that can be done at present:
skin, veins, concrete, durable plastic, epoxy anything…

I realize that seems like a short list, but you’d be amazed at the number of things which can easily be made of durable plastic. Plus, the possible applications are only limited to the plastic used and the size of the printer. It’s entirely within the realm of possibility to print out working (though very temporary) ball bearings from plastic. Cups, bowls, plates, coat hooks… etc, ad nauseum. And, as the technology scales up, the list of easily made items starts to include chairs, tables, beds… You see where this is going, right? A suitably scaled 3D concrete printer could print a house in under a day.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

“A suitably scaled 3D concrete printer could print a house in under a day.”

But you couldn’t do it just by taking a photocopy and telling your printer to build it; you have to know the concrete design (that’s and art in it’s self) and the reinforcing design, and you have to let the concrete cure etc, and if you can’t get the original materials economically you have to modify the design while maintaining engineering integrity …

Any copyright impacts from 3D printing would be in area’s such as making Rolex watch replicas, and would probably kill that industry.

The big problems with 3D printing are much more likely to be related to the issues photographers are currently having with all kinds of prohibitions on taking legal photo’s (e.g.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

“to know the concrete design (that’s and art in it’s self) and the reinforcing design, and you have to let the concrete cure etc”

No you don’t. You have to have one concrete house design already in a printer. So, someone needs to figure all that out ONCE. Then, you can print a million houses for the cost of the material(s).

Oh – and they are ready to build a small house like this already:

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

That’s story about making the manufacturing process for pre-fabricated parts more efficient ; a normal industry modernization cycle rather than disruption form outside.

Notice the pre-fab factory is static and can establish reliable sources of consistent raw materials so that the design can stay constant.

The Masnick notion of “replicators everywhere” and not the same thing and would require things like concrete re-design according to what materials are available.

Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:3 ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

“would require things like concrete re-design according to what materials are available”

Again, you are missing the point. If you do not need to use concrete (lots of 3D printers are using various types of resin) you change the entire game. There was an article a couple of months ago about a guy that had one spraying a 2 part resin from two nozzles and it dried instantly (which I could find it again).

So while you are sitting there figuring out how this will not work because pouring concrete is complicated, this other guy is out making a machine that will do what you describe as impossible because you artificially constrained yourself. That is what this kind of innovation really involves.

And again, that guy will be outdone because there is another guy micro-printing molecules. This guy is setting a printer that has wheels and a big arm (so it can move around enough to build something miles wide) and it just needs to pick up the surrounding dirt and turn it into carbon nano-tubes.

Yes, it sounds like science fiction. So did the little flip open communicators that Captain Kirk used to talk to the ship (don’t those look like a cell phone?). The little medical scanner thing (sorry, not a Star Trek guy) – did you know they make those things now? Ok, it may not be able to do brain surgery yet, but there is a mirror available in Japan that will check your heart rate for you and Kirk didn’t even have one of those.

Freak says:

Re: Re: Re:5 ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

. . . I’d like to see you try to get a house built by carpenters in India and shipped over here :p

Or even to find a way to competitively ship rafters over from Asia.

What really excites me is that in some cases, being able to make the material out of a single block as it were, some of it will be much stronger, AND cheaper. Rafters, definitely. Plates are always a big expense for a rafter shop.

Freak says:

Re: Re: ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

Just to kick in here, as someone who’s worked both in engineering and construction, I could easily see the concrete printer.

Assuming someone’s willing to pay for concrete walls.
Assuming that it’s not more trouble to get the printer there than to build the house normally.
Assuming you can get the concrete & other materials there in less than a day
Assuming that the printer can be scaled up for such purposes
Assuming that the printer can be designed to work in outdoors conditions, (wind, rain, etc.)

Oh yeah, big one: Assuming the materials the printer can print, and the way it can print them is just as strong as the normal method of making them. I seriously doubt this for concrete. Seriously. I mean heck, there are 13 page formulae for the strength of concrete. The derivations are the rest of that horrid textbook that gives me nightmares still.

Oh, and assuming that we have simulations good enough to make each house design without it collapsing after printing. A house is expensive, (particularly a concrete walled one), people won’t want to just trust that 99% of the houses stand. They want to know 100% of them will. You don’t get test cases and prototypes, I’m afraid.

And we still need technology to advance quite a bit before even the smaller things become viable.

The idea is both extremely tempting, and too probably impossible for me to ever invest in . . .

Michael says:

Re: Re: Re: ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

As I said above – you could be absolutely right (although I don’t think you really are) and they guy that makes the house out of resin while you are sitting around thinking about how to make this work with concrete is really going to blow your mind – because he can print the walls and windows with the same material and just add color to the walls.

Oddly, houses are a great example of something that can be very printable. A single-story house is an extrusion of a 2D object (well, until you get to the roof).

Freak says:

Re: Re: Re:2 ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

If you look at the timing, I posted 5 mins before your link up above which shows the plans for the house, (something I thought was decades away), and then posted:

“I retract a lot of my below statement, even as my jaw drops low enough to fit both feet in.”

Obviously, I greatly underestimated the pace of technology, and that excites me.

Fsm says:

Re: Re: Re: ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

Spaceflight was probably extremely tempting to early scientists, but most said it was too impossible for them to invest in.

Sailing to the Americas was impossible, many thought the world was flat and just ended. Columbus only got more funding for his trip after he went back to Spain to prove he’d been there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

Actually, no one thought the world was flat during Columbus’ time. Ok, maybe a few ignorant rubes. The navigation methods used by sailors at the time were actually based upon the earth being round. What everyone thought was that the world was much larger than Columbus imagined, meaning that if he sailed west he wouldn’t hit India/Asia right away. And look at that. He didn’t. Still claimed he made it though.

I agree with your sentiment, but you struck upon a pet peeve of mine.

mikelinpa (profile) says:

Re: Re: ' actual "replicators" ', eh?

But, would it save you any money over building forms and having a cement mixer deliver 9 yards? As I understand it, the materials are expensive.

About the only real use these 3D printers have (except the growing potential for medical uses,) is for fashioning the first prototype before setting up a manufacturing facility to mass produce the final product.

I can see maybe printing my own replacement fender instead of getting ripped off by the auto parts industry, but it would have to be cheaper to purchase or rent my own printer, buy the liquid and dry supplies needed, and acquire the correct pattern. (It would be easier and cheaper to slather bondo in place and sculpt it.) I doubt it will be commonplace anytime soon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ' actual "replicators" ', eh?


Why not?

The only thing needed is a cartridge with the right material as a primary material and another one to act as scaffolding, be soluble in water and non toxic, then you can print complex patterns in rubber, or other polymer and maybe even real skin.

Spraying clothing is a reality.

This guy in Brazil build his own 3D printer and it is pretty impressive for a first generation equipment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Paper, the thing about paper that many people don’t realize is that paper is wood, put a resin on top of it and it become whatever you like.

People don’t see things as raw material.

To make insulation you can get mylar from a variety of sources like potato chip bags.

Now how do you stop people from producing their own future?

You use IP laws, that is what will stop people from producing their own solutions for their own problems.

The best weapon against anybody is “laziness”, you do thing for others and then crush them, you enslave others by making them need you and you create people who are unable to function alone or in small groups and that are highly dependent on the government, Katrina showed to all of us what happens when government breaks down in a unprepared community, in contrast when things like that happens in the U.K. or Japan you don’t see that kind of thing, the old people there know how to lit a fire, how to get worn in the winter without help from the outside or very little, those are countries that will probably survive anything.

IP laws is a way to grant somebody somewhere not necessarily in the country the power to say what you can and cannot do, that is the only reason those type of law really exist.

Derek Bredensteiner (profile) says:


I’ve found my optimism for the next battle in the things that are different this time around. I’m framing “this time around” versus “last time around” the same as the white paper, considering right now our “pre 3d printing equivalent of DMCA” opportunity.

1) The internet is beyond just mainstream, it’s a fact of life that’s changed how and what we know. Which means every aspect of the debate and the progress of the technology will be accelerated a greater rate than any previous instance of this phenomena.

2) 3D Printing will be limited at first, limited in it’s usage (right now it’s just solid plastic objects under 4 cubic inches). I think this will limit the scope of the industries that will fight it at first, and give more opportunity for support to swell around the technology before the really big incumbents realize they are threatened by this thing.

3) The music industry’s failures to stop piracy are present in this generation’s mind right now. There is already low respect for intellectual property laws, in principle even, so the starting level of the “resistance to DMCA era laws” will be higher than in previous go’rounds and the tipping point will be reached sooner.

Derek Bredensteiner (profile) says:

Re: Optimism

For example of item 3) mainstream attitude, check out this article penned two years ago by an action figure aficionado who’s well aware of both the impending 3d printer apocalypse and the previous riaa/mpaa skirmish.

However, the genie is about to be released from its bottle, and once it?s out, toy manufacturers will have to offer better products at better prices that really match what action figure collectors want. If they are smart, they will spearhead the 3D printing industry themselves, offering limited edition toys to collectors and limiting peg warming action figures.

Realizing that the distribution/infringement/whatever will happen, and the only recourse for the legacy industry is to adapt.

Anonymous Engineer says:

Re: Optimism

You should take some time to acquaint yourself with facts before posting comments.
At Wikipedia, an outdated list clearly shows that your comments regarding both dimensional limitations and materials are incorrect.
Although the cost can be higher than the average consumer can afford there are desktop 3D printers that be driven from a ordinary PC.
If this capability were to be teamed up with a laser scanning device such as is made by Faro among others.
Along with a CAD workstation outfitted with proper CAD software.
Mikes proposition is not far fetched at all.
Today, right now, not in some futuristic fantasy, in fact I sit behind such a set-up as I write this.
Anyone with $200k could go out and purchase; Workstation, Software, Scanner, and 3D Printer and be replicating without fuss.
Instead of replicating houses, what would be more analogous with the music industries ‘problems’ would be replicating high dollar trinkets.
This is just one example,
that statue of Luke Skywalker with Light Saber that you paid $1000. I could scan in 20 miniutes, and print out an exact, and I do mean exact, copy in 6-10 hours.

Derek Bredensteiner (profile) says:

Re: Re: Optimism

I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said there. You’re right, I didn’t check up what’s currently possible with 3d printers and was just going off what makerbot and the ilk list for their hobbyist kits dimensions and what they’re capable of.

I’ll probably still stand by the larger point I was trying to make that there’s at least multiple aspects of this “3d printing” situation that are distinct from the “music” and “video” situations that provide some room for optimism and things going at least a little bit differently.

I think my largest open question is, who will lead the assault against 3d printers first?

Evostick says:

Comparing to the music industry

1/Designers and architects of tomorrow are the musicians of today.
2/Factory owners of tomorrow are the RIAA of today.
3/”Ikea”s of tomorrow are the record stores of today.
4/Tomorrows producers of raw materials are the samsung, apple, segate of today.

2 and 3 will disappear. 4 will be successful if they harness the infinite power of 1.

NullOp says:


Its not so much trying to save a business model as companies trying to save their own asses. Business, especially in America, have milked/robbed the consumer for years living large off the average Joe. With the advent of 3D printers some items will be no longer need to be mass produced. So the companies currently producing those items must, in their own interest, incite a riot of FUD over the coming evil of 3D printing. Of course the average Joe does not/should not realize that up until the late 19th Century most things were produced locally or personally. Only store bought, mass produced goods are good enough. Oh, and by the way, companies make a veritable shit-load of money producing simple crap. So in the end we have to have business as usual because, as our f’d up courts are so fond of saying, “…the defendants should not be demoted from a lifestyle they have become accustomed to”. Which, of course, if a gigantic pile of steaming crap!

Lee (profile) says:

Cancer Treatment Breakthrough

Yes, and the medical industry has been doing it’s best to kill a valid, side-effect free, treatment for many kinds of cancers, some the “standard” radiation/chemo treatments call “incurable”. This treatment, called “antineoplastins” has been curing a lot of Texans, and people who can afford to move to Texas for treatment, for the past 33 years. Big PhRMA along with the FDA and many hospitals have been doing everything they can to block the treatment from general acceptance. See

Anonymous Coward says:

How to "Copy" Anything...

These guys show you how to copy anything:

Paul Jr. formerly of OCC.

“using a portable CMM in the process of reverse engineering allows you to obtain dimensional information that is accurate and will guarantee the integrity of the reproduction…”

Kind of like making a digital copy. Paul & Vinnie will show you how to reuse other people’s designs.

You can’t download a car, but you can download and “create” and use a motorcycle or car part.

Justin says:

Something out of nothing

Now if the 3D printer can pull the right molecules out thin air and make me a chair, let me know because then we have a story. But if not then all we have is a new way to manufacture things. We still need to supply and fill the printer with raw materials and I would assume that the market for those things would then increase. This would give the incumbent businesses something to still sell. They could also focus on designing and try to sell their blueprints for what ever they think people will want to make themselves at home.

Where as with music and movies, we can make something out of nothing by making a copy. No raw materials are consumed in making a copy, I don’t need to buy a supply of 0 and 1 so I can assembly the song.

So I can see where you want to compare these two things but the comparison seems kinda week in the fact that the 3D printer still has limited resources to work with.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Something out of nothing

If that were true, I’d think the Cable and Phone companies wouldn’t be fighting so hard to defend their high-margin old fashioned offerings.

Raw materials are commodities and commodities require a very different business model to manufactured goods… most notably, one with a lower profit margin and a market that is harder to enter and less forgiving of companies who can’t leverage economies of scale.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Re: Something out of nothing

Yes – we will be replicating soon – with nothing (or at least no cost).

First: In the near future (less than a lifetime) we will have printers that can print at the molecular if not atomic level.

Second: At some point (less certain timeframe) we will have a molecular defragger. A device that breaks down any “thing” (solid, liquid, gas) into its molecular or atomic “parts”

Third: Someone will release the design to the molecular defragger on the ‘net. Then someone will release a design that combines the two into one machine. You’ll print it out, raid your local dump, and have all the raw materials you need to replicate (or create new) just about anything you want.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Something out of nothing

“No raw materials are consumed in making a copy, I don’t need to buy a supply of 0 and 1 so I can assembly the song.”
Umm… actally yes.. yes they are.
Just where do you create/store than nice new shiny copy?

Or if not where can i get a free MPS/Mass media storage/phone/Hard drive?? 🙂 You still need raw materials for the copy – it’s just that the raw materials per copy are incredibly inexpensive.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Something out of nothing

I think it’s more accurate to describe the cost of making one additional copy (marginal cost) as zero. Making any number of copies has an initial fixed cost. Dividing that by the number of copies you can store yields an average cost. However, making one more copy doesn’t actually cost you the amount of the average cost, it costs you nothing. I just made another copy of a file, and it didn’t cost me one bajillionth of the cost of a new hard drive, it cost me zero.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Replacement parts

One huge market might be replacement parts, especially for automobiles. Many of the replacement parts for cars and trucks are basically plastic shapes. As long as the printer can handle approximately the right type of plastic, but the manufacturers charge a small fortune for them. In addition, it may take a few days to locate the part and have it shipped in. From the manufacturer’s perspective they have to warehouse a huge inventory of replacement parts for a decade or more.

Imagine how great it would be if every repair shop could punch out a replacement taillight lens for any vehicle in just a few minutes using a few cents worth of plastic. Manufacturers might loose a profit center, but there would be an entire industry that would grow up around supplying and organizing the recipes and materials that the shops would need to have easy access to.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Since quite a few of the DIY variants of desktop “3d-printers” are actually made from modified bubble-jet printers, the term is quite appropriate.

The mechanism and algorithm is practically identical:

Print epoxy (instead of ink) droplets useing XY coordinates for a slice of what you’re producing.
Drop the Z coordinate by 1.

James says:

This is silly

This just seems silly.
3-D printing are used alot in the plastics/molding industries. They are excellent for making PROTOTYPE parts. To check designs before tooling.
I don’t see this hurting any consumer product industry. Even though the tech is getting better, it take a long time to “print”, size is a big issue and the finished product is of relativly poor quality.
It also requires someone with more than a cd/dvd drive, the information to send to the printer needs to come from a 3-D CAD file. Which require a products to be reverse engineered…
So, in short my industry (engineering/manufacturing) is embracing this technology, which provides for the same industries that you say will object to this. Madness.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Re: This is silly

Take a browse through Thingiverse (

Realize that the site has been up for *maybe” two years.

Realize that they are almost ALL hobbyist.

Realize how many 3D Files are on the net that can be easily converted to tool paths with simple software readily (and freely) available.

Think to yourself “If these individuals are printing useable stuff now (as in today, this very second), what’s left for my industry in the near future?” “How many years before they are printing larger things with multiple material types?”

Does it still seem silly?

Come back and report.


Hawkmoon (profile) says:

For the moment, everyone is getting up in arms over nothing. 3d printers use a resin which for the moment, is good for pretty little objects and rapid prototyping. The largest 3d printer can make an object roughly 24″ x 24″ and those are prohibitively expensive. In fact a Medium model which prints objects 10″ square runs $25k. So Joe Blow on the street isn’t going to just wander into the local Best Buy and purchase one like he would a dvd burner. In 20-30 years we may get “replicators” of some sort, but for the most part, we are a long way off from “printing” durable goods or electronics.

Mikael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It looks like you and maybe one other poster have actually done research on this. I was looking into 3D printers a while back for my own needs and found pretty much what you did. They are hella expensive. Z Corp was the company I was looking at that makes some of the printers. It’s funny, I got an email the other day with a subject along the lines of “finally an affordable desktop 3D printing solution”, and the funny part was that they called a $30k printer affordable. Maybe in the 3D printing industry it’s affordable, but that’s the only way it could be seen as such.

There was a guy that worked with Blizzard in order to get data from their servers on character models so people could order a miniature statue of their character. He got the 3D data of characters belonging to customers who ordered one and used that data with his 3D printer to make the statues. They sold for $99 each and there was so much demand that he had a serious backlog of orders. People will use 3D printers to make things no one else is making, to prototype products, and test part designs. I don’t see the technology becoming affordable for everyday consumer use, or becoming large enough to “print” a house.

BigKeithO (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Check out the RepRap (Replicating Rapid Prototyper).

This thing can already replicate itself (well, maybe not 100% but a vast majority of the parts) right now. The creator is also currently working on a way to allow this machine to recycle your household “garbage” plastics as raw materials. Estimates range around a couple hundred dollars to have a fully functioning 3D fab machine in your house.

There is no need to go to BestBuy to get one, just find someone who already has one and have it replicate itself! This is today, right now. Just imagine where this technology will be in another 5 to 10 years.

Anonymous Coward says:

They are excellent for making PROTOTYPE parts.

Not just prototyping anymore but manufacturing too.

Even though the tech is getting better, it take a long time to “print”, size is a big issue and the finished product is of relativly poor quality.

Irregardless of the quality of the finished product, it won’t stop the big boys from trying to nip it in the bud for the average citizen, knowing full well that quality will only improve. Based on the examples today of digital distribution (i.e. video, music and books) they certainly know by now once the genie is out of the bottle, they’ll never get it back in.

So, in short my industry (engineering/manufacturing) is embracing this technology, which provides for the same industries that you say will object to this.

They won’t object to it for themselves, just for everyone else. It’s how the corporate game is played.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

My Favorite Subject

I’ve been watching/living the DIY/Make revolution for the past 7 years with great enthusiasm. The desktop 3d printer of today change little. The desktop replicator of tomorrow changes EVERYTHING.

And like Freak (previous poster above) who realizes mid-stream that –oops yeah… that is the future (and congrats on being man enough to state that out loud by the way) this will catch many, many people off guard.

This will not be a RIAA issue – but damn straight it’s going to be a shockwave in the political and manufacturing worlds.

Not only does this destroy China’s emerging middle class (there because of manufacturing boon for the past couple of generations) but can you imagine the absolute shock and fear this will have on Unions?

What becomes important? Three things:
1. The people with the ideas.
2. The raw materials.
3. Marketing.

And that is it.

Supply chain? done.
Retail outlets? done.
Manufacturing facilities? done.

Right now the mini revolution is that $3000-$15000 “desktop” printers are being purchased and setup by mom-and-pop shops (along with a huge following of DIY hobbyist) to build one-off and short-run prototypes and products. What do they need? A gerbs file and your money. That’s it. These are the families that just 15 years ago would have gone into the T-Shirt printing business.

Of course we will not all have 3d printers on our desk anymore than we all have laser quality printers on our desk (… oh wait….). The point is that as the machines become smaller and cheaper the more likely we will have one ourselves.

And once we are printing atoms instead of epoxy, there are no (well…few) limits to what one can have.

What will it take to replicate? A stereo camera that can create a scatter plot (tons of them out there) will get a design for the things a 3d design doesn’t already exist for. The printer. The materials.

For the thousands of things that are already encoded in 3d ( – just share the file and print.

Yes. Resistance is futile. But damn straight there will be resistance.

I love it! Thanks for bringing the topic up Mike.


Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: My Favorite Subject

Not only does this destroy China’s emerging middle class (there because of manufacturing boon for the past couple of generations) but can you imagine the absolute shock and fear this will have on Unions?

I’m wondering where labor in every country is headed. Automation is eliminating many jobs. We will likely reach a point where we have more people than we need to have working. Abundance is a good thing when we can figure out how everyone can share in that abundance.

Freak says:

Re: My Favorite Subject


Yeah, My thinking was: Mike’s right, but that’s years off! Here’s why . . .

And then Michael goes and shows us a link that led me off to discover that most of my barriers ave already been passed. And they’re already making a 3D printer to print a house. And that’s just amazing. That’s so totally gamebreaking I can’t imagine how lucky I am to live in this time.

Y’know, I went around all day today, being excited, and telling people: “THEY’RE PRINTING A HOUSE!”

tetron (profile) says:

Missing the point

Example of house printing in action:

People seem to be missing the point. For follow the recording analogy, 3D printing now is somewhere between vinyl and early tape recording in terms of the ability for consumers to produce copies. The technology will get better. The problem that Mike anticipates is that copyright and patents are already severely bent out of shape by purely digital artifacts; if/when large numbers of individuals bypass conventional centralized manufacturing by taking digital artifacts and using them to produce real-world artifacts will turn many industries completely upside down. Those industries will likely fight back using legal, particularly the copyright and patent system.

mrharrysan (profile) says:

You know, the naysayers crack me up on this one. 20 yrs ago I used a dot matrix monochrome printer and there was effectively no internet, 20 yrs from now, all you will need is the digital file of the object you want to create and the raw materials. $30K is out of the price range of the ordinary consumer, sure. But the cost of electronics always goes down. My dad paid over $1000 for our first vcr in 1979. So if you can get a vcr now for $40, then in 20 years you should be able to get a very nice 3d printer for under $1000.

tetron (profile) says:

For example

Going back to the house printing idea, suppose you download Creative Commons-licensed plans for a house from the Internet, rent one of these house printing gadgets to build it for you. A few months later you wake up one morning being served a lawsuit by the AIAA (Architects Industry Association of America) because your house incorporates some copyrighted/patented design element, for which you must pay a license fee or they’ll come knock your house down.

SLK8ne says:


I remember seeing on sourceforge (I think) a couple of years ago a plan set and a software project for converting an inkjet printer into a 3D printer. Out of Australia if memory serves right. Price for the home brew was $200 American. (couldn’t find the link)

I don’t know if this will be the same kind of revolutionary development file sharing has become. Making your own bootleg iPod from scratch is not particularly practical. But, it would be great for small business. For instance table top games that can’t afford a figurine production line could sell the file and let enthusiasts “print” their own game pieces. Say you wanted a replacement part for something or a custom skin for (whatever takes the iPod’s place) You go down to your local 3D print shop, and ask them to model it or design it. That is where it will be revolutionary. It eliminates the need for long distance shipping of mass produced goods that are smaller.

And you’d never be able to replicate anything as big as a car at any price you’d want to pay. But, you could print say, custom seat covers, vanity plates, hood ornaments, hub caps, etc. All without having to buy anything made in a sweatshop. As the previous poster pointed out all you’d need would be a file and the raw materials.

But, rather than looking at the damage it would do to the existing economic order, look at the business opportunities generated by it. Today there are many thousands of people who make a living creating 3D models and doing texturing for them. (Mostly for places like MVU, where you can sell meshes and skins for 3d avatars) While some jobs would be lost in other sectors, the 3d modeler and “skinner” sectors would boom.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Re: Interesting

“…But, rather than looking at the damage it would do to the existing economic order, look at the business opportunities generated by it. Today there are many thousands of people who make a living creating 3D models and doing texturing for them. (Mostly for places like MVU, where you can sell meshes and skins for 3d avatars) While some jobs would be lost in other sectors, the 3d modeler and “skinner” sectors would boom….”

It’s an excellent point. However it ignore advances. And the field is advancing quickly. $100K-$1M for a quality 3d printer 10-15 years ago. $60K for one 5 years ago. $30K for a high-end/small business” today. $15K for low-end business/high end hobbyist today.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Re: Interesting

(lost something along the way -sorry for the repost)

“…But, rather than looking at the damage it would do to the existing economic order, look at the business opportunities generated by it. Today there are many thousands of people who make a living creating 3D models and doing texturing for them. (Mostly for places like MVU, where you can sell meshes and skins for 3d avatars) While some jobs would be lost in other sectors, the 3d modeler and “skinner” sectors would boom….”

It’s an excellent point. However it ignore advances. And the field is advancing quickly. $100K-$1M for a quality 3d printer 10-15 years ago. $60K for one 5 years ago. $30K for a high-end/small business” today. $15K for low-end business/high end hobbyist today.

ChronoFish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Interesting - one more try

“…But, rather than looking at the damage it would do to the existing economic order, look at the business opportunities generated by it. Today there are many thousands of people who make a living creating 3D models and doing texturing for them. (Mostly for places like MVU, where you can sell meshes and skins for 3d avatars) While some jobs would be lost in other sectors, the 3d modeler and “skinner” sectors would boom….”

It’s an excellent point. However it ignore advances. And the field is advancing quickly. $100K-$1M for a quality 3d printer 10-15 years ago. $60K for one 5 years ago. $30K for a high-end/small business” today. $15K for low-end business/high end hobbyist today. less than $300 for the DIY – today.

Cars for years, like the Acura NSX were CNC’d out of a solid piece of aluminum (for the frame/monocoque). Any reason why that couldn’t be done “locally”. How about in your garage?

Price drops, technology advances. Today’s prototype shop is tomorrow print shop. Do you make copies by going to Kinko’s? Or do you just adjust the “number of copies” option in the print dialog box?


nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Interesting - one more try

Cars for years, like the Acura NSX were CNC’d out of a solid piece of aluminum (for the frame/monocoque).

I don’t have specific information to refute that claim but… really?? A CNC machine going to work on a 4 ton block of aluminum to make a car, turning almost the whole thing into aluminum shavings in the process? I think it’s much more likely it used many aluminum pieces joined together. The Porsche 928 was made of aluminum welded together, the Audi A8 and I think Lotus Elise is rivet-bonded aluminum. Those techniques have got to be a lot cheaper than machining the whole unibody from solid aluminum.

Short version: I would need a credible reference before I believe that claim.

Anonymous Coward says:

A Hopefully Interesting Rant

I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that 3d printing is a disruptive force to manufacturing today. However if you don’t think it will be in 20/30 years I think you need to open your eyes to the advances in technology over the past 30 years. 30 years ago having a color printer at home would have been ridiculously expensive and you probably wouldn’t have been able to reproduce a decent photograph with it. Things improve. There won’t be some eureaka moment when suddenly everyone decides they must have a 3d printer it will be a swell that just keeps gaining momentum and it has already started with the hobbyist just like another piece of electronics did that you are all using now. As the technology progresses and becomes more useful it will generate more interest that will only propel it further. What I think mike is pointing out is that companies need to be looking forward and embrace this change instead of waiting and getting run over when the swell suddenly sinks all of their profits. The design of physical goods cannot be pirated today because most people do not have the tools necessary to produce the finished good. 3d printers will eventually have the power to change that, for simple items first like figurines, then other small plastic parts, and then for more and more complex items as the technology advances. The question is how do you then encourage/force consumers to compensate you for the design of these items because if you are paying attention you will realize that DRM is not the answer. It will fail and your design will be shared outside of your control. I guarantee that this will be a huge upheaval when it does take-off and that many many companies will try to sue their consumers for sharing their designs. Personally, I don’t think the CwF/RtB mentality will transfer very easily for the physical items that few people will have the same emotional attachment to as they do to music. There won’t be the same personal connection…I don’t think about the designer of my mouse, I like it alot but he doesn’t have a face or personality that I can associate with like the musicians I listen to. It will be really interesting to see how this all plays out.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Infinite goods ... Gotta llove them

3d printing technology is leading us into an era of infinite goods. We need to learn from actions of the record labels and the rest of the content industry to see the future.

If you look at the manufacturing industry, they are “NEXT” middlemen. They shape and create the containers for the knowledge they sell. The only thing of value in the future is the raw material.

Freak says:

Re: Has anyone already mentioned the 3D printed car?

No, they haven’t.
That’s even more exciting, because they’ve already done it.
And all the complex moving, interlinked parts.

Now I just need to figure out how fast it was made, whether that prototype will last, and how expensive it was to make the car using 3D printing. That’ll tell me how far away the future is . . .

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Has anyone already mentioned the 3D printed car?

Now I just need to figure out how fast it was made, whether that prototype will last, and how expensive it was to make the car using 3D printing.

And then walk around telling people, “THEY’RE PRINTING A CAR!” To which they will say, “shut up Freak, we don’t care.” 😉

Karl (profile) says:


The fact that this thread has over 100 comments shows that it’s a hot-button topic. Where hot-button topics lead, industries usually follow.

The technology certainly won’t be viable for at least a decade. But once it does become viable, entire industries will crumble.

On the one hand, this is awesome – anyone who can spend a couple months’ rent will be able to make anything they want. On the other hand, it’s not so awesome – since 90% of the country won’t even be able to pay their rent.

For those who want a lesson, here it is: Go back to school and earn a Computer Science degree. In the near future, nobody else will get paid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: RepRap People!!

when a commercial one is >$35k, $500 might as well be free.

Even if you know someone with a reprap you still need steppers, and a controllers, and electronics.

as more food for thought is that if you have hydrogen, and enough energy you can make anything you need. Fuse H together to make He, then those into C and so on and so forth… like in a star.

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