Oct.15, 2013

Much attention has been paid to 3D Printing lately. New companies are developing cheaper and more efficient 3D printers, and we have seen the printing of an unborn baby's face, Human and animal prosthetic limbs and countless of novelty toys.

"When you produce something yourself instead of purchasing it, that changes your relationship to it," says Chelsea Schelly, assistant professor of social sciences at Michigan Technological University. "You are empowered by it."

Teacher workshop

Schelly began her research by studying a teacher workshop coordinated by 3D printing guru Joshua Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering and electrical and computer engineering.

During the workshop, one of the local high school teachers produced a valuable part and a teachable moment at the same time.

"He needed a snowblower part that would normally cost $200," Schelly says. "Instead, he made it himself and saved the money." And he saved the hassle of bringing the machine to the shop to get it fixed."

And his students in the snow-laden school district clearly got the relevance of that example. They routinely beg to stay after school to make their own creations on the printer.

"The early feedback from the teachers is that the students are more engaged," she says. "They take pride in making these things for themselves. This could be seen as part of the larger 'maker's movement,' where people are doing their own production processes."

It requires a new attitude, but she was surprised at how quickly those teachers changed their mind-sets.

"In just three days, they could see the environmental value," Schelly says. "They were empowered, and the fact that they made this, and their students will make more, means that the students will be inspired, too, instead of passively consuming."

Economic impact

Schelly says new technology can also have some negative consequences. "This can affect manufacturing jobs and potentially put people out of work," Schelly says. "Although the low-wage and low-skill work could be affected, like those products produced in China, other positive changes might occur."

Schelly is also focused on possible economic policy changes, such as the lowering of the full-time workweek from 40 hours to 30, which might be another offshoot of this type of enterprise. The free time could then be used for more self-sufficiency efforts, and more people could be employed, if fewer work hours are the norm.

"It also is a reflection of what we want people engaged in: something other than mindless, menial tasks," she says. "It could mean getting the imports from China out of the cycle. Printers could be organized in the US at the community scale."

Pearce sees prices coming down as more people print their own products, especially as the price of the printers comes down.

"As 3D printing was open-sourced, the costs plummeted from tens of thousands of dollars to $1,600 for assembled printers today, and the new RepRap printers are down to $500 in parts," he points out. "As the price drop continues, they will become household items, like desktop printers."

Meanwhile the number of designs is exploding, Pearce says. Open-source allows the technology to evolve much faster than normal. "There are a lot of helpers out there," he explains. "Give us what you've got, and we'll build on it and give you what we've got—and we all benefit."


Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Monique wrote at 10/27/2013 10:04:18 PM:

Jeff, you think people need the same income.But if they can print the stuff they need it will cost less than when they buy it. If they also repair stuff that will save money to. Further more they can exchange stuff they print for stuff other people grow in their garden. So they save money and get a feeling of accomplishment and you can get a bigger sense of community. Maybe you are right in that they will rely on those activities for extra income but the income will not be in money but in shared goods. Seems more fulfilling than a 40 hour workweek to me.

michaelc wrote at 10/19/2013 6:28:32 AM:

Maybe this will lead to the return of the local repair shops. Instead of ordering parts or machining them, the new shops would either model their own parts or download them and print them out.

Jeff wrote at 10/16/2013 6:45:00 PM:

I'm thinking we will see a new, more blurred definition of work. The "40 hr work week" was a concept born of the industrial age. Before the industrial age, work was often backbreaking and was more or less constant through most of the waking hours. Your "workplace" was often also your home. With the industrial age the workplace became seperated from the home and it was easier to differentiate between "work", which produced pay, and "chores" which were work done around your home. 3D printing, as it becomes more comonplace in the home, is likely to join the ranks of home hobby/business activities. Gardening, canning, crochet, woodworking, small engine & auto repair, & bicycle repair all are "do it yourself" activities that also get used to produce extra income or as items for barter. The ability to produce small, useable items with a 3D printer will likely go the same way. It's unlikely that businesses will increase wages by 30% or more (needed to maintain the same income when working 30 hrs rather than 40). So its likely that IF hours reduce you will see more and more people relying on these activities to make up the difference in income to maintain the same standard of living.

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