Economist Article

From: Peter Blacklin (
Date: Tue Mar 27 2001 - 01:46:02 EEST

Dear List,

I have been asked about the article so here goes.

The Economist is a Weekly Journal which has a different perspective on life. You can find it in most libraries and book stores.
The web site is
I cannot copy the article for you as it is a copyrighted piece.

This is a 3 page article about 3000 words.

The Solid Future of Rapid Prototyping

Header quote:
"The future of rapid prototyping - used for "printing" 3D models of engineering parts direct from designs on a computer screen - depends on being able to turn out real components made of real materials instead of plastic look-a-likes. Instant one-step manufacturing is the goal."

Intro is a vision of the future - virtual stock-room. Precursors to this are RP machines.

Dumb Models
Quick overview of the capability of the RP models - not very flattering about accuracy or surface finish (which is true for a raw RP model).
Looks at new research and covers the basic CAD to model process.
Diagram of 3D printing process. Integrated models and circuits.
Discusses tooling elimination - Quotes from Phil Dickens
Notes that some aerospace companies are making the technology pay.

Rocketdyne using the technology. DTM is mentioned
Align Technology gets mention on the process for impressions of teeth, scanned, build. Sequence of braces for teeth. 3D Systems machines.
Suggests that Rocketdyne and Align are exceptions in using the technology profitably and notes that the machines are $1million a piece.

Terry Wohlers is quoted as considering the 3D printing the most promising technology for general purpose RPManufacturing machine. 3D system thermojet is described. Mentions cost of machine.
3DP machine from MIT leads into talk of the material problems necessary for building real parts.
Z-Corp get mention for ability to make parts quickly and low cost.
Single material systems are not seen as bad as each component is usually of one material. Discussion of complex internal shapes.
Review of challenges to getting multiple materials in one model and to do it at a very small scale
Color in models.
Dr Sach solution for reducing the data file size for the 3D object with different materials. Talk of slicing the model and to use prior slices to adapt from prior ones.
Therics (Princeton) using these methods to print a combination of liquid drug and solid polymer for a time release capsule for drug delivery. Small size part - can lay down 60,000 doses / hour. - leads to industrial scale production.
Linda Griffiths using a Therics Printer for making a scaffolds for growing tissue.

DARPA and printing electronic circuits. CMS Technetronics - micro dispensing stylus and laser for making circuits. Process scans surface to recognize shape. System almost is as fast a silk screen printing. 8 and 12 head coming out next year.

Conclusion / ending
Will it kill off the traditional tool making? Not in the short term. Suggests that as the process speed up and new materials are developed, RM will become feasible for mass production.
Where will the technology go next 3D printing will have as radical effect as the 2D did. Long way to go.

I suggest you get a copy. There are other technologies that are worth reading about. The economist (in my view) gives a commercial look at things that are happening in the world.

When I first read the article I thought the "dumb model" of low accuracy and child's attempt at sculpture was going a bit far. In reality that is what comes off as a raw model (some worse that others) The finishing that is done to make these models look like the CAD original masks the "system" performance and adds cost.


Peter Blacklin

Optimum Solutions Inc.
11391 Barrow Downs
Columbia MD 21044
(410) 730 3371 Tel
(410) 730 6359 Fax

Perfection is not optional.

For more information about the rp-ml, see

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