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Telegraph photo by Lance Booth
An overflow crowd listens to the panelists at the Science Cafe NH.
Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fabulous Science Cafe NH made me a little more skeptical about 3-D printers

We had a fabulous Science Cafe NH last night, our first since moving from Concord to Nashua; a good 100 people showed up, overflowing the space (good thing the fire marshal wasn't there) and the panelists were knowledgeable, funny and clear - a rare combination. Here's a Telegraph story, to show you what you missed if you weren't there.

I learned a lot about 3-D printing, and my biggest takeaway is that I've become a little more dubious of its paradigm-shifting powers, at least in the next decade or so.

Two shortcomings were pointed out that will get in the way of "I'll soon be able to manufacture anything I want in my den just by downloading files from the Internet" dream:

Rob Masek of MakeIt Labs pointed out that the power requirements of 3-D printing involving metals are way beyond household levels (400 or 500 amps!), while John Wigard of SolidScape noted the difficulty of developing a system that can use multiple materials: You can't print a whole shoe unless you can print leather and fabric and shoelace-tip material, all at once. SolidScape makes a printer that uses two materials, but one of them is there to support extensions of the created solid and gets melted away afterward; nobody has been able to integrate multiple materials into a single printed object, he said.

Another issue is that the material, even plastic used in homebrew MakerBots, can't be reused in 3-D printers because the material has to be so pristine. (There are efforts to change that, like this, but they're just starting.)