Scott Summit gives a fascinating overview of 3D printing, from orthopedic devices to furniture, from clothes to food.
SUMMIT: I think what people don’t realize is 3D printing is already in our lives. It’s in every aspect of our life. It’s in the car that you drove here in, it’s in the airplane you flew in, it helped design the toothbrush that you used this morning. It’s already there. We’re seeing over time as things progress we’re seeing it in more and more places that we never would have expected before. We’re looking at 3D printing hands. You can 3D print a hand for $15 for anyone in the Sudan, Africa, India, Asia. Anyone who needs a hand can simply measure what they need, enter it into a file and 3D print it if they have one. If not, send it to somebody who does have a printer and for $15 they can have a new hand. Prosthetic legs are a little more complex than hands in the sense that they have to be stronger. The impact we subject our legs to is much, much higher than what we subject the hand to. That said, we can certainly print a fairly affordable leg, $2,000-$3,000, that is very effective, very efficient, very high quality. One of my favorite new products is the scoliosis brace that we just introduced onto the market. It’s still in testing, but we’re starting to take patients. The patient who wears it, 90% of them are girls. She feels beautiful in it. She doesn’t feel like she’s part of a medical experiment. She feels like she’s wearing something that complements her, makes her look better. One example of that would be Invisalign. It’s the way people get their teeth straightened in the US and perhaps worldwide more and more now. That used to be something that was a difficult, painful process. It was done by hand by a doctor with plenty of error. Now it’s done entirely digitally. It’s entirely 3D printed. We print around 18 million individual units per year for these people, and it’s entirely revolutionized that industry.
CRISTINA: Are there areas that, wow, will astonish us?
S: There’s 3D printed musical instruments, 3D printing in fashion more and more, 3D printing in entertainment certainly. I think certain things will naturally be printed at the home, and that’s what’s going to be shaking things up. You’re no longer going to get price benefits by going off overseas to have your manufacturing done because it’s better to do it right here. In the early days it was all about printing photopolymer, and then it went to engineering thermoplastics, but now it’s thousands of materials. Pretty much every metal, gold, silver, titanium, nickel, you name it, all the polymers from the expensive ones, the engineered thermoplastics like polyamide, down to the cheaper ones like ABS, it’s ceramic, it’s glass, it’s food. We’re printing in sugar and chocolate.
C: What about jobs? You can see the millions losing their jobs, and how instead are they going to be replaced?
S: Certain jobs might be displaced in traditional manufacturing. But I think we’re going to see a real explosion in the kind of jobs that come about from this new wave of innovation. We had a designer ask us questions about this water filter that he was designing, so we helped him with some ideas and printed some prototypes and went back and forth and got to know him a little bit. Then we at one point said, “Hey, if you’re ever in San Francisco, “please track us down. We’d love to talk more.” And he said, “Yeah, I’d love to come, but I’ll have to ask my mom because she’ll have to drive me.” We realized he was something like 10 years old. That really let us onto the fact that the next generation is full of ideas. Now they have the tool that they can actually bring them into the world.
C: We hear people say we’ll be 3D printing our homes soon. Will we really?
S: We’re already seeing that now. An architect named Ronald Rael is doing stunning work in that area. To build a home you can do 1 of 2 things. You can either have a large gantry that rolls into place and it has a big arm, and it prints out your home just like a large version of one of these machines, or you can print out individual bricks, the difference being that each brick is individually printed for exactly where it’s going to go. This was created by a guy named Janne Kyttanen. He wanted to create a lighting company. There are many millions of dollars that have to go into your manufacturing, your assembly costs, your labor, and he didn’t have that. He was living on his friend’s couch, so what he did is he started designing beautiful lamps that he could sell online, and when people bought them he simply printed it. Creativity was not limited. He didn’t have to worry about a design failing, because if nobody bought it he didn’t lose anything. He was able to create these shapes that are really complex and beautiful that nobody has ever seen before.