Tag Archives: 3D printing solutions

Next-gen tech steps up to the plate

Some next-gen technology has been on the verge of going mainstream for years but never quite seemed to make it—until now. 3D printing, virtual reality (VR), and artificial intelligence (AI) have finally arrived.

The Spiceworks 2017 State of IT report, which surveyed almost 900 IT decision-makers, lists these technologies at the bottom in terms of technology trends adoption. That’s unsurprising, given their nascent status and the fact that companies struggle to understand their commercial potential. But the market is starting to show enough interest to make them significant, and the level of tech development in each of these fields is stunning.

According to the report, 7 percent of respondents currently use 3D printing, with another 5 percent plan on using it. Four percent already use VR, with another 3 percent coming on board soon. Just 2 percent of respondents use AI, with another 3 percent planning to use it—although this may be a special case. AI is increasingly embedded behind the scenes as an enabling technology in applications and services that don’t necessarily foreground it as a feature.

How have these technologies developed in the last few years, and which companies lead the pack?

3D printing

3D printing’s been around since the invention of stereolithography in the early ’80s, but it was traditionally restricted to large firms that could afford the expensive industrial equipment. Then, the first open-source, self-replicating printer, the RepRap, was designed. In 2010, MakerBot debuted its 3D printer, followed in 2013 by Formlabs with its Form 1.

As desktop 3D printing evolved, so did the techniques. MakerBot uses deposition printing, which involves layers of material printed atop each other. Conversely, Formlabs brought stereolithography to the lower end of the enterprise market. In 2016, the industry moved on. MakerBot was acquired by high-end material jetting firm Stratasys in 2013, leaving XYZprinting, Ultimaker, and M3D leading the market for personal 3D printers, as noted by CONTEXT.

Several companies are now focusing on innovation in 3D printing. HP, for instance, is hitting the enterprise market with its 3D-printing technology and operates a marketplace in which third parties can innovate with their own printing materials. Imagine printing parts with embedded components, such as layers with different colours, LED indicators, and even circuitry. Executives envisage a future where 3D-printed parts can report their own stress and thermal conditions by directly connecting to the Internet of Things.

Virtual reality

Modern computerized virtual reality experienced a series of false starts. In 1991, arcade-game firm Virtuality launched its rudimentary VR-based arcade system, and four years later, Nintendo tried its hand in 1994 with the Virtual Boy, but the computing wasn’t fast enough, and the displays weren’t good enough. The next-gen technology lay largely dormant until 2012, when Oculus VR launched a Kickstarter crowdfunding program for its Rift head-mounted display.

The Oculus demos suggested the technology had finally evolved to support virtual reality, and while commercial delivery was delayed, Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 billion two years later, demonstrating its own faith in the concept. Since then, things have exploded on the VR scene. Powerful smartphones with high-resolution displays create impressive VR experiences at the low end of the market, thanks to a partnership between Oculus and Samsung, while HTC provides a similar offering with its Vive headset. Google also jumped aboard in late 2016 with its Daydream VR software platform, followed shortly after by Microsoft, which also unveiled a VR device.

VR is complemented by its cousin, augmented reality, in which computer imagery enhances rather than replaces images of the real world. Microsoft’s Hololens captured the public’s imagination in this space and is now on sale to developers. While Google’s Glass AR system was discontinued, it led a $542 million investment in secretive AR firm Magic Leap, which since expanded its total funding to $1.4 billion—not bad for a company that hasn’t even shipped a product yet. There’s a lot of money floating around the VR and AR market, and the next five years promise unprecedented growth for AR and VR as hyper-scale companies integrate them with a plethora of back-end services.

Artificial intelligence

Toward the start of this decade, the three biggest stories in AI hinted at where we’d end up five years later. IBM’s Watson defeated human contestants in the game show Jeopardy; Google revealed its driverless car technology was already on the road for months; and Apple launched Siri, its digital assistant. Since then, these technologies have all evolved.

Companies constantly push the boundaries in their AI research. Last year, Google’s DeepMind AI division won a game of Go against the world champion in a coup that wasn’t expected to happen for years. Self-driving cars are well on their way to commercial reality, with Elon Musk’s Tesla halfway there already—although ironically, Musk has voiced his concerns about AI’s potential to run away with itself and threaten human existence.

Microsoft, Google, and Amazon all jumped on the AI-assistant bandwagon, integrating them into equipment that listens to you as you roam around your home. The idea is to make AI so easy to access that it becomes part of your everyday life, accessible wherever you are. That’s part of AI’s biggest promise and, potentially, its biggest danger: As it becomes increasingly sophisticated, it promises to permeate our lives without us even aware of what’s happening.

It’s been a wild five years for these three technologies, but now that they’ve arrived, the most important part of their journey is only just beginning. What they’ll deliver in 2021 will likely be more amazing still.

3D printing is fuelling a digital revolution

The next digital revolution in Canada is an industrial one: The country is poised for a renaissance in manufacturing as 3D printing disrupts traditional economies of scale.

But this “fourth industrial revolution,” as outlined by Stephen Nigro, HP Inc.’s president of 3D printing, has many moving parts to form a “blended reality.” A number of different entrepreneurial players will participate in this digital revolution, as well—it’s not just 3D-printing players, be it large or small, who will play a role in this reality. Artificial intelligence, augmented reality, connected factories, and robotics will be interwoven into the fabric spurred by the commercial and industrial 3D-printing boom, combining the physical and digital worlds.

HP expects the 3D-printing industry will disrupt and reinvent the CAD$16 trillion manufacturing sector and predicts 3D printing to grow at a 30 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR). By 2021, it will be a CAD$24 billion industry, with plastics expected to be the largest portion of the market, accounting for an estimated CAD$13 trillion in five years.

Increased investment

As the 3D-printing market evolves, it may be better to look as it as additive manufacturing, which combines new and old techniques to rapidly create products. As a larger firm, HP has heavily invested in 3D printing for additive manufacturing, unlike smaller niche players who’ve focused on 3D printing for consumers.

It also forecasts 3D printing to broadly impact work and daily life, as it will shorten and localize the supply chain. This digital revolution will see the shipping of digital designs and raw materials, rather than tangible goods. HP also expects this fourth industrial revolution to impact education, as the classroom must prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet, while the on-demand printing of goods will also affect trade and taxation.

Previously, HP tried to avoid the moniker of “printing company,” but when it comes to 3D printing, it embraces the name by leveraging technology the company’s developed over decades as the leader in conventional paper printing. HP has developed massive ink jet printheads configured to handle finely powdered versions of the nylon plastics frequently used for 3D projects. For Canada, it’s an opportunity to reverse its fortunes in the slumping manufacturing sector, as commercial 3D printing technology has the potential to help manufacturers meet demand in real time.

This digital revolution will also enable manufacturing companies to be more nimble, as they maintain virtual inventories—you only need to print parts to support a just-in-time delivery model. This agility will improve customer satisfaction and reduce production costs. Manufacturers could move production to local printing centres to meet customer requests for customization that would not be easily or quickly done in a traditional manufacturing model.

Anticipating adoption

To date, 3D printing has been primarily used for producing detailed prototypes, and although it’s not yet ready for producing items en masse, advances in technology mean that final, usable products can be made cost effectively. There’s also room for large players and smaller startups, as well as public-private collaborations.

In fact, large companies may need smaller businesses if they want to capitalize on the rapidly innovating 3D-printing boom. For example, Walmart Canada turned to a small think tank to test the feasibility of customers designing and printing their own, unique holiday mementos at its new Ancaster, Ontario store in December. Additionally, HP Canada president Mary Ann Yule recently noted that we’ll first witness 3D printing adoption in consumer packaged goods, as well as in the aerospace, automotive, telecommunications, and health care industries.

Efforts are underway to help 3D printing in manufacturing meet its potential in Canada, including collaborative efforts between industry and government. The Society of Manufacturing Engineers promotes 3D printing as a way to help companies return home, as well as encourage manufacturers to build supply chains using mostly homegrown companies. Meanwhile, another initiative to provide grants to Canadian companies so they can develop new 3D printing applications is the SMART program, launched and managed by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.

Is your business ready for the 3D-printing revolution? If not, don’t fret—as long as you keep an eye on this evolving trend, you can stay one step ahead of the competition and know when it’s time to hop on the bandwagon.

3D printing and blended reality—the dawn of the next Industrial Revolution?

Until recently, artisans carried out design and production through the painstaking process of handcrafting customized products one at a time. If you wanted to buy a pair of shoes, you’d visit a cobbler, who’d create a perfect pair just for you. Then, the Industrial Revolution happened, which sped up the process and made it highly scalable—but less flexible for customization and further removed from the consumer. This process hasn’t changed for the last 100 years.

Now, 3D printing is poised to unleash a new wave of transformative changes in manufacturing, returning the craft to designers and production to local centres, while taking advantage of radical improvements in efficiency and speed. It will even allow us to design and produce entirely new products that have never been conceived of before—yet alone brought to life.

The next wave of transformative change in manufacturing

In the next 10 to 15 years, 3D printing will converge with socioeconomic forces, advanced design, production innovation, and highly automated printed processes to spark incredible transformations in design and manufacturing that were previously unimaginable. In some ways, this sea of change will herald a return to the norms of old. Products will be manufactured at local 3D production centres, nearer to the customer, and customization will be far easier to achieve.

The new production process will also require minimal logistics management and stockpiling of inventory, permitting products to be designed and produced on demand once more—but at a far faster clip than in the age of our ancestors. 3D printing is also responsive to contemporary concerns about the climate, posing a far lighter carbon footprint than mass production did in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.

A revolution in the design process

The most exciting changes 3D printing offers lie in the realm of design. Today, we can unleash our imagination and conceptualize new products to benefit the market by incorporating inspirations from the physical world, whether in 3D or 2D form, into the product design workflow—essentially blending the physical and virtual worlds with agility and ease. For instance, take Sprout—a fully integrated desktop 3D-scanning solution with 3D object capture. Now, anyone can grab something from the real world, manipulate it in the digital world, and bring it to life in physical space.

As greater potential is unlocked, it will be critical to ensure the printing process is capable of creating viable, durable versions of these innovative new products. Unlike the prior method of producing separate 2D parts that were then joined together, the new model of additive manufacturing makes it possible, for the first time, to produce a product completely from scratch, in a single printing run, entirely whole. 3D printers can now generate such products in incredibly fine detail, with robust end part strength, at quicker speed and lower cost.

A new frontier of limitless possibility

In the Industrial era, the processes of design and manufacturing were broken down into discrete parts as part of an assembly line process. Designers can now issue fine-point, detailed direction concerning the aesthetic attributes of a part (e.g., colour and texture) and its physical properties (e.g., strength, elasticity, etc.), clarifying the overall design intent for the product in a unified manner. For that to be possible, designers must have design tools that clearly communicate the printer’s capability needs. The design software and the printer must also perfectly align with common and enriched volumetric language that directly translates into volumetric pixels, or voxels, at the printer level.

Not only does 3D printing democratize and reintegrate the design process, but it also allows for continuous improvement to an original design. In the near future, embedded tracing marks and sensors will make it possible to analyze each stage of the product life cycle from initial design to real world use, providing a wealth of information that can dramatically improve the quality, relevance, and usefulness of each product. A product can be designed digitally, rendered into physical form through the 3D-printing process, and then continually enhanced using digital feedback.

Continuous improvement and product enhancement

This blended reality, blurring barriers between the physical and digital realms, opens the door to the creation of entirely new products that were just beyond our capability not long ago. Health care alone could benefit greatly through the introduction of better hearing aids and heart valve replacements designed and perfected this way. The aviation and automotive sectors, through the collection of data on how parts and products perform and are used in real-world conditions, are also ripe for innovation.

We truly are on the brink of a new Industrial Revolution—one in which design and production take place more quickly and much closer to home. Customization is responsive to local requirements; designers can imagine and print entirely new products never before seen; and the innovations themselves can be constantly improved through the intelligent use of tracking and sensor data. It’s an age of limitless potential and transformative change, and it’s already underway.

4 tech trends supporting rapid urbanization—doing more with less

Society is congregating into more densely populated areas. This isn’t just due to the overall population growth on our little rock as it flies through space—societal and tech trends share some responsibility, as well. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario: Tech enables societal change, and societal change drives technological innovation.

Rapid urbanization affects everyone, whether they live in a large metropolitan area or out in the country. Megacities—metropolitan areas with a population of 10 million or more people—are springing up across the globe. How will humanity adapt to these massive changes?

To toot our own horns, we are the most technologically adaptable species we’ve encountered to date. New tech trends are becoming apparent with each passing day—from discovering ways to move people and products, new developments in medicine, and more sustainable methods of extracting and utilizing resources to improving connectivity across the globe. Let’s take a look at some of these technologies and examine how they might impact the cities of the future.

1. 3D printing

We’ve talked about the advantages of 3D printing, but it’s important to mention it again. The notion of converting chunks of raw material into something usable has been at the core of human existence since the stone age. Modern scanning technology will let us convert the physical world to digital information with ease, and 3D printing will change supply chain logistics forever.

Generating the components required to assemble a piece of furniture or an entire building on site with the right 3D printer and materials drastically increases agility and versatility on both a personal and industrial scale. Engineers can fashion components with high precision and low cost, and anyone with access to a computer and 3D printer can prototype designs to solve problems as they encounter them—even more easily with the right 3D-scanning capabilities. Soon, we’ll live in a world entirely made out of building blocks.

2. Autonomous zero-emissions cars

According to Engadget, Germany announced that it intends to ban the sale of internal combustion engine cars by 2030, forcing shoppers to buy vehicles exclusively powered by electricity or hydrogen fuel cells. Controversy aside, pollution is a real problem when 10 million (or more) people need to get around.

Eliminating emissions is only part of the battle. Traffic is a huge issue in large metropolitan areas as it is, and the amount of time it takes to cross town only grows with increases in population. Humans have naturally slow reaction times and are prone to making emotionally charged decisions, which is why we institute things like driving laws and traffic lights. Autonomous cars have the potential to alleviate the stress on traffic.

If there were no humans actually driving cars, we could do away with traffic lights entirely. Cars could zip between intersections and adjust their speed and timing, so they’d never get into an accident or wait for a green light, sharing information about their location, speed, the conditions of the road, and so on, all at a far quicker rate than humans could ever hope to achieve behind the wheel.

Electric car manufacturer Tesla already supports an improving form of autonomy, and its cars can help you navigate around town in a statistically safer fashion than if you were operating the controls yourself. To mitigate cost, Tesla intends to automate ride sharing, explains Wired. When you’re at work or not using your car, it can drive itself to pick up others and taxi them around on its own, with the profits going toward the cost of the vehicle (and eventually into your pocket).

By 2046, we might regard actually driving a car as a leisure activity in the same way we view horseback riding today.

3. Wearable technology and augmented reality

These two categories are deeply intertwined. Wearables is already gaining momentum as a trend, and augmented reality devices allow you do more with less. Navigating the multidimensional maze of a megacity can be drastically simplified with a screen in front of you, telling you exactly when and where to turn and what elevators to take.

Many folks sport a smart watch. Despite Google Glass being taken back to the drawing board, it showed some promise and created interest in its early stages. A ZDNet article explains how Microsoft is developing the HoloLens, which actively maps your surroundings and displays virtual objects in the real world. These devices have two things in common: They get strapped to your body, take information about the real world, and do something innovative with it.

Again, we might regard navigating a megacity in the future without a wearable augmented reality display in the same vein as navigating a present-day city without a smartphone and GPS—pure madness.

4. Robots!

Last on the list is the automation of labour. Structures could be erected in record time with automated vehicles delivering raw materials to an on-site 3D printer that can create supporting beams, light banisters, and windows to be installed by robotic cranes manufactured by the same on-site 3D printer.

This begs a major question, however: What will those 10 million people do if robots handle all the labour? The utopian answer is one of creativity and culture. People could create new prototypes, spend their time writing music, making movies, exploring philosophy, and trading ideas with one another.

But we’ll be working with the robots for the foreseeable future, before running out of work to do. And that sure beats working against them.