3D Printing: An Interdisciplinary Perspective

Guest Post by : Joe Bradley, Adjunct Professor of Business Administration, who is interested in challenges at the interface of product development, technology management, intellectual property management, and corporate entrepreneurship. It seems that everywhere you turn 3D printing technology is in the news and popular press. 3D printing technology is making its way into the hands of the masses, with an excitement of what the future may hold. Many people wonder if this technology is just hype or a passing trend and doubt how it will “really” change the status quo. Past evidence from many seemingly disruptive innovations suggests that 3D printing technology’s current and potential impact on society should not be taken lightly. The growth and expansion in 3D printing is another enabler to democratizing innovation, as suggested by Professor Eric Von Hippel. User-centric and personalized innovation will be the way of the future.

3D printing has been around since the 1980’s. It was more widely known and used in engineering, manufacturing, and design disciplines as “additive manufacturing.” When 3D printing technology turned attention to the commercial market, printer suppliers developed products for multiple market segments. These printing devices are now found in high schools, universities, colleges, and on the desktops in the homes of many inventors, hobbyists, and entrepreneurs.

With the proliferation of 3D printed products by individuals of various skills and capabilities comes the issues of product quality, product liability, intellectual property protection, and many other technical, legal, and business issues. As this technology continues to improve and becomes available to and is embraced by more users, the demand for 3D printed products will increase and these issues will only become amplified.

We must approach the discussion on 3D printing from an interdisciplinary perspective because questions concerning the future evolution of 3D printing spans over multiple disciplines. The MakerLab at the University of Illinois College of Business provides the perfect platform to facilitate a discussion on the challenges and possibilities of this disruptive innovation. There needs to be a discussion on how to develop the technology and what elements of the technology should be standardized. A discussion on how an organization can proactively manage their intellectual property while also providing a platform for their customers to modify and personalize the products. A discussion on corporate policy and how it needs to be developed in a way that does not penalize lay users of 3D printing technology, but support their innovative effort. The MakerLab is an interdisciplinary destination, for students and faculty from business, art & design, engineering, architecture and many other disciplines, to collaborate and become familiar with 3D printing technologies.

In this series on Intellectual Property issues , we hope to explore some of the challenges and to better understand how 3D printing can continue to have a positive impact on society and be exploited to its potential.

The 3D Printer That Can Build a House

The University of Southern California is testing a giant 3D printer that could be used to build a whole house in under 24 hours.

Professor Behrokh Khoshnevis has designed the giant robot that replaces construction workers with a nozzle on a gantry, this squirts out concrete and can quickly build a home according to a computer pattern. It is “basically scaling up 3D printing to the scale of building,” says Khoshnevis. The technology, known as Contour Crafting, could revolutionise the construction industry.

The affordable home?

Contour Crafting could slash the cost of home-owning, making it possible for millions of displaced people to get on the property ladder. It could even be used in disaster relief areas to build emergency and replacement housing.  For example, after an event such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, which has displaced almost 600,000 people, Contour Crafting could be used to build replacement homes quickly.

As Khoshnevis points out, if you look around you pretty much everything is made automatically these days –

your shoes, your clothes, home appliances, your car. The only thing that is still built by hand are these buildings.

How does Contour Crafting work?

The Contour Crafting system is a robot that by automates age-old tools normally used by hand. These are wielded by a robotic gantry that builds a three-dimensional object.

Ultimately it would work like this,” says Brad Lemley from Discover Magazine. “On a cleared and leveled site, workers would lay down two rails a few feet further apart than the eventual building’s width and a computer-controlled contour crafter would take over from there. A gantry-type crane with a hanging nozzle and a components-placing arm would travel along the rails. The nozzle would spit out concrete in layers to create hollow walls, and then fill in the walls with additional concrete… humans would hang doors and insert windows.

This technology is like a rock that we have rolled to the top of a cliff, just one little push and the idea will roll along on its own.

- Khoshnevis told Discover Magazine