October 22, 2007

Intermediate systems from now to nanofactories

At, Jamais Cascio, CRN's new Director of Impacts Analysis, discusses factors that will describe the ecosystem for nanofactories.

The factors are:
1. Designs
2. Distribution methods for nanofactories
3. Distribution methods for products
4. Distribution methods for "toner"
5. Physical reliability
6. Physical safety
7. Health and safety evaluations
8. Knowledgeable users
9. Ways to avoid abuse
10. Political support
11. Economic support
12. Market acceptance

I think we can get an idea about the markets and ecosystem by looking at existing 2d and 3d systems. 3D systems already have machines for rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing and full blown factory machines and robotic assembly. There are also the reprap project and 3D printers for desktops.

The next generation of 2D printers should be out next year in the form of memjet printers.
wireless wall mounted printer
Wireless wall mounted printer

A wireless Wall-Mounted Printer That Doubles as a Picture Frame, and a Desktop Printer That Does the Same from furniture designer Ransmeier & Floyd.

The wall mounted printer patents are from the makers of memjet, a 60 ppm printing technology.

Silverbrook Research''s prototype Memjet inkjet printer outputting 60 pages per minute should be on sale in 2008. Memjet printers in 2008 will print at a blisteringly fast 60 ppm for documents and 30 ppm for photos and will start at about $200. They believe within five years (by 2013)they will have the capability to do color office documents at 120-150 ppm and full-page photos at 60-75ppm.

The $4995 3d Desktop printer will be available in 2008 as well.
The 3D desktop printer takes up 25 x 20 x 20-inch space, and weighs about 90-pounds, while the maximum size of printed objects is 5 x 5 x 5-inches, and Desktop Factory says per-cubic-inch printing costs will hover somewhere around $1. The Desktop Factory 3D printer builds robust, composite plastic parts that can be sanded and painted when desired. Their goal by 2011 is to have their 3D printer below $1000.

Instead of using a high end laser to draw the image we went with a simple halogen lamp. Instead of using a bed of powder in which to draw the image we used a drum just like in a copier or printer. The drum is coated with a thin layer of powder upon which we draw the image of the part, layer by layer, with our halogen lamp. Then we use heat and pressure to bond each of the layers as the object is built.

The current market leaders in 3d systems are Z Corp and Stratasys. There are over 5
million licenses in the CAD software environment in 2007 and growth continues at better than 20% per annum. AutoDesk and Solidworks are the leaders in CAD software. Alibre and Rhino make lower cost 3D CAD software. Google’s acquired of SketchUp, a 3D software company.

The projected growth in volume of cheap 3d desktop printers is:
1. sales of hundreds of units in 2008 to a plan of 3500 in 2009.
2. In 2010, a price point of roughly $2,000 and somewhere between 20,000 – 30,000 units.
3. In 2011, with a price below $1000 and enter the consumer space. They believe they will sell over a 100,000 units a year and have a business with a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue and a product /consumable margin that’s just north of 50%. Consumables will comprise almost 70% of the revenue at that point we will also
have a strong EBITDA margin that’s somewhere in the mid 20s.

If these targets can be met then perhaps 20% of CAD engineers and hobbysists would own and nearly all would have access to a 3D printer by 2015 and service bureaus (Kinkos) and stores (Walmart, Costco) could provide access to low and some high end machines. The cost of supplies would need to come down a lot as well from $1 per cubic inch. There would also need to be some common applications for consumers to need to make something frequently using a 3d printer. Some things that are inefficiently held in a wide range of inventory. Keys would be interesting but having common printers would make physical keys somewhat obsolete.

-Costume jewelry and design accessories could have some possibilities.
-parts for other products (headphones, plug in adapters etc...)
-interfaces and accessories for phones, laptops and other devices
-fashion modifications (skins etc...) for mass produced devices.

Eventually the range of materials and the costs could drop enough to displace regular manufacturing and distribution methods.

Other early areas of adoption will be in places where delivery of regular products is more costly. Polar, mountain, military and underwater expeditions.

Where is inventory to expensive ? Too many items in the catalog? Too hard to deliver?

Where are there new applications from rapid gratification? New design and fashion trends. More personalization.

Another big breakthrough would be to have fabrication systems at Walmart, costcos, Ikeas, Home Depots, auto shops, radio shack, best buy to displace significant inventory of parts and accessories.

A Zprinter310 plus, 450 and 510 printers from Zcorp have a 3d print speed of (prices $20,000-50,000 as of 2007):
Build Speed: 2 - 4 layers per minute
Layer Thickness: User selectable at the time of printing; 0.0035”-0.008” (.089-.203 mm)
So from about 6 minutes per centimeter to 1.3 minutes per centimeter of thickness

Stratasys makes units that are 1 to 2 refrigerators in size and use industrial thermoplastics.

It seems likely that 3d printers will also adopt multiple rows of MEMS nozzles (for those 3d systems that are using variants of inkjet printing). This will speed up the printing of layers.

There are several other technologies for rapid prototyping.

An analysis of intermediate points from now until nanofactories would be to look at order of magnitude improvements in speed and resolution. A combination of something 10 times faster and 10 times higher resolution would need 100 thinner layers in the same time.

Another area to look at projecting is existing atomically precise or nearly atomically precise manufacturing methods.
3d microfabrication
atomic layer deposition also known as Atomic layer epitaxy
Chemical vapor deposition
Self assembly

Those systems will be used to make better tool tips, small parts or building blocks which then feed into a system for putting those to use as parts or as components of system to bootstrap a more precise system.