Monday, September 13. 2010
[FIY] Fab It Yourself: Adapters ... Posted by Erik de Bruijn in RepRap at 12:55
In the RepRap community, you can observe several interesting applications of domestic manufacturing.
A manufacturer will probably not make their product compatible with competing products. But what if you still want this? How cool would it be to mix anything together!
3D printable adapters allow you to combine two different systems, so what? While this looks like a childish example, the development of the availability of downloadable, adapters can have significant ramifications in industries where creating technological lock-in is common practice. Especially the dominant manufacturers in a market do this often. But since you're legally allowed to make parts that mate with proprietary parts  this will require companies to focus on the real-value adding features instead of finding ways to reinforce technological dependence that is not rooted in the value of the product but the lack of interoperability. First movers of creating interoperability will create a benefit perceived by their customers that soon becomes the standard. Those who choose to follow because they didn't see it coming will loose customers to the pioneers. Eventually, the whole industry is better of when competition is centered around real innovation and when customers have more choices. And if companies don't offer the adapters themselves, the users of these products can more and more easily self-manufacture them. The question is, do you want it to be a deliberate choice (and as a bonus: a good long term value enhancing strategy) or not.
Being able to quickly combine different products' modules is also a good way to stimulate user invention, with its beneficial societal effects . Not to mention the environmental benefit of enabling reuse of parts from products with lost, broken or missing parts, which enabling self-repair by individuals. Of course sharing designs is important, but it only needs to take a few minutes, and enables you to get feedback or see other people improve your design to a new level! Thousands of objects are already shared in this way (mostly open source) on Thingiverse.com.
It is not uncommon for suppliers not to want to supply replacement parts: it cannibalizes on their sales of the complete products while it is frequently not a profitable business because the logistics are very unfavorable. The reality is: Suppliers usually don't end up making money of of replacement parts. If they do it at all, it usually is to prevent damage to their reputation and brand value. Supplying small quantities of many different parts to many different destinations is expensive. Plus, you usually end up manufacturing many parts that will not be used, because it was hard to determine which ones will break and which ones won't. Because you have to speculate which parts to produce in which quantities, this creates the problem of under- or overstocking parts that need to be stored and collect dust somewhere until the stocks either run out or become obsolete without being used, ever. Apart from this being a huge waste, these are costs that add to the bottom line price of the products.
Replacing It Yourself: broken rod caps for a garden parasol, by myself. The little caps were not sold separately from the (quite expensive) parasol.
Fixing a (vintage) camera. By Wizard23
A printed replacement tread mill safety clip. Now you have no excuses anymore for not using it! Thing:3362 on Thingiverse by mctrivia
Moreover, it's hard to supply a whole variety of parts for a product to fit in many different settings. Tony Buser had a part that wore down, but it never was really perfect for him:
"The handle part of my one screen door kind of wore down and the tip chipped off. Consequently, it wouldn't stay shut. Particularly since I put the screens in for spring and when one of my cats pushed against it to look outside - the door would pop open. So I figured if the latch part was longer, it would catch better. So I designed a replacement, printed it, and now it stays shut securely."
Tony printed a new and better door latch after the old one wore down.
You could imagine that in the future manufacturers will supply digital 3D models of replacement parts as a service, so that you'll be sure to be able to fix it at low cost if needed. It enhances the value of the product and will not burden them (nor the environment) with production of spares in advance in the wrong quantities.
To some extend they won't need to, because especially for those parts that break frequently there tends to be someone that shared a replacement that he/she designed for himself. You just need to download an print it. And use it, of course.
If we don't want, more affordable, interoperable, reliable, better-fitting, sustainable and more innovative products, we don't need 3D printers. But I think we do...
 See this paper on the legal implications of widespread 3D printing capabilities.
 ï»¿1. Henkel J, von Hippel E. Welfare Implications of User Innovation. The Journal of Technology Transfer. 2004;30(1-2):73-87. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/openurl.asp?id=doi:10.1007/s10961-004-4359-6.
Thursday, September 9. 2010
Open Letter to Google (Sketchup) Posted by Erik de Bruijn in RepRap at 10:01
Update: Google responded on my blog! To read it, click here.
Below is my open letter to the Google SketchUp team, aimed at Aidan Chopra, SketchUp Evangelist and John Bacus, the Product Manager for SketchUp. I'm writing an open letter for various reasons. My research on communities, open source and distributed innovation shows how important the whole ecosystem is. It also shows that it's not just about the number of 3D printers installed but also the community, infrastructure and the accessibility of the whole experience. Another reason is seeing Aidan and John's presentation (see the video embedded below!), which verbalizes very well what SketchUp is all about: "3D for everyone". John and Aidan's explicitly recognize the value of physical models to 3D modeling and vice versa. That indeed makes it into an "awesome" experience to which few people could say no. I actually believe they might be susceptible to my moral bribery to practice what they preach (to the full extent, they already do a great job with SketchUp). If this could stimulate (and benefit from!) the democratization of innovation and decentralized manufacturing, that would have a profound positive impact on society and our planet. Feel free to underwrite my letter or join the discussion! I'll send it via e-mail too after getting a few days' of feedback from the community.
Hi John and Aidan,
I'm a real fan of the work you're doing with SketchUp. It is by far the most accessible CAD package, with a very impressive feature set.
I've watched your presentation at the i.Materialise conference with much interest, especially because I'm part of, and promoting the RepRap project (and several spin-off projects). You're probably aware of these fabber projects, but perhaps not of their extent and growth rate. As you know software adoption can be massive (e.g. SketchUp as a perfect example). Likewise, the adoption rate of RepRap machines is also impressive and unlike anything I've seen in the physical world: the community has been doubling every ~ 6 months, which means that it grows hundred-fold in just 40 months! It has had this remarkable growth for 4 years now and on a log-graph it shows a remarkably steady exponential growth rate. Today, there are tens of thousands people with their own, or even several 3D printers in their homes. These people are enabling each other to share fixes to physical real-world problems and to innovate with all physical things they care about, To learn to go from thought to object... These are critical skills for this century, and people enjoy learning them. The quantity of 3D printer-adopters today isn't nearly as impressive as the quantity of tomorrow. And today there are already about as many open source 3D printers in the hands of amateurs, as there are commercial 3D printer units sold, ever (based on industry figures from Wohlers report 2009). This industry took 20 years to develop with - more or less - linear growth rates (while standing still during recessions), and - below the radar - it doubled because of amateurs . They want to learn (from our innate striving for competence), have problems to fix (taps into our desire for autonomy) and find the project meaningful (strong drive for purpose driven people). You and your colleagues at Google seem to have a great understanding of the cognitive surplus (borrowing the phrase from Clay Shirky's book ) and how to harness it (e.g. aggregating 3D contributions in Google Earth) and how immense a societal value this could create. I'd love to see you take it a step further.
I've done work in systems dynamics, and feedback loops and variables like the amount of models out there. The variable "accessibility of 3D modeling software" is just as important as affordable ($ 2K or lower), OK-quality printers. Right now, SketchUp's newly introduced solid features are critical improvements that makes SketchUp perfect for 3D printing, just like you mentioned in your talk. Yet it is only part of the SketchUp Pro 8 package which is quite expensive. Even more expensive than many people's 3D printers. I think the RepRap community can, and will, create value for the whole 3D ecosystem, by creating printable models, finding business models to keep doing what they're passionate about (at which point they could afford a license), post online tutorials showing how easy and powerful SketchUp really is, etc. etc. Plus, as you said in your presentation, making 3D models is awesome, but making stuff from your 3D model is REALLY awesome!
On behalf of the whole 3D community, I'd like to ask you to introduce the solid features for users of the free version, too.
Erik de Bruijn
RepRap enthusiast and ambassador
Open source entrepreneur
Notes and references:
 Self-replicating devices: the statistics - http://blog.erikdebruijn.nl/archives/145-Self-replicating-devices-the-statistics.html
 When I say "Amateurs" I mean amateur in the original sense of the word: those who are passionate about something.
 Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age - http://www.amazon.com/Cognitive-Surplus-Creativity-Generosity-Connected/dp/1594202532
More about myself: http://www.google.com/profiles/erikdebruijn1#about
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