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Printing Violations?

Pac-Man Cookies

You may have seen that I recently printed some Pac-Man cookie cutters using the MakerBot at Milwaukee Makerspace.

This seems like a harmless enough activity, right? I wanted some cookie cutters that my daughter could use to make cookies, so I made them. Typically when I make things, I don’t think to myself “Gosh, what laws am I breaking?” because typically I think of making as a creative endeavor that isn’t harmful to anyone.

But here’s where it gets murky…

If I really wanted Pac-Man cookie cutters, I could have bought them, from more than one place even, and those all come with something mine don’t. This little bit of text that says “Officially licensed Pac-Man cookie cutters.

Oh crap.

My cookie cutters are not “officially licensed” in any way. I certainly didn’t plan on selling them, as they were just for my own use. (That said, I have mentioned printing a few extras to give to people, free of charge, but would that cause issues as well?) Is the fact that I printed my own versus buying “officially licensed” cookie cutters the wrong thing to do? Did the company that licenses the official cutters lose a sale, or multiple sales if I give some away?

In my defense, I’ll say that I would not have bought Pac-Man cookie cutters. Partly because I’m not that fanatic, partly because I can’t see paying $15.99 for less than a dollar worth of plastic, and partly because I’m a maker. I mean, I could have bent up some metal to make them, or used some other creative methods.

So what does the future hold when we can easily (and cheaply!) print out things like this? Well, if you doubted 3D printing was disruptive, doubt it no more…

Let’s look at the Glif. Last November the guys behind the Glif launched a Kickstarter project to fund their idea. Here’s what they said:

So why do we need YOUR help? Simply put, manufacturing is expensive. We want to use a process called ‘injection molding’ to create the Glif at a level of quality we deem acceptable, but unfortunately this requires a hefty set up cost. By pledging at least twenty dollars, you will be essentially pre-ordering a Glif, and helping turn our little project into a reality.

See that bit that says “manufacturing is expensive“? Well, it is! But guess what? Making things can be cheap. I don’t want to discount the amount of work that went into designing the Glif. I love design. Design is important. Designers should be rewarded for their work. So the Glif guys wanted to raise $10,000 to bring their product to market, and they ended up raising $137,417. Wowzers!

But if you really want an iPhone holder like The Glif, you can always make your own, out of whatever materials you have handy, like wood, or maybe… plastic!

Hey, check this out, it’s the iPhone 4 Combo Tripod and Stand. See the comments on that page about “cloning” as well. Interesting stuff.

So what does the future hold for this type of thing? When we all have 3D printers, and it’s cheaper and easier to print something at home than it is to drive to the store (takes time, wastes gas) to buy one, or order one online to have shipped to your home (takes time, wastes gas.)

Maybe things should go the way the music industry went. Pirating music was a much larger problem years ago, until Apple (and then Amazon, and others) made it easier (and cheaper?) to get the real thing legitimately. What if the guys behind the Glif had a business model where you could buy their product in the traditional ways (in a store, order online) but you could also download the files needed to print one, for say, a nominal fee between $0.99 and $5.00?

Would people support this model? I think some people definitely would. And who is the winner here? The company still makes money, and the consumer saves money. Somewhere in there we also hope that less energy (money) is expended in using this method. Sure, there would still be clones and copies, but you’d assume (like we do for music, movies, etc.) that most people are honest, and want to support the work of others.

So is this idea crazy, or is it the future?

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3D Printing is the Future

3D Printers

As you may know, I’ve been playing around with a MakerBot recently, and at first I wasn’t sure if it was just me, or if 3D printing was really starting to catch on… but now, I think it’s safe to say it’s catching on, and I’m pretty confident in saying 3D Printing is the Future.

I really don’t give out these predictions very often… Sure, I was an early adopter of things like blogging and podcasting, but this whole 3D printing thing is a “disruptive technology” that stands to change the world.

So with that, I’ll give a brief primer on some of the technology.

3D printing has been around for quite some time, but it’s always been very expensive, and a 3D printer was never a thing you’d have in your home. Of course, in the olden days you’d never imagine you’d have a printer in your home. Printing was something you paid a printer to do. It was complicated, and messy, and expensive. I bought my first ink-jet printer around 1999 and it was probably over $200. In 2007 I got a new one, and it was $110, and it even has a built-in scanner. Nowadays no one thinks that printing on paper with ink in their own home is anything special, so how long will it be before we think the same thing about 3D printing.

It’s fair to say that Adrian Bowyer, creator of the RepRap project, is one smart dude, not just for coming up with a 3D printer that can print itself, but for his ideas of how this technology could change the world. It’s also been said that the RepRap is “the invention that will bring down global capitalism, start a second industrial revolution and save the environment…” You know, in a good way.

Now, the 3D printing revolution is happening in a different manner than the “cheap desktop printer” revolution happened. For one thing, you can assemble all the parts for a 3D printer right now, thanks to the RepRap project and it’ll be cheaper (and some say “better”) than the affordable 3D printers you can buy today.

Yes, there are affordable 3D printers you can buy today!

MakerBot
The folks at MakerBot are sort of the granddaddies of the 3D printer arena. Their “Cupcake” came out a few years ago, and their newer model, the “Thing-O-Matic” is their current offering. They’ve got the most well known brand right now, and if you doubt 3D printing will be big, they just took a $10 million investment.

MakerGear
I hear nothing but good things about MakerGear and the quality of their products and support. Well, I do hear one negative… products are always out of stock! Besides that, I think MakerGear has some good offerings. Besides their own model, the “Mosaic” you can get full-kit for a Prusa Mendel RepRap. (You know, if it’s in stock.)

Ultimaker
New to the game is the Ultimaker, which looks impressive! Watching the videos, it looks like it trumps the MakerBot in many areas. If MakerBot is the established brand, I’m glad to see some competition coming in and forcing them to up their game. :)

BotMill
There’s also BotMill, which seems to offer two models, both based on the RepRap Mendel. (I don’t know much more about BotMill.)

The Others
There’s also the Buildatron and the Solidoodle, of which I know little about, and just today I came across the Origo (not available yet) which aims to be the first “reliable easy to use 3D printer for ten year olds.” That “reliable easy to use” part is the nut that everyone is still trying to crack.

Besides those commercial offerings is the real granddaddy of this whole thing, the RepRap. If you think of the MakerBot as Windows, and maybe the Ultimaker as Mac OS X, then RepRap is Linux. It’s DIY. You can build it yourself. You’ll spend a lot of time tweaking it. It’ll be cheaper, but you’ll have to figure out your own support. Sort of… Nearly all of the commercial units are based (somewhat) on the technology from the RepRap project, so if you want a name brand, and support, and a company behind it, buy a commercial unit. If you’re a hacker, or a maker, or cheap, build a RepRap.

I’ve got a lot more posts about 3D printing, and the RepRap specifically, so stay tuned!