Michael Joyce, in his own words, “LOVES to make things!”
After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1984 with a degree in mathematics, Michael joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a pilot flying the B-52G, the B-1B Lancer and instructing in the supersonic T-38 Talon. After leaving the Air Force in 1996 he got into computer software development, implementing mathematical solutions for private financial institutions as a senior software engineer.
As a young boy Michael was enthralled by the mid-1960′s television series, Lost in Space. Fans of the show will immediately recognize the “Robot” character. Most would stop at just being a fan. Not Michael. In 2004 he founded B9Creations, a company with one purpose: Make the most realistic and accurate Lost in Space Robot replica available anywhere, at any price – in this case about $25,000.
Fast-forward 8 years and he’s still going strong. Check out his site, it’s truly incredible what he’s achieved. If I actually had a home, instead of living out of my suitcase, I’d buy one! It might end in divorce, but dang it looks like it would almost (not quite honey) be worth it…
The reason I am introducing you to Michael is twofold… First is to discuss a revolutionary manufacturing technology, and second is because of the extraordinary success he has had funding his project with Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform that you should all be familiar with by now. We’ll go into detail with him on both these subjects in tomorrow’s post.
My fascination with this manufacturing technology is what led me to Michael and his project. I didn’t find him by accident.
What is it? A type of 3D printer.
3D printing is likely the third industrial revolution
Never heard of it? First let’s be clear, it’s not printing in the way that your used to understanding it. Printing on a piece of paper is easy to comprehend. When you throw the 3D part in there it can get a bit confusing. Another term for it is “additive manufacturing.”
3D printers use computer models and CAD instructions to “print” an object using plastic or another material. If you’ve ever seen the Star Wars episode where Luke gets a new mechanical arm after Darth Vader hacks it off with his light saber, or the scene from the movie The Fifth Element where they reconstruct Milla Jovovich’s character from a piece of her tissue, you know what 3D printing will eventually become.
In it’s current iteration industrial designers use CAD software to design a three-dimensional model of something they want to create. The printer software “slices” the model into thin sections and relays it to the printer, which then “prints” the layers one at a time, using plastic (or another material) instead of ink, until the object has been created. It’s not much different than additive sculpture, where the artist creates by adding material to form an object.
This printer, and it’s accompanying firmware, is what Michael has created.
Unlike the Robot fantasy I mentioned a moment ago, when I do settle down and buy a home Michael’s invention will be a reality in my workshop!
Right now inventors like Michael are using the printers to make small plastic bobbles, albeit with incredible detail. However, very soon these printers will be able to manufacture just about anything you can imagine, at any scale.
What types of things will be able to be printed? Computer chips, electronic parts, replacement parts for machinery, human organs – yep, you read that right – advances in stem cell research will eventually lead to this technology being used to replace organs that have failed. The stem cell serves as the CAD model that the printer will use. Synthetic blood and tissues already exist.
They can even print food! A couple of guys from MIT are hard at work on what they call the Cornucopias Project. It’s a way of approaching 3D printing of food, and they have developed “designs” for mixing ingredients to “build” food.
No one would blame you if you just called it “magic.” It really is incredible what is being accomplished by guys like Michael.
I think it eventually leads to the end of globalization (something the inevitable second wave of the GFC may accomplish first). It will do more for resiliency and self-sufficiency than almost any other invention.
3D printing will exponentially slash manufacturing costs and make it as cheap to create one part as it is to produce thousands. It will turn the concept of economies of scale on its head.
Tooling up to create a new product, parts, or whatever is hugely capex intensive. That cost is distributed over the cost of thousands of units of product/parts in order to sell at a reasonable price. With 3D printing, the tooling-up expense is the development of the CAD model of the product or part. The result is being able to manufacture small runs, and highly customize those runs without re-tooling. Traditional manufacturing will be obsolete in short order.
Imagine sitting at your mountain retreat in, oh, Fiji for example. The pump for your water well has a problem and you need a part. In today’s world you would drive to the hardware store to see if they had one (unlikely), or order it via courier, where it would have to be manufactured in some distant locale and sent to you. Not only does that take time, but it’s also incredibly inefficient, expensive and resource intensive. With 3D printing technology you could simply download the “design” for the part you need and print it on the spot if you had the hardware. Your downtime may be an hour versus a week, and the associated cost will be a mere fraction.
The Economist points out that, “just as cotton mills crushed hand looms and the Model T put farriers out of work. Many people will look at the factories of the future and shudder. They will not be full of grimy machines manned by men in oily overalls. Many will be squeaky clean – and almost deserted… Most jobs will not be on the factory floor but in the offices nearby, which will be full of designers, engineers, IT specialists, logistics experts, marketing staff and other professionals. The manufacturing jobs of the future will require more skills. Many dull, repetitive tasks will become obsolete: you no longer need riveters when a product has no rivets.”
You can see the implications… Just pour yourself a scotch and let your mind wander!
Tomorrow we’ll talk to Michael and get his thoughts on the future of this fascinating technology and why he’s so excited about it. We’ll also discuss his spectacular success on Kickstarter, which ties in nicely to our previous posts (and upcoming ones) on crowdfunding.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke