Tag Archives: 3d printer

Prohibition or Renaissance: The Coming IP Wars

The clash between Intellectual Property and cheap, distributed, additive manufacturing is both inevitable and predictable.  It’s one of those deciding battles where regardless of the outcome, the world  is different afterwards for better or worse.

The conflict is obvious – Patents and Copyright are about protecting ideas, while the line of development Manufacturing is following demands these ideas be created, shared, improved upon ad infinitum. Trademarks aren’t really included, since that’s about brand identity.

Within the next few years this issue will come to the forefront, with conventional design/manufacturing firms screaming that their sales are falling due to rampant production of unlicensed/open sourced (reverse-engineered) “stuff”.     Something comparable to “pirated” IPhone 3GS being for sale at your local flea market (and online equivilents) for 1/4th the price Apple charges for it, and you watch them print it (electronics, antennae, screen and all) while you wait.

Do you want yours printed in aluminum, titanium or Biodegradable Plastic?

Imagine the panic of investment banks, interested parties & governments around the world.  The old system isn’t protecting our property!  It’s all because of this rapid prototyping technology some idiot made cheap and pervasive – Now anybody can make whatever they want, or more importantly steal something you paid/worked/licensed to develop without giving you a dime for your trouble.  We’ll be ruined.  Something must be done.

There are two broad ways this can  dealt with: Prohibition or Renaissance

If we wait, the knee-jerk reaction will be Prohibition – IP Laws will pretty much stay the same, while a new government agency will be introduced to regulate “@home manufacturing businesses”.  It will probably take the form of a licensing scheme, where in order to own & operate a “@home manufacturing unit” you need to take a class on intellectual property, pay some fees for a license from the government, and put your identification number on every item that comes out, making your machine and thus you responsible for it.

The Good News:  It probably guarantees some minimum level of proficiency operating the machinery if there is a class associated with the licensing requirement.    If a product is pirated, defective or fraudulent it’s easy to find out who to punish.

The Bad News: By requiring a license, they’ll make the majority of hobbyists and tinkerers into outlaws and black-market participants by default.   For those who do participate in the licensing scheme, they will have the advantage of fewer competitors, but since every product produced can always be tied back to their machine it introduces a whole slew of liability issues that haven’t even been considered yet.

When it comes to piracy, the assumption is every act is intentional – But how many ideas are there? How many designs?  Additive Manufaturing makes the entire design process “Think it up, design or scan it, create it on-site” so where does the “research to make sure you’re not conflicting with anyone elses existing intellectual property” step come into play, before or after you hit the print button?   Additive manufacturing is so important because it shrinks the minimum viable market size to one consumer.   Is it the @home manufacturers responsibility to research every single design they are asked to print?  Probably.

IP liability insurance will be mandatory, inadvertent violations frequent and payouts punitive in the stated hopes of discouraging similar behavior.  But you can’t discourage creation once the potential of the tools are realized.  It’ll be easy to get one of these self-replicating machines, but expensive to get a license.  And so the blackmarket will flourish with the inevitable criminality that accompanies.  The costs of prohibition are already stacking up, and we won’t even address enforcement here, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

1 910 State of the Art

A Collaborative Renaissance: Everything Old is New Again

Patents exist for a reason, innovation is not free or even cheap.  But who says the way we’re doing it now works very well at all?  Large producing firms defensively acquire patents  as leverage in the event they are sued by a competitor, so-called “patent trolls” buy patents like lottery tickets while wielding the  letter of the law as a thief would a gun; extorting value they did not earn while leaving their victims shaken and thankful more was not taken from them.  The individual inventor is in there somewhere, but with the process to patent a single idea requiring multiple years and thousands of dollars (not including legal costs), what average individual has the time to create ideas and protect them all using only his own resources?  Not many.

Lincoln said “The Patent System added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius.”, and it did.   But over the intervening decades the creosote of bureaucracy and abuse has slowly choked what was once a vital part of American free market innovation.  I propose we take it back.

The Industrial Revolution Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time.
Manufacturing has major expenses associated in the creation of even trivial objects – The mantra of “we’ll make it up in volume”  leads to a zero sum way of thinking where your costs are fixed at a minimum floor, but you have to compete with all other manufacturers in your space for the profit that remains.   This is the nature of mass manufacturing everything, and the culture it cultivates is one of technological stagnation and secrecy.
On the complete other end of the spectrum you’ve got a place like Thingiverse where nearly every design is available for free and is open source – You can take anything that anybody else has made, change it a little bit,  improve it, make it easier to assemble,  mash it up with something you or someone else created, and then put it back out there for others to become inspired by your work and do the same.  Each Thing has a page, and each page proudly displays the lineage of past Things it was derived from or based off of.  The only thing missing here is the value proposition – Some people use it to promote their other proprietary works for sale elsewhere, but mostly it is people collaborating to advance what is possible with the new manufacturing & design reality.
The coming challenge is to take this virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of innovation leading to more innovation, and transpose it onto for-profit IP.

New Uses for Old Technology abound

Perpetual, Fractional Payments – A thousand bites at the Apple

If you have a great, profitable idea and you patent it under the current system – That’s great!   But how do you make money with it? You could sell it (if someone wants to buy it, ideas are cheap)  If you want to bring it to market yourself,  you’ll have to find a manufacturer, financing, packaging, marketing, distribution, and on and on.   Most patents are improvements to existing products, so what happens if someone improves your patented idea and patents it themselves?  Not only is your old system obsolete, but if you want to upgrade to the newly developed “state of the art” there are very expensive licensing fees or redudant development costs while you re-invent their re-invention of your technology.   Talk about wasting time and effort.

Instead, why not take advantage of the advantage of our digital world – Combine the concept of Thingiverse’s collaboration & attribution with free value transfer services like Bitcoin with Ricardian contracts sprinkled in there to automate the whole thing. This combination of attributes can uniquely eliminate the involvement of what some refer to as “the parasite class“.

The trick is to design the system in such a way so you can have a single object purchased provide value to everyone along the path of its creation.  Initially these relationships will be simple but as the virtuous cycle kicks in things get complicated. There would be a small submission fee to make sure people bring in designs that are at least a little thought through, say $10.   If someone wants to examine your design in detail, it might cost $.50, if they want to print it, or modify it: $1.   Prices need to be low to encourage experimentation with existing designs.    In that $1 for a use license, at least 50% should always go to the current creator with payments scaling down to earlier creators, but never ceasing to exist entirely.  With Bitcoin and a project called OpenTransactions, you can transfer values as low as .00000001 bitcoin instantly to anyone else with no transaction fees, automatically, with execution based on the fulfilment of pre-determined conditions.


Put simply, if I invent a innovative new doorstopper and upload it to this service, and then you came along and wanted to print it, you would take the other side of that contract and in exchange for $1 sent to an automatically generated bitcoin address, you would be sent the file and granted a license to print or modify under the condition that you make any improvements available under the same type of licensing conditions.

As the content creator, I only make and sign this contract once and then just  put it out there for as many people to take me up on it as like my product.    This remains just as true if my doorstopper is the 5th generation of novel improvement on that doorstopper, except there the $1 once sent to the generated bitcoin address would be split up and distributed to all the contributors based on some algorithm.

For-Profit Open Source – Innovation with Compensation

Instead of focusing your time and energy on protecting your ideas and technology, it is suddenly in your best interest to make sure as many people see your innovation as possible, and if someone wants to improve it that’s great!   Not only do you have a monetary interest, but you can cheaply use their improved version and then build your own improvements on top.

For manufacturing, this means instead of having a contract with a content owner to create 100,000 of their product every 6 months they could become “local manufacturing centers” that can make anything with designs acquirable through this system, paying $1 for each  time they print a design, and charging the customer the difference between what the licensing + material cost are and the prevailing market rate.  For an additional premium, customers could work with your designer to customize the product to their tastes.

A Room with a Large Capacity for Highly Personalized Manufacturing.

For the creator, everything you build goes into the library and if you tag your part correctly it will come up over and over as future innovators look for components to derive from, or consumers choose they want your product created at a hub.  This gives you control over what requires your time – Your designs all have long tails, so you can stay focused on improving new ideas rather than on protecting the ones you’ve already created.

This is a big idea, please tell me where I’m wrong and explain to me the things I just don’t understand.  Until then, I think this could be a better way for a more productive and open future, as it would quickly create a library of quality, constantly improving designs that could be cheaply licensed, and thus competitively manufactured in all localities while still providing value to the brains behind the design. 

What a time to be alive.

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3D Printing & Lattice Structures – Within Technologies – Digital Forming

This is a more technical talk, but if you want to understand what I’m talking about with “variable lattice matrix”, this guys company already designed the algorithm.   Fascinating work with enormous implications in the fairly near term on what & how we can build.

Anybody have $30k for the optimized license? Lets talk.

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Mervyn Levin on 3D Printing – Convergence of the Digital and Physical Worlds

This 17 minute talk was given last week at TEDxTapaeGate – I was not previously familiar with Mr. Levin, but he does a great job bringing you up to speed on what kinds of things 3d printers are being used for right now, and what their capabilities are.   This is the most recent and up-to-date presentation I’ve been able to find –

There are lots of videos & lectures available online I think are worth watching, but I don’t want to clutter up the blog with a bunch of video posts – Any suggestions?  Maybe a weekly video roundup post?

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The Open Source, Modular, Printable Beehive Project

Here’s my first project on Thingiverse, I’m curious to see what kind of response I get.   There will be blog specific content soon, but for now here is the Modular, Printable Beehive Project

Bees are a big deal. Einstein once said without bees, civilization would collapse within 5 years due to lack of pollination. Personally, I don’t believe any of that, but I think bees are cool as heck and just learned about how Bee-Hives are pretty poorly designed due to constraints on construction. The little bees require detail that is a bit too fine to be affordable, Until now!

Modular Beehive Colorcoded

This design was my inspiration

Each section holds 8 frames, 4 of which are removable and 4 of which are structurally part of the housing. As a bee-keeper, you want to make sure to not take too much of the bees honey because it is their food as well as delicious, thus no need to remove the “larder” frames.

One issue that comes up by making some of the frames non-removable is cleanliness over long period of time, well turns out the bees can actually take care of that themselves. From the Hexhives site…
“With pollen and nectar, bees create a substance called propolis. Propolis is a sticky substance that bees use to seal up undesirable open areas in the hive. It’s been long thought that the various pollens collected serve as a deterrent to encroachments by various infestations. This might be an example of how bees engineer combinations of substances to provide as sterile an environment as possible for the queen and nursery. It’s important to keep this in mind because the interaction between the bees and the beekeeper can have an enormous impact on the health of the colony.”

Three units assembled, with cutaway.

Wow! They make a substance that acts as a structurally adhesive filler with anti-viral/bacterial properties! How do we get them to make more of that than they do in conventional designs? Well, Hex-hives has solved that one too – They use rough finish on the inside of their wood boxes, which creates an irregular surface the bees are compelled to smooth out…. By covering it with this material! So that means we either need to print a rough textured surface, or do some post-processing to rough it up.

The design incorporates multiple round transit holes which are easy for the bees the sanitize and guard, the central shaft running through the unit is recessed for the bottom portion, and designed to have the top of one unit nest deeply into the bottom of the next for stability. The bottom unit of the hivestack should have a solid wire mesh attached to the bottom of the unit to keep out nosey things.

Some additional notes on efficiency with bees: All areas of comb should be quickly accessible, lots of existing designs rely on bees all coming in on one level of a hive, and then they basically climb around the internal structure until they get where they need to drop off the pollen/nectar. Since this design is round and relatively small diameter, the frequent perimeter holes let bees land wherever they are needed, drop off and head out again.

This unit is designed to be mounted on or in a tree, and thicker walls are probably better than thinner. The outer wall provides insulation for bees during hot and cold, so if you have any knowledge on materials that might be well suited for this application, I’d appreciate the input. I’m new to additive manufacturing with my first (printrbot) coming with the kickstarter release this month, is there a reason PLA and ABS are used to the exclusion of other materials? Or is it just availability?
This is version 0.1 of my modular beehive design. I’m very new to 3d modeling and built this in Tinkercad just eyeballing the dimensions so I could convey what I have in mind, I invite anyone else interested to take the concept and run with it, I look forward to your suggestions and contributions.

Printable Frame Part

Structure, Larder Frames, Bottom Plate, and Nesting Shaft as one piece

Some immediate improvements I’m looking to develop include changing the removable frame mechanism from the current system (vertically inserted into the cut-out holder from the top of the unit) to one where you pull the frame out the side. Currently, to get at any honey you’d have to disrupt any units above so that obviously could use a re-think.

I’m not sure what scale this should be, but the one I’m using is probably wrong. Obviously this is too big for Tinkercad, any suggestions?

This thing was made with Tinkercad. Edit it online

Broken into individual, color coded componants

All-In-One unit that includes built in “larder frames” but does not include the removable frames. This is my furthest along design

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You Are Here.

We Find Ourselves Right of Center
I love the collaborative eco-system that has developed in the open-hardware/software movement over the past few years.   Thingiverse has become a recent obsession, It’s the closest thing to jazz I’ve ever seen online. It’s not something I was much interested in previously, but there is something so infectiously exciting about watching people “riff” off each others ideas; iterating fast and quick with one designers revised version inspiring the next designer to improve, I just can’t help myself.

One missing piece of the puzzle was making the jump from “Great Idea!” to “Enough people want to buy it to get it made”, but in my opinion Kickstarter.com and its myriad of fund-alikes have kicked down that door quite firmly.  The amount of money pouring into joe-schmoe products shows that not only is there a need for this type of funding, but there is a demand for these types of products.   Sure, there have been failures to deliver and more than a couple scams, but like the old saying goes, you can’t have the good without the bad.

From where I sit, we’re at the precipice of a  revolution on par with the introduction of the Internet; it is impossible to imagine where we’ll be ten years down the road simply because nobody has ever seen anything like it.   Several technologies are conspiring to dramatically liberate the “means of production back to the people.” to borrow a loaded term…

  • Inexpensive, Local Manufacturing It’s a race! Here’s my first unit which was the cheapest & most advanced at the time I bought it, but has since been challenged for cheapest in the two months I’ve been waiting.  THIS is what happens when you unleash innovation and tell everyone they can make money, just develop the best thing.
  • Passively Collaborative Open Source Hardware & Design Encourages everyone to work on improving the best designs (and sell it/incorporate it without worrying about licensing), while still allowing anyone to work on improvements they may value that others do not.  A practical application of Voluntary-ism if I’ve ever seen one.
  • Complexity Makes it Cheaper  Cost = Weight, therefore more intricate designs reduce production costs, often substantially.
When you’re talking about conventional manufacturing, it is always SUBSTANTIALLY more expensive to make one hundred of a thing than to make a hundred thousand of the same thing – This is because conventional manufacturing is usually some derivative of “Spend a lot of time/effort/resources crafting one or several perfect molds of your product, then stamp/inject/pressform/etc the material into it under high pressure and heat, pop out the finished product and do it again every 5 seconds”.   This works if all your customers want identical products, and it works if you have a use for a hundreds of thousands of units.

My background (professionally) is Sales, although my (limited) schooling was in audio engineering.    For the five years I was employed as an environmentally friendly foodservice packaging salesman, I was often frustrated by the difficulty of matching the needs of customers who wanted anything done custom.  One (non) customer had wanted to buy a PLA cold cup that was 8″ long, had little taper, good stability and punch-outs at the “bottom” of the cup, along the base, which of course does not exist.    I asked him what the item was for, and he told me he was heavily involved with the shellfish industry on the pacific northwest coast.  At the time they were using (and might still be) lengths of PVC pipe with holes drilled in the bottom, these are used like glorified collars that are dug into the sea floor around the crustacean to protect it from overly strong currents and (I assume) predation.   The first question on your mind as a salesman having this conversation is “What kind of quantity are we talking about here”

It’s been some time now, but if I recall his usage was 200,000 units the first year for the pilot project with expected usage of 2,000,000pc per year following a successful completion.  The total market was substantially larger than that.     So these are not small numbers we’re talking about in any kind of sane world, the only problem is we’re talking about mass produced manufacturing!    To make something like this, it would require a completely new mold be struck, so anywhere between $40,000 and $100,000 in up-front costs.

So lets do some ballpark math here.  Assuming for a second we get lucky and the design is very simple, which keeps the cost down –

The tool costs $40,000….

Divided by the first years usage 200,000

Comes to $0.20 per cup JUST for the tool.   Manufacturing and distribution  this size probably would cost $0.15-$0.30/ea by the time it gets put in a box and delivered, so total $0.35-0.50 per piece!      The manufacturing of course costs roughly the same per piece as any other cold cup, BUT the good news is that if your product works and everything is great than you pretty much don’t need to ever buy that tool again (unless it breaks).   Of course, if you decide the cup needs to change in ANY way, better get your wallet.

Problem is, mostly people don’t have that big a market when they’re getting started, and even if the market does exist they often don’t have the resources to cover the up-front costs.  So the inevitable results:  “I can’t justify putting that kind of money out up front when all I want to do is see if my concept will work”; they keep doing the same thing.

I don’t know about you, but that’s just never worked for me.  Products are works-in-progress, releases should be viewed as a snapshot in the timeline, not a stopping point. ideas to be observed in the physical space and improved upon as our understanding evolves alongside.  Somewhere along the road to industrialization that concept was left behind; I am excited as can be to include myself in the generation that’s rediscovering it all over again.

Turns out, it doesn’t have to be this way.

I welcome any comments or suggestions.

h/t metalifestream.com for the image at top I modified

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