23 Jun 2017
It’s one of those internet memes that appears on social media every once in a while, but it’s hard to track down the first iteration but it essentially goes like this:
It gets a chuckle from me every time, swiftly followed by memories of the clunking staccato rhythm of loading a floppy disk into my first PC home (it still doesn’t beat the noise of loading a cassette tape-based game into the old BBC Acorns but I fear I may be showing my age now).
Nostalgic memories aside, the meme confirms that 3D printing is slowly becoming a well-established, socially recognised technology medium.
It’s a technology that is on the cusp of simultaneously shaping multiple industries and is destined to change the definition of design, manufacturing, construction, retail, medicine and space exploration. It’s also one of those technologies that I’m a self-confessed fan of and follow its progress as avidly as some like to watch their local team play football.
This blog sets out how 3D printing will soon impact on three industries – construction, retail, and health, and how it will become as standard as the floppy disc drive once was!
Industrial 3-D printing is at a tipping point, about to go mainstream in a big way. Most executives and many engineers don’t realise it, but this technology has moved well beyond prototyping, rapid tooling, trinkets, and toys.
Harvard Business Review
Image Source: Total Kustom
The construction industry has been doing the same thing for well over a hundred years now. Houses for example are still very much set to rectangular standardised plans, mostly built from single materials joined together by mortar and nails, and constructed over a number of weeks. Not for much longer. Say hello to the Rudenko 3D printer which is a gantry-based concrete extrusion printer. Rudenko is one of a growing number of start-up companies using concrete to print structures such as the above example of a castle, or the World’s first 3D printed hotel suite.
The castle was very much a proof of concept for the makers and took around 3 months to print back in 2014. However the technology is moving fast. How fast? Well the below example of a 3D printed house prototype was printed earlier this year. But the most impressive part of the house isn’t just the fact that it was 3D printed, it’s that it only took 24 hours to print.
It’s no longer a giant leap to imagine a similar system employed by housebuilders in the coming years. If we could turn these systems into a mobile platform (some of which already are), housebuilders could one day park up a printer, programme it with designs for a row of houses (houses which could have been designed by the future residents, to perfectly match their needs and wants) and away it would go. It could greatly speed up house building, which could minimise disruption to the surrounding area and boost affordable housing provision. In addition it could open up a whole new market of custom homes, allowing prospective home owners to tell the housebuilders how they want their house to look and what the layout should be.
Its potential for house builders is obvious but it could go much further than that. Such a system could also be deployed to disaster zones to quickly build shelters to house those who have lost their homes.
Manufacturing & Retail
Image Source: PC Advisor
Any rail traveller or music lover knows it’s far more convenient and easier to simply print your tickets rather than collecting them at the station or waiting for them to arrive in the post. Convenience can be a killer of the high street shop however.
Just as the rise of the digitally downloaded album or movie saw a corresponding fall in high street sales and ultimately a swathe of retailers like HMV closing stores, other retailers could soon feel the effects of 3D printing as it will ultimately change the way we purchase our goods. This would foreseeably have a knock-on effect on supply lines and the need for a physical high street presence.
With more and more materials being developed for use with 3D printing and more 3D printers having the capability to print multiple materials simultaneously, the idea of on-demand printing of products no longer seems to far-fetched. Home 3D printing has many advantages over the more traditional retail models. Why go to the shops to replace the broken door handle when you could just print a replacement at home? Or why stand in the cold and rain waiting for the latest iPhone when you could just pay apple direct for a download link and print it yourself?
And even if the convenience of not having to physically go to the shops isn’t a selling point for consumers, the ability to then customise those products are virtually limitless. Imagine being able to print a pair of shoes that are customised - from the colour and style right down to a perfect fit for your foot.
3D printing is making a noticeable impact in hospitals across the world. In Birmingham for example, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital recently announced that it is saving an average of 3 to 4 hours and £20,000 per surgery by printing 3D models of patients’ organs using their new in-house 3D printer so that doctors and surgeons can see what needs doing before ever picking up a scalpel.
If I were to take one thing away from this blog, it’s that I’m going to be buying a 3D printer for my daughter for Christmas soon. Why? Because we are in the early days of 3D printing and like my old BBC Acorn, they are expensive and have limited functionality.
However it’s those limitations that encouraged the Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Tim Berners-Lee’s of the world to start playing with the technology, developing new programming languages and new ways of using it. It’s my feeling that it will be the kids of today who grow up with these 3D printers in their homes and schools who will really push the technology in the next 10/20 years - and jobs in the industry will increase in number exponentially. It’s a technology that is here, and must not be ignored.
20 Jun 2017
So two weeks have elapsed since the election and we are no closer to understanding the likely impact on education policy. Whilst Prime Minister Theresa May has taken the opportunity to reshuffle her cabinet after losing her Commons majority, limited changes have been made and she has retained Justine Greening in the post of Education Secretary. Ms Greening retained her Putney seat in the election, but saw her majority of 10,180 reduced to 1,554. Ahead of the election, there had been speculation that Ms Greening could be replaced by a more enthusiastic supporter of the Prime Minister’s plan to create new grammar schools. The leaders of the NUT and NAHT teaching unions were both quick to welcome her re-appointment, as was National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter, who said it meant they could continue their work on school improvement and social mobility.
The Conservative manifesto had promised to:
Scrap free school lunches for infants in England, to instead offer free breakfasts for all children at primary school level.
Pump an extra £4 billion a year into schools by 2022.
Introduce new funding arrangements to open specialist mathematics schools in all major cities.
Scrap the ban on setting up new grammar schools.
Involve universities which charge maximum tuition fees and independent schools in the sponsorship and founding of academies and ‘free schools’.
Now the Party has lost its Commons majority, it’s difficult to see which of the manifesto promises it will concentrate on trying to deliver and which will be side-lined.
One area of particular contention is the idea of establishing new grammar schools. Whilst Ms Greening has in the past publicly supported plans for more of them, there have been recent indications that perhaps she is less enthusiastic. In the week before the election, she failed to give a direct answer when asked on Radio 4 whether she personally believed in grammar schools. In the context of the alliance with the DUP which is still being negotiated however, it is noteworthy that the DUP is pro-grammar and Northern Irish schools are intrinsically selective. The DUP website outlines five key priorities, of which the fourth is to raise standards in education for everyone. Its 2017 manifesto referred to the need to defend and improve the education system in Northern Ireland to ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed in life. It expresses clear support for academic selection and Arlene Foster has publicly emphasised her support for grammar schools explaining that, ”…the perception of grammar schools as only for the privileged class is a gross misrepresentation’’.
Notwithstanding the potential support from the DUP, the feedback from industry experts on Twitter is that Ms Greening's re-appointment is likely to signal the end of the push to create more grammar schools. Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs and a prominent supporter of grammar schools, said the party would have to “trim down our policies carefully to what we think Parliament will support”. He suggested that the government should perhaps look at a “rather modest sort of pilot looking at opening some state grammar schools in inner urban areas”.
Even with the DUP support the Government is likely to find itself unable to push forward with grammar school proposals. Indications from the Independent’s Education Correspondent Rachael Pells are that only seven Conservative ministers would be needed to oppose such a bill and there are around fifteen who are known to be outspokenly against new grammar schools. In this context the feeling is that Government education policy will need to concentrate on addressing school funding cuts whilst delivering much needed new school places. Whether these places will be delivered in the form of Free Schools or the development or expansion of existing local authority schools will remain to be seen but the delivery of new grammar schools looks certain to consigned to the history books…at least for the time being.