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.
03 Oct 2016
It started as a seemingly innocuous matter of curiosity in the NLP office – a pub quiz question, almost:
What share of the global economic output is produced in the world’s 10 richest countries?
Has this increased or decreased in the last 50 years?
Some guesses were made so we looked at the data to check if anyone was right (no one was, although this was blamed on the data being patchy).For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.However, still thinking about interesting trends in the world’s 10 richest countries, while admittedly being influenced by the appointment of a new UK Prime Minister and one of the candidates in the upcoming US elections, another question came up in conversation:
How many of the world’s 10 richest countries have been governed by a female political leader?
Not many, we guessed. Then we thought that it would be nice, albeit depressing, to visualise just how many. Courtesy of our outstanding (and patient) Graphics team, the resulting infographic was used as NLP’s submission to the 2016 Information Is Beautiful Awards, where it was included in the longlist. You can see it below.
It’s an A1 poster: you may want to click here to see a larger version.
Some interesting findings on the left-hand side of the infographic, in no particular order:
The share of the world’s economy produced in the 10 richest countries has decreased over the years – from 87% in 1960 to 66% in 2015. We found this was still a substantial figure, but an encouraging one.
9 out of the 10 richest countries in 1960 are still in the top 10 in 2015 – Russia (then, the USSR) lost its spot, Brazil entered – but there has been plenty of movement with the likes of Mexico and Spain making an appearance in the chart over the years.
Comparing the share of the world’s GDP to the share of the world’s population in the group of the 10 richest countries leads to very inconsistent results. When China and India are in the group, the ratio seem fairly balanced (e.g. in 2015 the group accounts for 66% of the world’s GDP and 50% of the world’s population); when they aren’t, the concentration of global wealth in not-highly-populated countries appears stark (e.g. in 1990 73% of the world’s GDP was produced by 19% of the world’s population).
Some remarks on the right-hand side:
The world’s richest economies have a very poor record of appointing female leaders. Out of the 143 changes in leadership that happened in these countries between 1960 and 2015 (only when they were among the 10 richest in the world), just 8 involved a female leader.
Over the 550 years of analysis, female leaders have governed for fewer than 47 years. This is a remarkably bad ratio of 8 years of female leadership for every 92 of male leaders for a world population, despite women having consistently made up around or slightly less than 50% of the world’s population since 1960.
The number of changes in political leaders does not correlate with the number of female leaders – we were not expecting it would, but it was worth checking: whenever there is a change of leader, one would expect that the newly appointed one has the same chances of being male or female. However, the countries that change political leaders most often, Japan and Italy, have never had a female leader. Gender equality is down to many things, but chance is not one of them.
In conclusion, our analysis shows that the world is a relatively less unequal place in terms of wealth (although we appreciate we did not look into individuals’ wealth, but that of countries). And while there have been improvements in gender equality for a great number of metrics in recent years, we thought it was important to show that we still have a long way to go.
 We do attend rather geeky pub quizzes, but aren’t all pub quizzes that are worth attending geeky? Well spotted, galactic hitchhikers. By “change in leader”, it was considered the instance in which a President/Prime Minister replaces another. This does not always correspond to a change in Government. World Bank, Databank, Gender Statistics. For reference, the world’s population female-to-male ratio was 49.5:50.5 in 2015 and 50:50 in 1960.