3D Printing: The Next 25 Years


This year’s ASME North American Additive Manufacturing + 3D Printing Conference (AM3D), Boston, Massachusetts will be held August 2-5, 2015 and focus on the engineering behind additive technologies. The event is co-located with the ASME 2015 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference (IDETC/CIE).

The AM3D conference will showcase many distinguished experts in the field of additive manufacturing including Hod Lipson, professor of engineering at Columbia University and co-author of the bestselling book, Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing.

As a keynote speaker at AM3D, Professor Lipson’s will present “3D Printing: The Next 25 Years”, exploring emerging trends and applications in additive manufacturing and 3D printing. We caught up with Professor Lipson in an AMazing interview.

“3D Printing: The Next 25 Years”
Hod Lipson, Professor of Engineering at Columbia University
Co-Author –“Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing”
Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, 12:30-2:00 p.m.
Hynes Convention Center
Boston, Massachusetts, USA


AM_ASME_Fabricated_3D_PrintingAMazing®: Professor Lipson, thank you for your participation. At this year’s ASME AM3D conference your keynote presentation is titled “3D Printing: The Next 25 Years”. Does the span of 25 years coincide with the three major episodes that you describe in your book including: gaining control over the shape of objects, gaining control over the composition of matter, and finally, gaining the ability to program materials to function in desired ways?

Professor Lipson: While I use the term “25 years” metaphorically, I intend to focus on the longer term development of the technology. In the short term – a year or two out, companies are innovating rapidly, making additive manufacturing (AM) faster, cheaper and better. But in the longer term, I think we are in for some profound changes as we move from printing passive parts to printing integrated, active systems. That’s what we called “The Episodes”.

AMazing®: How would you assess the current mainstream adoption of 3D printing? What do you believe is needed for even wider adoption of 3D printing?

Professor Lipson: We are seeing a strong trend of moving from printing prototypes to printing end use parts. And for that trend to continue, two things needs to happen: We need better design tools, that will allow people to take advantage of the new optimization and customization opportunities afforded by AM, and we need better material models, so that designers can be certain about the properties of the objects they print. Without this, its going to be difficult for mainstream designers to fully adopt AM.

AMazing®: In your book, you list ten principles of 3D printing. Is there one principle that businesses should whole-heartedly embrace to stay competitive on a long-term basis?

Professor Lipson: I think the #1 principle is “Complexity is free”. I often get heat from experts for saying this, so I want to explain. What is happening with AM is that the marginal cost of manufacturing features is zero. If you print a block of metal, but then change your design and add a few extra holes, round off some corners, and emboss your name, you won’t pay more to manufacture that part. In other words, that added complexity is free.

In every other manufacturing technology, adding features means more time, effort and cost to make the part. Often companies will ask: At what point does AM break even with conventional manufacturing; but that’s the wrong question to ask. The right question is: How can I take advantage of the fact that complexity is free in order to do things that were not possible before. The same is true for principle #2: “variety is free”, and so on.

AMazing®: With regard to a business model enabled by 3D printing you state, “Cloud manufacturing, an alternative to mass production, will consist of a network of small-scale, decentralized nodes of production.” Is it safe to say cloud manufacturing involving additive technologies will be mostly utilized for the manufacture of custom products in the future?

Professor Lipson: Again cloud manufacturing enables production of customized objects in many variations, rather than mass-produced “one-size fits all”. That was not economically viable before.

AMazing®: In a recent Q&A with Dr. Jordan of SABIC, Dr. Jordan stated in order for additive manufacturing to reach its full potential, advances in design, process technology, as well as more and better materials are needed. In terms of design, what’s missing from current design software to take full advantage of additive technologies?

Professor Lipson: I often tell my students: If there is a straight edge or a sharp corner in your design, is probably not optimal. Yet design tools often encourage us to think in terms of lines and corners, as a result of conventional manufacturing constraints. Those designs are rarely optimal in strength or weight or performance; Look at nature and you’ll never see a straight edge or sharp corner, unless its specifically needed. And so our design tools need to catch up with this idea, but that will take a new generation of software, and maybe a new generation of designers.

AMazing®: With regard to a 3D printer’s production capacity, you mentioned in your book computers need to learn to improve on how they “think shape”. You cite several ways for a computer to “think shape” including at the highest level, a design process you call “reactive blueprints”. Would you briefly share how a reactive design blueprint could one day fabricate biological tissue inside the human body?

Professor Lipson: Reactive blueprints are designs that are not “fixed”, like a traditional blueprint, but instead are a set of rules that specify how a base blueprint reacts to its environment. Biological systems are specified somewhat in that way; for example, plants will shape in reaction to their environment.

AMazing®: What excites you the most about the future of additive manufacturing? What do you feel is the single greatest peril?

Professor Lipson: The most exciting aspect is, for me, the idea that we will be able to print complete integrated working systems, like robots. That’s a marked departure from all of human history, where we made things by assembling components. When we reach that level, all bets are off.

This concludes our interview. Thank you very much Professor Lipson for your participation and sharing your insight and knowledge about additive manufacturing.


“3D Printing: The Next 25 Years” Abstract:
3D Printers – machines that can automatically fabricate arbitrarily-shaped objects from almost any material – have evolved over the last three decades from limited and expensive prototyping equipment in the hands of few, to small-scale commodity production tools available to almost anyone. It’s been broadly recognized that this burgeoning industrial revolution will transform almost every industry, and every aspect of our lives. But where will this technology go next?

This talk will describe why 3D printing is disruptive, and look at the evolution of additive manufacturing from its past to its future. The technology is advancing from printing parts in plastic and metal, to bio-printing and food printing, and from 3D printing passive parts to printing active, integrated systems, including electronics, actuators and sensors. Will we one day be able to print a robot that will walk out of the printer, batteries included?

About Hod Lipson
AM_ASMW_Hod_LipsonHod Lipson is a professor of engineering at Columbia University in New York, and a co-author of the award-winning bestseller “Fabricated: The New World of 3D printing” (translated to 7 languages). His work on self-aware and self-replicating robots, food printing, and bio-printing has received widespread media coverage including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Time, CNN, and the National Public Radio.

Lipson has co-authored over 200 technical papers and speaks frequently at high-profile venues such as TED and the US National Academies. Hod directs the Creative Machines Lab, which pioneers new ways to make machines that create, and machines that are creative. For more information visit.

About ASME
ASME helps the global engineering community develop solutions to real world challenges. Founded in 1880 as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, ASME is a not-for-profit professional organization that enables collaboration, knowledge sharing and skill development across all engineering disciplines, while promoting the vital role of the engineer in society. ASME codes and standards, publications, conferences, continuing education and professional development programs provide a foundation for advancing technical knowledge and a safer world. www.asme.org

ASME Event Program Management Contact:
Israr Kabir
Tel: 1.212.591-8374

Works Cited:
Lipson, H. & Kurman, M., (2013). Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing, Indianapolis, IN, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Republication or redistribution of AMazing content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of AMazing. AMazing® is a registered trademark of Amazing.



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