3D Printing, Recycling, and Disassemblers
3D printing has had some amazing advancements in the past few years and rapidly approaching a price point in which this revolutionary technology will begin to move from the hobbyists into general day to day usage. This technology has the potential to be the foundation on which the stuff of dreams is built. Take a look at this amazing video demonstrating the potential of future versions of 3D printing at the nanoscale.
Clearly, this is a long ways off. There are a few rudimentary nanoscale level printing projects being worked on but nothing remotely close to the scale or capabilities demonstrated in the above video. Take a look here for some impressive photos and videos from Technische Universität Wien of high resolution object being printed super small. Unfortunately, while the technology is amazing and the nuts and bolts are going to be different from the standard hobbyist level 3D printing most people are familiar with, it is really the same thing, just smaller.
Eventually, however, this technology will grow and mature and advancements in all areas of the field will begin to converge, as they generally do. Currently there are larger scale 3D printers that are capable of printing using many types of materials in a single print. Stratasys Objet Connex 3D Printers are capable of printing as many as 14 different types of materials into a single model. Combine another couple years of development here and combine with the nanoscale printing technology demonstrated above by Technische Universität Wien and you are starting to get interestingly close to the amazing concept video that kicked off this post.
So. What next? Well, one of the great things about 3D printing is that it has the potential to be extremely environmentally friendly. It has the ability to cut out vast segments of the production and supply chains. This eliminates all of the energy and materials that currently get spent on shipping and distribution. However, your future printer is still going to need “ink”, or in the case of a 3d printer, filament. Alas, it seems like we are still well outside of a lifetime away from Star Trek style replicators so we will still need the raw materials on hand to print the things we want our advanced future 3D printers to produce. For current generation 3D printers there are a number of solutions out there for recycling materials yourself and generating your own printing filament. Eventually, people will begin to work out ways of creating their own raw materials for the other types of components machines like Stratasys’ uses.
So, where does this put us? Amazingly, the components to create larger scale and more rudimentary versions of the initial nanoprinting video shared above seem to be coming into place and are actively being developed today. In my opinion, our current big hurdle is one that will further push 3D printing into not only being environmentally friendly but into being a tremendous force for reducing consumption and waste across the globe. In the grand scheme of things, putting something together is the easy part. It is taking the thing apart and breaking it down to its raw materials that is difficult. This will be one of the next big challenges. We already have some amazing recycling technology. For example, take a look at this great video showing what happens at a Materials Recycling Facility. It is pretty impressive stuff.
I was a little surprised to still see actual people working there assisting with sorting but they will probably be replaced by more efficient robot arms and cameras hooked to some amazing neuralnets that will be taught to identify the various components that still need to be sorted “by hand” at that stage. However, as impressive as this is, especially with its ability to sort and discard things like biowaste and food products, it still falls way short of what would be needed for some serious recycled multi-material 3D printing. Eventually, we need to be able to get the point in which something like a television can be tossed into the in house recycling machine, broken down by a nano-disassembler into raw materials, and these raw materials will then be used to refill the various cartridges for the nano-assembler.
This seems to be where the whole system breaks down, the only real references I could find to anything like this seemed to be from various video games set in the future. I’m not discouraged by this though, everything in science was science fiction until someone did it. We’ll get there eventually. Besides, in the meantime we will probably develop some cool grinders and find ways to make use of that old discarded TV’s materials in a more crude manner, despite it being less efficient than a true nano-disassembler would be.
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