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  • Additive Machining: Current Hyperbole and Future Reality

    Whilst killing time in a waiting room recently, I happened upon the
    following article about additive machining.
    Print me a Stradivarius
    The Economist 2011.02.10
    I already have a vague, layperson's familiarity with the technology and its
    limitations. While it is easy to be skeptical about some of the claims in the
    article, reflect on the advances that occured during the history of aviation
    from 1840 to the present.

    I wonder where industry will be ten years from now?
    Will Additive Manufacturing Put Milling Machines Out of Work?
    By Walter Frick
    American Machinist 2011.04.28

    I imagine that the upside of such a future is that there will be a lot more
    traditional subtractive machines on the market. The downside might be
    that at dispersal, the residual value of tools in HSM hobby shops will be
    even less than before.

    .

  • #2
    A related article
    The printed world
    The Economist 2011.02.10

    Little by little a machine is “printing” a complex titanium landing-gear bracket,
    about the size of a shoe, which normally would have to be laboriously hewn
    from a solid block of metal. Brackets are only the beginning. The researchers at
    Filton have a much bigger ambition: to print the entire wing of an airliner.

    .

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    • #3
      I believe I saw this process in action when I accompanied a customer of mine to a new start up facility here - I'm estimating this was about 8 or 10 years ago - for a demonstration. Not sure if it was exactly the same process but this powder was layered much the same as those slices you see in MRI imaging. The powder would then be scraped off, the part dropped a few thousandths and a new layer would be laid. We were investigating the use of this process as an alternative to stereolithography - also a very interesting process - for a prototype. I suppose it depends on the material but some of the samples they showed us had rather crude finishes but others looked like they had been injection molded with beautiful surface finishes.

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      • #4
        3-D printing is rapidly starting to take off, and is going to open a huge can of worms in the not too distant future. There's printers capable of printing out organs. Ones which could print out whole buildings are in development. Printed sand molds for metal castings are now available. Diners at one fancy Chicago establishment can enjoy printed food. And more sophisticated version are on the way. When 3-D printers (or stereolithography machines) first appeared 20+ years ago, they could only print in plastic and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now you can build a machine that's more powerful than the original ones for less than $3,000.

        The technology is rapidly growing more powerful, and a variation of it could be used to solve our energy woes.

        The issue that no one wants to talk about when it comes to 3-D printers is that having a cheap one, which can print nearly anything means that if I wake up one morning and suddenly decide that I'd like to own a howitzer, all I've got to do is download the appropriate blueprints from the internet (and I won't even have to pay for them), load them into my 3-D printer, dump in scrap metal (assuming it doesn't have auxons as described in the last link, which could find the metal for me), and a few minutes to hours later, have a nice shiny howitzer at my disposal. Print out some shells, and I'm ready for the next time some kid drives past with one of those thumping stereos blasting away at 200 dB.

        If the auxons become common place, then your religious idiot won't need an army of followers and/or financiers to build himself a nuke. He'll be able to do it all himself, with information he downloads from the internet.

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        • #5
          A 3D printer is not a matter transmuter. To build a howitzer you will need all the same materials that a howitzer is made from. To make a shell you will need the same materials including cordite to propel it. There is a lot of wishful thinking going on regarding this subject. I hate it when somebody writes an article the starts out by referring to the advances in an unrelated field as evidence that similar advances can be made in similar time in any field. It just ain't so. In some areas you start bumping into fundamental physical limits right away, in others not so.

          For instance, when you scale physical machines either up or down not all the factors that constrain designs scale at the same rate. Mass scales as the 3rd power of linear dimensions while surface area scales as the 2nd power. Stiffness and breaking strength do not scale at the same rate and as dimensions become smaller other effects begin to predominate. Friction becomes much more important at small scales and at very small scales atomic forces such as the Van der Waals forces become important.

          Scaling things down immediately runs into some unavoidable physical constraints. There are some ways to work around them but the idea of Drexler type nanobots may never be realized.

          As for the article linked about self replicating robots...

          Once dirt is broken down into piles of metals, there’s no conceptual difficulty with the rest of the technology required for shaping these piles into rods, panels, cogs, conductors, insulators, computer chips, and the other stuff of modern machine tools.
          We are so far away from that as a reality it is barely worth talking about. There is no step in the process of going from raw materials to finished product that doesn't require high amounts of human intervention. The entire idea is purely science fiction speculation at this time. The primary show stopper ( but not the only one) is the development of true machine intelligence.
          Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Evan
            A 3D printer is not a matter transmuter. To build a howitzer you will need all the same materials that a howitzer is made from. To make a shell you will need the same materials including cordite to propel it. There is a lot of wishful thinking going on regarding this subject. I hate it when somebody writes an article the starts out by referring to the advances in an unrelated field as evidence that similar advances can be made in similar time in any field. It just ain't so. In some areas you start bumping into fundamental physical limits right away, in others not so.
            It all depends upon the type of howitzer one wishes to make. Early howitzers were simply bronze or cast iron. Modern ones are made from more sophisticated materials, its true, but the capability of making those materials when fed the necessary raw ingredients isn't much of a stretch when you're talking about a machine which can convert assorted lumps of pig iron, carbon, chromium, and nickel into an engine block or a stainless steel sink.

            Black powder is rather easy to make, and I don't doubt that a machine could do a much better job of making an explosive than a human can, if the machine were given things like fertilizer, diesel fuel, and a few other odd items. (None of which are particularly difficult to obtain.)

            For instance, when you scale physical machines either up or down not all the factors that constrain designs scale at the same rate. Mass scales as the 3rd power of linear dimensions while surface area scales as the 2nd power. Stiffness and breaking strength do not scale at the same rate and as dimensions become smaller other effects begin to predominate. Friction becomes much more important at small scales and at very small scales atomic forces such as the Van der Waals forces become important.

            Scaling things down immediately runs into some unavoidable physical constraints. There are some ways to work around them but the idea of Drexler type nanobots may never be realized.
            I seriously doubt that we'll ever see tiny nanobots which can be injected into the human body that then live in there and wipe out any disease before it can make us sick. Certainly, there'll be ones which can be injected to deliver drugs to tumor sites and the like, but they'll be specialized 1 shot deals that are injected once a disease has been detected. Of course, I don't recall saying anything about such machines in my previous post, so I don't know why we're bothering to discuss them.
            As for the article linked about self replicating robots...



            We are so far away from that as a reality it is barely worth talking about. There is no step in the process of going from raw materials to finished product that doesn't require high amounts of human intervention. The entire idea is purely science fiction speculation at this time. The primary show stopper ( but not the only one) is the development of true machine intelligence.
            Twenty years ago would you have expected things like the iPhone (or other smartphones) to be readily available? Or that they would be as powerful as they are now? Nothing in that article requires a fundamental shift in our understanding of science (unlike say, warp drive does, for example) and it may not come to pass in 20 or 30 years, but unless humans wipe themselves out in the near future, we'll certainly see something like that before 2100. Kurtzweil is overly optimistic in his singularity projections, but he predicts such machines around 2045, and I doubt that if he's wrong, it'll be because they show up later than he predicted.

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            • #7
              Twenty years ago would you have expected things like the iPhone (or other smartphones) to be readily available?
              Absolutely. I taught computer programming at the local college in the early 80's. One of the things that I told my students was what I foresaw in the future of computing. 30 years ago I described exactly what we have now in the way of laptops and hand held devices. That includes all wireless communication, photorealistic displays and units that were no larger than a regular textbook with enough storage to hold an entire library.

              For someone with much greater foresight I recommend that you look up Richard Feynman's lecture "Room at the Bottom".

              Nothing in that article requires a fundamental shift in our understanding of science...
              Yes it does. It makes the implicit assumption that artificial intelligence is possible. We have no reason to think that is so. We have been working on it for the last half century and have exactly nothing to show for it that can be called a true artificial intelligence. For an example of how little progress we have made take a look at the Darpa contests for autonomous vehicles.

              We are so far from creating anything that remotely resembles our own brains in complexity that it isn't forseeable at all. The number of synapses in the cerebral cortex alone is estimated at around 125 trillion. Each synapse has something like 1000 or more molecular switches that are mediated by over 1400 different proteins. That doesn't include any of the houskeeping functions like the sympathetic and autonomic nervous system, the vision and audio centres or motor and other sensory monitoring and control.

              Without artificial intelligence the entire idea of self replicating robots is flatly impossible outside a highly HUMAN controlled environment. Even that isn't close to being achieved.
              Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Evan
                Absolutely. I taught computer programming at the local college in the early 80's. One of the things that I told my students was what I foresaw in the future of computing. 30 years ago I described exactly what we have now in the way of laptops and hand held devices. That includes all wireless communication, photorealistic displays and units that were no larger than a regular textbook with enough storage to hold an entire library.

                For someone with much greater foresight I recommend that you look up Richard Feynman's lecture "Room at the Bottom".
                Then you would be a highly unique individual, as in the interviews I've heard with the various people who were responsible for inventing much of the technology that goes into our devices, nearly all of them say that they had no idea of what the technology would lead to. They made some educated guesses, of course, but none of them ever imagined the level of change which has occurred.



                Yes it does. It makes the implicit assumption that artificial intelligence is possible. We have no reason to think that is so. We have been working on it for the last half century and have exactly nothing to show for it that can be called a true artificial intelligence. For an example of how little progress we have made take a look at the Darpa contests for autonomous vehicles.
                You do know that Google is pushing to get self-driving cars legal in Nevada, don't you?
                Las Vegas is known for its glitzy casinos, offbeat entertainers and buffets. And if Google has its way, you can add to that list self-driving cars.

                The search giant has lobbied for Nevada state legislation that would allow for autonomous cars to be driven on public streets and also exempt them from a law that prohibits texting while driving, a report in the New York Times revealed. The proposal is being introduced as two separate bills, with both scheduled to be voted on before congress goes on break in June.
                We are so far from creating anything that remotely resembles our own brains in complexity that it isn't forseeable at all. The number of synapses in the cerebral cortex alone is estimated at around 125 trillion. Each synapse has something like 1000 or more molecular switches that are mediated by over 1400 different proteins. That doesn't include any of the houskeeping functions like the sympathetic and autonomic nervous system, the vision and audio centres or motor and other sensory monitoring and control.

                Without artificial intelligence the entire idea of self replicating robots is flatly impossible outside a highly HUMAN controlled environment. Even that isn't close to being achieved.
                Nothing you've stated indicates why humans are needed. The Japanese have factories which are completely automated, save for a handful of humans who simply fix things when they're broken and don't supervise any of the actual work done by the robots. If not having a human means that 1 out of a 1000 or even 1 out of a 100 robots that are being built is defective, that's still enough of a gain to encourage adoption. After all, when CDs first started being produced, there were a high number of rejects, but the costs associated with the technology were low enough that it didn't matter.

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                • #9
                  Then you would be a highly unique individual, as in the interviews I've heard with the various people who were responsible for inventing much of the technology that goes into our devices, nearly all of them say that they had no idea of what the technology would lead to. They made some educated guesses, of course, but none of them ever imagined the level of change which has occurred.
                  You forget who I was working for back then. In 1978 I took an extensive tour of PARC in Palo Alto. As an employee I was able to see nearly everything they were working on. That included computers with hi resolution 2 page displays using a windows, icons, mouse and pointer multitasking operating system. I also saw a fully functional colour laser printer and everything was networked via Ethernet, all developed by Xerox. Not only was it imagined it was already functional to a high degree. Two years later I was offered an elite position in Vancouver as a systems consultant with Xerox. I declined because we couldn't afford the housing prices even with the large pay increment and we didn't want to live in Vancouver.

                  You do know that Google is pushing to get self-driving cars legal in Nevada, don't you?
                  I predict that if they do allow it it will be under very controlled circumstance that are a long way from a truly autonomous vehicle. Even then I expect major problems if the vehicles must share the road with human drivers. Also, without the massive amount of human input to make and program the vehicle, it wouldn't exist. Self replication above a trivial level by autonomous machines isn't in sight.

                  Nothing you've stated indicates why humans are needed. The Japanese have factories which are completely automated, save for a handful of humans who simply fix things when they're broken and don't supervise any of the actual work done by the robots.
                  No they don't. They have assembly plants that are automated and cannot even do simple self repair. Parts must be arranged in specific patterns in special trays so that the process works. That is a very, very long way from shoveling dirt in the front door and getting a Prius out the back, never mind going to get the dirt somewhere. Those factories take in parts that include very large amounts of human input at some stages of the process including simply delivering the parts to the factory.

                  Defects aren't an issue for something that doesn't exist. The bottom line is that without real intelligence no machine that needs to accomplish complex tasks can cope with the infinite possibilities that the unstructured environment outside a lab presents.
                  Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Evan
                    I taught computer programming at the local college in the early 80's. One of the things that I told my students was what I foresaw in the future of computing. 30 years ago I described exactly what we have now in the way of laptops and hand held devices. That includes all wireless communication, photorealistic displays and units that were no larger than a regular textbook with enough storage to hold an entire library.
                    Let us know what the next 30 yrs will look like.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Implantable computers with direct neural interfaces that serve as an extension of the mind for the mundane tasks such as memory and arithmetic calculation. Everyone than can afford it will be connected to the web 24/7 with interpersonal communication, photographic memory and instant information hanging at the periphery of your vision on demand.

                      You will see as a part of your visual field an overlay of "enhanced reality". It will not take the place of the real world unless you want it to but will be additive to reality. Realtime 3D photo realistic generation of this additive reality will produce an effect so addictive that few people will ever turn it off. People will be able to chose their personal avatars that will be automatically communicated to anyone within range so that what you see when you meet someone will be what they choose for you to see. That is, unless you have the legal right to see more than that such as personal information instantly autocorrelated to that person and displayed/whispered in your ear if you are a police officer for instance.

                      There will be a great controversy over personal privacy rights as to whether this sort of tagging should be mandatory or optional. The pro argument will win the day ostensibly because it will increase personal safety in society. It won't but people will feel safer when they are led to believe that authorities can identify anyone at a glance.

                      The implications of this are both very wide and deep. There will be several basic classes in society that will be defined by the level of enhancements they can afford. There will be an underclass that have only basic ID tagging. The most common class will be a standardized system with "plugin optional components and upgrades" with strictly defined limits to capabilities. People will choose default avatars from extensive combinatorial libraries that they can alter as they wish like putting on makeup. As usual, the wealthy and powerful will be able to afford capabilities that aren't common knowledge. Custom modifications will be on the market, both legal and illegal.

                      Communication will resemble telepathy and actual spoken communication will be unnecessary for most purposes. ID verification will be automatic as will your whereabouts at any instant in time.

                      I won't go into the details and ramifications that all this will have for interpersonal relationships but it will have a very significant impact including on sex.

                      A full description of all this would be the subject for a book and various aspects have already been explored by a wide variety of science fiction writers in the past. It will come to pass.

                      Some references include the books Neuromancer, Snow Crash, Ringworld and Dhalgren.

                      -----------------------------------------------

                      However, the subject of "strong" or "true" artificial intelligence will still be stalled where it is at present which is at a state of no progress.

                      I offer as an example a short exchange with last year's second place runner up in the Loebner prize competition. The winner chat bot isn't available online so I attempted to confuse the runner up while sticking to one of the categories permitted in the rules. That category is Time.

                      Me: A long time ago the cold was everywhere.

                      Cleverbot: How about this if you can't answer this question will you tell me what you eat?

                      Me: The subject is time and duration.

                      ( a pause of several minutes ensues while it says "thinking more" )

                      After waiting for 5 minutes it appears that the instance of Cleverbot has crashed as it never replies.
                      See http://cleverbot.com/

                      Not very impressive and no better than the Eliza program of 30 years ago. I have never yet seen a chat bot that I can't confuse nearly immediately. There is only one exception to that and it is a program I wrote. It uses a heuristic method that requires it to be taught what is appropriate to say when it encounters something it cannot parse. It takes into account context, something that most of these programs do not. It is very tedious to teach, much like teaching a slow learner child but it never forgets once taught.
                      Free software for calculating bolt circles and similar: Click Here

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Tuckerfan
                        3-D printing is rapidly starting to take off, and is going to open a huge can of worms in the not too distant future.

                        There's printers capable of printing out organs.

                        The issue that no one wants to talk about when it comes to 3-D printers is that having a cheap one, which can print nearly anything means that if I wake up one morning and suddenly decide that I'd like to own a howitzer, all I've got to do is download the appropriate blueprints from the internet
                        You're reading way too much into the Wired Magazine hype. 3D printers are simply plotters with an extrusion head. They've been around since the 80's.

                        The vast majority of 3D printers "print" with melted nylon, including the printers that make mold cores for sand casting.

                        The metal printers use powdered metal that's mixed with epoxy. It's not "printing" a complex titanium landing gear bracket. There's a sandbox filled with powder. A laser head scans across the surface in 2D and activates the binder in a very fine layer (about a thou). When that layer is finished, the sandbox is lowered a thou, and a squeegie smooths the metal powder back out, and the process is repeated, over and over. It's a very slow process. The result is a very fragile, porous metal "print" which must then be fired in a furnace.

                        The hyperbolic "Heart Printer" in Wired magazine was a commercial medical dispenser: a 2D plotter with an eyedropper. As we all learned in high school, mature heart cells beat in synchrony, so they loaded the machine with heart cells, the dispenser squeezed them out in a grid, and they all started beating together. They didn't print an organ

                        "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."

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                        • #13
                          Just think, if 3D plotters become sophisticated enough (able to make parts equal to today manufactured goods) to fab up all the everyday things we want and are cheap enough to own then what would the world need with China and India and all the crap we buy from them. To bad we are still a long way from that .
                          The shortest distance between two points is a circle of infinite diameter.

                          Bluewater Model Engineering Society at https://sites.google.com/site/bluewatermes/

                          Southwestern Ontario. Canada

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                          • #14
                            The 3d printer or Rapid Prototype machines are fairley common. Here is a classic example. I have a son workning on a project at a university on the west coast. He needs a special propeller made for their project and they can't get it built. He emails me the Solid Works file ( I am in Calgary), I take it down to my associate with the Rapid Prototype machine, and few hours later we have they part. Into an envelope it goes - and onto Greyhound ( yes) - 'hold for pick up' at the other end. He has it and it works. I just need to find Scotty and Sulu, to get the "Transporter" up and working.

                            Pat

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Shuswap Pat
                              He emails me the Solid Works file ( I am in Calgary), I take it down to my associate with the Rapid Prototype machine, and few hours later we have they part. Into an envelope it goes
                              Sure, but at the speed you're talking, that's a plastic propeller, right? It takes hours to furnace sinter the powdered metal prints (after the print, which takes hours, or days...).
                              "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."

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