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Stereolithography - forgive long message

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  • Elizabeth Hanson-Smith
    Forgive the length of this message (this is a warning to busy people to skip it), but it is really interesting. From the SANTEC Newsletter. ... Taken from The
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2003
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      Forgive the length of this message (this is a warning
      to busy people to skip it), but it is really
      interesting. From the SANTEC Newsletter.


      Taken from The Harrow Technology Report for Nov., 24,
      From "Information," To "Things."
      Copyright (c) 2001-2003, Jeffrey R. Harrow
      Email: Jeff@...

      "Stereolithography," and related techniques for
      computer-generated models of things into REAL things
      (through laser
      gel-setting, "inkjet" printing of physical objects,
      and other
      techniques) is something we've explored for years (see
      20030217/20030217.htm#_Toc31869173 for a recent
      example, and a Nov.,
      2003 Technology Review article titled "Instant
      Manufacturing" at

      Stereolithography is a wonderful example of science
      fiction driving
      science fact, although we still have more than a few
      steps to Star
      Trek's "matter replicator" or the like. Nevertheless,

      has already been a boon for many industrial and design
      allowing "instant parts" to be created in minutes or
      hours, rather than
      in days or weeks.

      What may surprise you, as it did me, is just how good
      today's (still
      rather crude) stereolithography is, and where it's
      heading in our
      increasingly NBIC world (the coming together of the
      fields of Nanotechnology, Biology and medicine,
      Information sciences,
      and Cognitive sciences).

      Think 'Personal Fabrication.'

      According to Neil Gershenfeld, director of MIT's
      Center for Bits &
      in an article published by Edge at
      (brought to our attention by reader Kenneth LaCrosse),

      "The next big thing in computers will be personal
      allowing anyone to make fully functioning systems
      -- with printed
      semiconductors for logic, inks for displays,
      mechanical structures, motors, sensors, and
      actuators. Post-digital
      literacy now includes 3D machining and
      microcontroller programming.
      For a few thousand dollars, a little tabletop
      milling machine can
      measure its position down to microns, so you can
      fabricate the
      structures of modern technology, such as circuit

      Note: this particular quote came from the intro
      to a shortened
      version of Neil's paper, at


      We've often talked about the value in tearing down the
      historical (and
      somewhat arbitrary) walls between "disciplines," and
      that's just what
      Neil is doing -- cross-pollinating 20 disparate
      research groups
      including Engineering, Computer Science, Physical
      Sciences, and more,
      with the idea that it's all about "information" --
      that "information"
      will be the common building block for future insights
      and results. And
      how "information" will, in the not too distant future,
      be the basis for
      making many of the things around us -- at home, in the
      office, and in
      the manufacturing plant. He begins:

      "Let's start with the development of 'personal
      fabrication.' We've
      already had a digital revolution; we don't need to
      keep having it.
      The next big thing in computers will be literally
      outside the box,
      as we bring the programmability of the digital
      world to the rest of
      the world. With the benefit of hindsight, there's
      a tremendous
      historical parallel between the transition from
      mainframes to PCs
      and now from machine tools to personal
      fabrication. By personal
      fabrication I mean not just making mechanical
      structures, but fully
      functioning systems including sensing, logic,
      actuation, and

      Mainframes were expensive machines used by skilled
      operators for
      limited industrial operations. When the packaging
      made them
      accessible to ordinary people we had the digital
      Computers now let you connect to Amazon.com and
      pick something you
      want, but the means to make stuff remain expensive
      machines used by
      skilled operators for limited industrial

      That's going to change. Laboratory research, such
      as the work of my
      colleague Joe Jacobson, has shown how to print
      semiconductors for
      logic, inks for displays, three-dimensional
      mechanical structures,
      motors, sensors, and actuators. We're approaching
      being able to
      one machine that can make any machine. I have a
      student working on
      this project who can graduate when his thesis
      walks out of the
      printer, meaning that he can output the document
      along with the
      functionality for it to get up and walk away."

      Reinventing Literacy.

      Neil relates his experiences when non-engineering
      students have taken
      his classes titled "How To Make (almost) Anything,"

      "... [These students] then used all of these
      ['make it so']
      capabilities in ways that I would never think of."

      "From this combination of passion and
      inventiveness I began to get
      sense that what these students are really doing is
      literacy...; a mastery of the liberal arts. ...
      In a very real
      sense post-digital literacy now includes 3D
      machining and
      microcontroller programming. I've even been taking
      my twins, now 6,
      in to use MIT's workshops; they talk about going
      to MIT to make
      things they think of rather than going to a toy
      store to buy what
      someone else has designed." ...

      "I had an epiphany last summer: that for about
      ten thousand
      on a desktop, [they could, within limits, do this

      What makes this possible is that space and time
      have become cheap.
      For a few thousand dollars a little tabletop
      milling machine can
      measure its position down to microns, a fraction
      of the size of a
      hair, and so you can fabricate the structures of
      modern technology
      such as circuit boards for components in advanced
      packages. And a
      little 50-cent microcontroller can resolve time
      down below a
      microsecond, which is faster than just about
      anything you might
      to measure in the macroscopic world. Together
      these capabilities
      be used to emulate the functionality of what will
      eventually be
      integrated into a personal fabricator."

      Given that we're talking about software files that
      define the
      of physical things, could this also be the beginning
      of "Open-source
      hardware" solutions?

      Computing For Fabrication.

      I suggest that Neil's full article is almost mandatory
      especially as it goes beyond the concepts we're
      discussing here. For
      example, it touches on how Nature "computes for
      fabrication" -- and how
      we are now beginning to learn how to program this
      stuff of life,

      "The real breakthrough may, in fact, be biological
      machinery that
      programmable for fabrication. This may be the next

      (For both good and bad - see
      news.jsp?id=ns99994318 , also provided by Ken.)

      Neil's paper also explores ideas of how we're going to
      have to
      change how we think about the things we build, such as
      the rapidly
      approaching billion-transistor-chips; they may

      "...thermodynamic-scale engineering -- you have
      to make a
      transition from designing systems to designing
      principles by which
      systems work, without actually saying how they do

      Pour Out Computing By The Pound.

      He also touches on how we may have to learn to INVERT
      today's movement
      towards $10 billion semiconductor fabrication
      facilities ("fabs") that
      produce ever-larger wafers of ever-larger chips.
      Instead, we may find
      ourselves turning out individually tiny chips that

      "...the tiniest viable fragments, about a tenth of
      a millimeter or
      so. Literally sprinkle them into a viscous medium;
      and then pour
      computing by the pound or by the square inch. In
      this way you can
      paint a computer on your wall and if it's not
      powerful enough for
      you, put on another coat of computer." ...

      "Right now we are working on devices that can
      [turn] the computer
      from a monolithic box to a raw material that gets
      configured by
      instructions traveling through it."

      Neil also explores a "less is more" variation of
      today's Internet,
      called "Internet 0" (as in zero) that may have a
      significant effect on
      lowering the design and installation complexity of
      future building
      lighting and control infrastructures, while it also
      makes it easier for
      us to assure that we correctly take all of our
      medications as we age.

      Looking towards the future, just wait until we add
      organic ink printing
      to inexpensive desktop stereolithographic "printers;"
      something that is
      already well underway in the labs and getting ready to
      break into
      manufacturing! Welcome to the very real possibility
      of home-printing
      active electronic circuits. And later, perhaps,
      printing the
      your doctor just prescribed that he custom-designed at
      the protein
      level, just for you (see
      recent breakthroughs in CApD (Computer-Aided Protein
      Design)). Or
      eventually, could your doctor print a specific tissue
      sample of "you,"
      that you need for a "repair?"

      From Information, To Things -- The Next Revolution!

      Neil's comment above, of six-year-olds planning to
      create their own
      toys, might just be a natural progression from some of
      today's PC game
      (such as "Impossible Creatures" -
      http://www.microsoft.com/games/impossiblecreatures/ )
      where players
      create and evolve new life forms as part of the game.
      In fact this may
      turn out to be a prescient metaphor for how our next
      generations will
      changed by the information revolution that you and I
      have started --
      are living today. (Wait 'till you read the last
      article in this

      Today, we think absolutely nothing of having a world's
      worth of
      information at our fingertips over the Web -- we
      expect it; we'd now be
      lost without it. And as efforts at places like MIT
      improve the
      capabilities of stereolithography (there's a name that
      Marketing help!); as they reduce its cost; and as
      those efforts further
      shrink the machines to the desktop, I see another
      revolution, akin to
      today's information revolution, expanding our instant
      expectations from
      "information," to "things."

      If this sounds ridiculous, consider that fifteen years
      ago (or perhaps
      even ten years ago) the idea of high school and
      college students doing
      vast majority of their research from at home, or from
      the shade of a
      tree on campus, WAS ridiculous -- unless you were
      aware of, and
      integrated in your mind, the many technology and
      development efforts
      that subsequently, serendipitously, made the Internet
      and its World
      Web. And made inexpensive and powerful notebooks and
      PCs. And brought
      us broadband connections; even wireless broadband
      connections! (Which
      is, of course, the point of "The Harrow Technology

      It's time to start thinking similarly about that
      cumbersome, scientific
      name "stereolithography," and how it too seems poised
      to change our
      world. Again.

      Don't Blink!

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