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Episode
174

3D Printing

Jul 9, 2021
Science & Technology
-
22
minutes
Manufacturing
Technology
Space
Food & drink
Business
Inventions

It's a technology that some have said will bring in a Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Discover how 3D printing actually works, what industries it is revolutionising, and how it will (or won't) change every aspect of the world we live in.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about 3D printing.

[00:00:29] It has been hailed as the technology that will usher in a Fourth Industrial Revolution, will help take humans to Mars, help us live longer, happier lives, and revolutionise manufacturing.

[00:00:43] But people have been saying this for quite some time now, and the technology is actually a lot older than you might think.

[00:00:52] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about how 3D printing actually works, what people think it will allow us to do, some of the fears that people have about 3D printing, and discuss how, if at all, it will change the world we live in.

[00:01:10] I should say that this episode is a member request, it’s from an awesome member of Leonardo English, a guy from the Czech Republic called Jachym. 

[00:01:19] So, Jachym, I hope you enjoy this episode.

[00:01:23] And if you want to be a bit more like Jachym, and do things like request episodes, listen to all of our bonus episodes, plus follow along with the subtitles, transcript and key vocabulary, then I would love for you to check out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:01:40] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, and will help you improve your English in a faster, more enjoyable, and most importantly, more interesting way. 

[00:01:53] So, if that sounds like fun then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:01] Right, 3D printing.

[00:02:05] One of the main differences between humans and animals is that we make things.

[00:02:10] We create tools from the natural world to help us do things.

[00:02:16] From a caveman making an axe out of some wood and stone right through to the creation of the phone or computer that you are listening to this episode on, humans make things. 

[00:02:27] An animal might make a nest, it might dig a hole to create a house, but the creation of objects is something that’s relatively unique to us, that's unique to human beings.

[00:02:41] To state the obvious, as time has gone on, and technology has developed, each generation has got better and better at producing objects. 

[00:02:51] 3D printing, to its proponents, to its greatest fans, is the most advanced and important manufacturing technology that currently exists.

[00:03:02] It allows anyone, anywhere, with the right machine, to produce custom-built objects, in a huge variety of different materials.

[00:03:13] So, how does it actually work, and why is this important?

[00:03:19] One way of thinking about the actual 3D printing process is that it is the opposite of traditional or classic manufacturing.

[00:03:29] Think of traditional manufacturing like sculpture, carving an object out of a piece of stone or marble.

[00:03:37] There is a block of material, and you cut pieces away until you are left with the object that you want.

[00:03:46] If we continue with the example of a sculpture, let’s take Michelangelo’s David, for example, this was carved out of a large piece of marble, it was smoothed and sanded until what remained was the form of David that we see today.

[00:04:03] 3D printing is the opposite. 

[00:04:05] You start with nothing, and matter is added and added until the desired shape, or object, is created.

[00:04:14] To call it printing is actually a little bit deceptive.

[00:04:20] To the uninitiated, to those who don’t know huge amounts about it, it makes you think of a printer.

[00:04:28] There are some shared concepts between 3D printing and traditional printing, but it’s probably more useful to think about the “printing” in 3D printing as building, creating, or simply “making”.

[00:04:46] Indeed the technical term for 3D printing is Additive Manufacturing - manufacturing by adding, rather than taking away.

[00:04:56] Although you might have seen headlines and news programmes in the last 10 years or so about the huge impact that 3D printing is going to have, the technology has actually been around since the 1980s.

[00:05:12] Early versions of 3D printing were similar to typical 2D printing at a conceptual level.

[00:05:20] If you are printing a document or a photo, there is a computer record of the text or image to be printed, then the printer adds ink to the paper in the right places, and ta-da, you have a printed document.

[00:05:35] Early 3D printing worked in a similar way.

[00:05:38] You would create your computer file in 3D of the object to be printed. 

[00:05:45] But the 3D printer didn't just go across the page at one level, it added matter vertically, so that gradually an object could be created from nothing.

[00:05:58] Although this was groundbreaking technology, in its early days it was too expensive and slow to be practical for widespread use.

[00:06:08] As one might expect, the technology continued to be improved and improved, and new forms of 3D printing would be created, and patented, they would be protected by a patent, a legal device to prevent others from copying it.

[00:06:25] As you may know, and you are probably extra familiar with this if you have listened to the episode on patents, patents all have a fixed term, they don’t last forever.

[00:06:37] This gives the inventor the opportunity to benefit from a time-limited monopoly on it, but they have to provide clear instructions for others on how to replicate the technology.

[00:06:51] Now, coming back to 3D printing, having a patent meant that the inventor of a particularly sophisticated 3D printing technique could charge higher prices for people to use their machines.

[00:07:06] In the 2000s, even though 3D printing objects could be very expensive, for some use cases it was still cheaper than traditional manufacturing.

[00:07:17] For example, one of the earliest obvious uses of 3D printing is for prototyping, for building a version one, a test version, of a product.

[00:07:30] With traditional manufacturing, you need to find a factory to build it. This factory needs to have expensive machinery, which needs to either be built or calibrated, and the entire process takes a long time and is expensive if you only want to build one unit, if you only want to make something once.

[00:07:52] With 3D printing, you can do this very quickly, and even with what we would now consider to be very high costs of 3D printing, it could still be more cost effective than traditional manufacturing.

[00:08:06] But, in 2009 the patent for the most advanced 3D printing technique, called fused deposition modeling expired. 

[00:08:16] These machines used to cost around $10,000 to buy, but almost overnight the price dropped to around $1,000.

[00:08:27] Still, not cheap, and not the sort of thing that anyone would buy to use at home, but a significant reduction.

[00:08:36] This not only meant that using 3D printing technology became a lot cheaper, but it also opened up the market to hobbyists, to people who wanted to 3D print objects for fun or for personal curiosity.

[00:08:52] Suddenly, there was renewed interest in the technology, and it became more accessible to companies of all sizes, across a huge variety of industries.

[00:09:04] Let’s talk through some of the examples of how it was used.

[00:09:08] Firstly, let’s continue with manufacturing, as this is the sector for which 3D printing is most exciting.

[00:09:16] For prototyping, a company could now buy their own 3D printer, and rapidly iterate on products, they could improve something continuously over a short period of time.

[00:09:30] An engineer could design a new product, and the next day a version of it could be produced, it could go from idea, to software, to physical product in a tiny amount of time compared to the status quo, to the normal way of doing it.

[00:09:48] It’s also thought that 3D printing will completely revolutionise the global manufacturing supply chain.

[00:09:56] If we take the example of a British car manufacturer, it currently buys parts for its cars from different factories all over the world.

[00:10:06] Perhaps a factory in China makes the windscreen wipers, a factory in Brazil might make the seat belts, a factory in Germany might produce the electrical wires, an Italian factory might produce the brakes

[00:10:21] Our economy has developed in this way, so that factories, or indeed entire companies, specialise in making just one or two components, which they ship all over the world.

[00:10:34] There are even entire cities in China which specialise in producing only one product, there’s cigarette lighter city, condom city, and so on.

[00:10:45] The economics of this currently make sense, and with our example of the British car company, it is cheaper for it to buy all of these parts from all over the world, and they are shipped to the factory where they are put together.

[00:11:01] For this car company to build its own factories to make all of the unique parts would be incredibly expensive, and so it doesn’t make sense for it to do it.

[00:11:12] But, what if it could 3D print these parts closer to home? 

[00:11:17] What if the cost to 3D print the parts was so low that it made no sense to buy them from the other side of the world? 

[00:11:27] 3D printing isn’t quite there yet, but it is currently at the level where if a company needs only a few units, it can print them itself, rather than having to order hundreds of thousands of them from the other side of the world.

[00:11:43] Obviously, when 3D printing does become cheaper than buying a product from a factory on the other side of the world, this will have huge implications for global trade.

[00:11:53] Producing goods closer to home means less transport, fewer emissions, and a complete rethinking of the global trade system that we currently live with.

[00:12:04] 3D printing also means you can produce a much greater variety of products. 

[00:12:11] There are some shapes and forms that are just very difficult to produce using traditional manufacturing processes, given that you have to cut, or bend, or fix things together. 

[00:12:24] Due to the fact that with 3D printing you are literally creating a shape from nothing, you can make practically anything.

[00:12:34] And when it comes to what you can make, 3D printing isn’t only about making quicker prototypes or a greater variety of products.

[00:12:44] It’s also already meaning that we can "print", in inverted commas, print things that we couldn’t previously do.

[00:12:53] It’s now possible to print or make human body parts. 

[00:12:58] Whether it’s an ear or a part of an organ, the technology now allows us to take cells and literally create new body parts.

[00:13:08] There is always a mismatch, a disparity, between the number of people who need new body parts and the number of available body parts, and advocates of 3D printing suggest that the technology will allow us to close this gap.

[00:13:24] Need a new tube going into your heart? No problem, we can print one for you.

[00:13:29] It would certainly revolutionise global healthcare.

[00:13:33] And, moving further afield, out of this world even, 3D printing is a technology that is already playing an important role in space exploration.

[00:13:44] At the moment, everything that is taken into space is manufactured on Earth and shot up into space.

[00:13:52] A spacecraft needs to take everything it needs with it, because there obviously isn’t an easy way to get a new piece of equipment when you are circling the Earth.

[00:14:04] But, with a 3D printer, you can literally make any object you need, you can use that object, and when you no longer need it you can melt the material down and create something else.

[00:14:17] Amazing, right?

[00:14:19] And it’s not just for making spare parts on spaceships.  

[00:14:23] It is thought that 3D printing will play a very important role in a human settlement on Mars.

[00:14:31] These settlements would have to be created somehow, and it isn’t feasible to shoot up an entire pre-built settlement and fly it to Mars.

[00:14:42] Instead, so the theory goes, 3D printers would be used to create new settlements directly on Mars.

[00:14:51] So, how is 3D printing going to affect you and me, assuming that we are unlikely to be personally colonising Mars?

[00:15:00] Will we literally be able to print anything we want? 

[00:15:04] Will we all have machines in our houses and we can press a button to create a cup, a new ear, or even a full English breakfast?

[00:15:13] Now, let’s actually take these three examples first, because they are all important in their own different ways.

[00:15:20] It is already possible to buy a 3D printer, the cheapest ones start at around €100 nowadays, so it is not completely inconceivable that you could have one in your house.

[00:15:34] You could certainly print a cup, that’s an easy one.

[00:15:37] It’s also possible to print a new ear, although that obviously requires some pretty complex medical knowledge as well, and your €100 3D printer probably wouldn’t be up to the challenge.

[00:15:51] And in terms of printing yourself a full English breakfast, or creating food out of nothing, this has been a theme that has interested science fiction writers for years. 

[00:16:03] If you are a Star Trek fan you will be familiar with a device called The Replicator, which was similar to a microwave oven, but could create objects from nothing.

[00:16:14] There are several companies that are already working on 3D printing meat, and the first 3D printed steak is set to appear on dinner plates at certain European restaurants by the end of 2021.

[00:16:28] The comparison might sound a little disgusting, but the process is similar to that of creating a human ear. You take a sample of the tissue, and from that you can create a replica of the original.

[00:16:43] I couldn’t find an example of any company that is focussing on 3D printing full English breakfasts, but there is no reason that the technology shouldn’t be possible in the future.

[00:16:55] Now, as with anything new, there are the usual fears about what this might lead to. 

[00:17:01] If anyone can create anything for themselves, what sort of dangerous implications will there be? 

[00:17:08] The most commonly cited example of this with 3D printing is of people printing their own guns.

[00:17:16] It is very possible to 3D print a gun, and these guns can often be hard to detect

[00:17:24] Indeed, an Israeli journalist demonstrated this in 2013 by 3D printing a gun, going to a press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, where he managed to take the gun through the metal detector without it beeping

[00:17:43] In the video of the event you can see the journalist holding the gun and secretly pointing it at Netanhayu. It would have been very easy for him to stand up, fire the gun and kill him.

[00:17:57] Netanyahu criticised this as an “an irresponsible act”, but 3D printing certainly does pose some security problems. 

[00:18:06] In most countries in the world, apart from the one very obvious exception, gun ownership is very tightly regulated, and the idea that anyone, anywhere could get their hands on a gun is something that most governments haven’t had to properly confront yet.

[00:18:24] But to think that people are going to start printing guns and shooting people just because they now have a 3D printer seems a little bit unrealistic

[00:18:34] If you are intent on killing someone then I’m sure you can find a way without a 3D printer.

[00:18:42] And there is the familiar critique of any new technology, that it is going to take jobs from humans.

[00:18:50] If we no longer need large factories with humans manning the equipment to produce the parts, or humans assembling the parts, this will cause these people to lose their jobs, so the argument goes.

[00:19:03] Of course these machines will replace the jobs of humans, that’s the entire point. 

[00:19:08] The job of any machine is to reduce the work of a human, whether it’s a fishing net or a 3D printer, the reason for creating machines is to reduce the amount of work a human needs to do.

[00:19:23] But to criticise 3D printing, or to legislate against it because it will lead to some job losses in the manufacturing sector is pretty shortsighted, and is comparable to regulating against driverless cars because they will put truck drivers out of work.

[00:19:41] This is such a familiar criticism of any new technology, and the economic system has a pretty good track record of creating new jobs to replace the old ones.

[00:19:52] Now, even though 3D printing as a technology has been around for over 40 years now, it is just getting started. It was worth around $14 billion dollars in 2020, and is predicted to grow at around 21% every year.

[00:20:10] Right now most of us probably don’t see the impact that it is having, but behind the scenes, in healthcare, manufacturing, space travel, and multiple other industries, it is helping us build products more quickly, more cheaply, and more efficiently.

[00:20:28] Only time will tell when the day will come when we can print our own full English breakfasts.

[00:20:36] OK then, that is it for the magical technology of 3D printing. It might have got off to a slow start, but it is playing an ever greater role in the world we live in.

[00:20:49] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:20:53] Have you ever 3D printed anything? What would you think about eating a 3D printed steak, or having something that was 3D printed transplanted into your body?

[00:21:04] I would love to know.

[00:21:06] For the members among you, you can head to our community forum, over at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:16] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:31] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:21:44] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]


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Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about 3D printing.

[00:00:29] It has been hailed as the technology that will usher in a Fourth Industrial Revolution, will help take humans to Mars, help us live longer, happier lives, and revolutionise manufacturing.

[00:00:43] But people have been saying this for quite some time now, and the technology is actually a lot older than you might think.

[00:00:52] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about how 3D printing actually works, what people think it will allow us to do, some of the fears that people have about 3D printing, and discuss how, if at all, it will change the world we live in.

[00:01:10] I should say that this episode is a member request, it’s from an awesome member of Leonardo English, a guy from the Czech Republic called Jachym. 

[00:01:19] So, Jachym, I hope you enjoy this episode.

[00:01:23] And if you want to be a bit more like Jachym, and do things like request episodes, listen to all of our bonus episodes, plus follow along with the subtitles, transcript and key vocabulary, then I would love for you to check out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:01:40] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, and will help you improve your English in a faster, more enjoyable, and most importantly, more interesting way. 

[00:01:53] So, if that sounds like fun then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:01] Right, 3D printing.

[00:02:05] One of the main differences between humans and animals is that we make things.

[00:02:10] We create tools from the natural world to help us do things.

[00:02:16] From a caveman making an axe out of some wood and stone right through to the creation of the phone or computer that you are listening to this episode on, humans make things. 

[00:02:27] An animal might make a nest, it might dig a hole to create a house, but the creation of objects is something that’s relatively unique to us, that's unique to human beings.

[00:02:41] To state the obvious, as time has gone on, and technology has developed, each generation has got better and better at producing objects. 

[00:02:51] 3D printing, to its proponents, to its greatest fans, is the most advanced and important manufacturing technology that currently exists.

[00:03:02] It allows anyone, anywhere, with the right machine, to produce custom-built objects, in a huge variety of different materials.

[00:03:13] So, how does it actually work, and why is this important?

[00:03:19] One way of thinking about the actual 3D printing process is that it is the opposite of traditional or classic manufacturing.

[00:03:29] Think of traditional manufacturing like sculpture, carving an object out of a piece of stone or marble.

[00:03:37] There is a block of material, and you cut pieces away until you are left with the object that you want.

[00:03:46] If we continue with the example of a sculpture, let’s take Michelangelo’s David, for example, this was carved out of a large piece of marble, it was smoothed and sanded until what remained was the form of David that we see today.

[00:04:03] 3D printing is the opposite. 

[00:04:05] You start with nothing, and matter is added and added until the desired shape, or object, is created.

[00:04:14] To call it printing is actually a little bit deceptive.

[00:04:20] To the uninitiated, to those who don’t know huge amounts about it, it makes you think of a printer.

[00:04:28] There are some shared concepts between 3D printing and traditional printing, but it’s probably more useful to think about the “printing” in 3D printing as building, creating, or simply “making”.

[00:04:46] Indeed the technical term for 3D printing is Additive Manufacturing - manufacturing by adding, rather than taking away.

[00:04:56] Although you might have seen headlines and news programmes in the last 10 years or so about the huge impact that 3D printing is going to have, the technology has actually been around since the 1980s.

[00:05:12] Early versions of 3D printing were similar to typical 2D printing at a conceptual level.

[00:05:20] If you are printing a document or a photo, there is a computer record of the text or image to be printed, then the printer adds ink to the paper in the right places, and ta-da, you have a printed document.

[00:05:35] Early 3D printing worked in a similar way.

[00:05:38] You would create your computer file in 3D of the object to be printed. 

[00:05:45] But the 3D printer didn't just go across the page at one level, it added matter vertically, so that gradually an object could be created from nothing.

[00:05:58] Although this was groundbreaking technology, in its early days it was too expensive and slow to be practical for widespread use.

[00:06:08] As one might expect, the technology continued to be improved and improved, and new forms of 3D printing would be created, and patented, they would be protected by a patent, a legal device to prevent others from copying it.

[00:06:25] As you may know, and you are probably extra familiar with this if you have listened to the episode on patents, patents all have a fixed term, they don’t last forever.

[00:06:37] This gives the inventor the opportunity to benefit from a time-limited monopoly on it, but they have to provide clear instructions for others on how to replicate the technology.

[00:06:51] Now, coming back to 3D printing, having a patent meant that the inventor of a particularly sophisticated 3D printing technique could charge higher prices for people to use their machines.

[00:07:06] In the 2000s, even though 3D printing objects could be very expensive, for some use cases it was still cheaper than traditional manufacturing.

[00:07:17] For example, one of the earliest obvious uses of 3D printing is for prototyping, for building a version one, a test version, of a product.

[00:07:30] With traditional manufacturing, you need to find a factory to build it. This factory needs to have expensive machinery, which needs to either be built or calibrated, and the entire process takes a long time and is expensive if you only want to build one unit, if you only want to make something once.

[00:07:52] With 3D printing, you can do this very quickly, and even with what we would now consider to be very high costs of 3D printing, it could still be more cost effective than traditional manufacturing.

[00:08:06] But, in 2009 the patent for the most advanced 3D printing technique, called fused deposition modeling expired. 

[00:08:16] These machines used to cost around $10,000 to buy, but almost overnight the price dropped to around $1,000.

[00:08:27] Still, not cheap, and not the sort of thing that anyone would buy to use at home, but a significant reduction.

[00:08:36] This not only meant that using 3D printing technology became a lot cheaper, but it also opened up the market to hobbyists, to people who wanted to 3D print objects for fun or for personal curiosity.

[00:08:52] Suddenly, there was renewed interest in the technology, and it became more accessible to companies of all sizes, across a huge variety of industries.

[00:09:04] Let’s talk through some of the examples of how it was used.

[00:09:08] Firstly, let’s continue with manufacturing, as this is the sector for which 3D printing is most exciting.

[00:09:16] For prototyping, a company could now buy their own 3D printer, and rapidly iterate on products, they could improve something continuously over a short period of time.

[00:09:30] An engineer could design a new product, and the next day a version of it could be produced, it could go from idea, to software, to physical product in a tiny amount of time compared to the status quo, to the normal way of doing it.

[00:09:48] It’s also thought that 3D printing will completely revolutionise the global manufacturing supply chain.

[00:09:56] If we take the example of a British car manufacturer, it currently buys parts for its cars from different factories all over the world.

[00:10:06] Perhaps a factory in China makes the windscreen wipers, a factory in Brazil might make the seat belts, a factory in Germany might produce the electrical wires, an Italian factory might produce the brakes

[00:10:21] Our economy has developed in this way, so that factories, or indeed entire companies, specialise in making just one or two components, which they ship all over the world.

[00:10:34] There are even entire cities in China which specialise in producing only one product, there’s cigarette lighter city, condom city, and so on.

[00:10:45] The economics of this currently make sense, and with our example of the British car company, it is cheaper for it to buy all of these parts from all over the world, and they are shipped to the factory where they are put together.

[00:11:01] For this car company to build its own factories to make all of the unique parts would be incredibly expensive, and so it doesn’t make sense for it to do it.

[00:11:12] But, what if it could 3D print these parts closer to home? 

[00:11:17] What if the cost to 3D print the parts was so low that it made no sense to buy them from the other side of the world? 

[00:11:27] 3D printing isn’t quite there yet, but it is currently at the level where if a company needs only a few units, it can print them itself, rather than having to order hundreds of thousands of them from the other side of the world.

[00:11:43] Obviously, when 3D printing does become cheaper than buying a product from a factory on the other side of the world, this will have huge implications for global trade.

[00:11:53] Producing goods closer to home means less transport, fewer emissions, and a complete rethinking of the global trade system that we currently live with.

[00:12:04] 3D printing also means you can produce a much greater variety of products. 

[00:12:11] There are some shapes and forms that are just very difficult to produce using traditional manufacturing processes, given that you have to cut, or bend, or fix things together. 

[00:12:24] Due to the fact that with 3D printing you are literally creating a shape from nothing, you can make practically anything.

[00:12:34] And when it comes to what you can make, 3D printing isn’t only about making quicker prototypes or a greater variety of products.

[00:12:44] It’s also already meaning that we can "print", in inverted commas, print things that we couldn’t previously do.

[00:12:53] It’s now possible to print or make human body parts. 

[00:12:58] Whether it’s an ear or a part of an organ, the technology now allows us to take cells and literally create new body parts.

[00:13:08] There is always a mismatch, a disparity, between the number of people who need new body parts and the number of available body parts, and advocates of 3D printing suggest that the technology will allow us to close this gap.

[00:13:24] Need a new tube going into your heart? No problem, we can print one for you.

[00:13:29] It would certainly revolutionise global healthcare.

[00:13:33] And, moving further afield, out of this world even, 3D printing is a technology that is already playing an important role in space exploration.

[00:13:44] At the moment, everything that is taken into space is manufactured on Earth and shot up into space.

[00:13:52] A spacecraft needs to take everything it needs with it, because there obviously isn’t an easy way to get a new piece of equipment when you are circling the Earth.

[00:14:04] But, with a 3D printer, you can literally make any object you need, you can use that object, and when you no longer need it you can melt the material down and create something else.

[00:14:17] Amazing, right?

[00:14:19] And it’s not just for making spare parts on spaceships.  

[00:14:23] It is thought that 3D printing will play a very important role in a human settlement on Mars.

[00:14:31] These settlements would have to be created somehow, and it isn’t feasible to shoot up an entire pre-built settlement and fly it to Mars.

[00:14:42] Instead, so the theory goes, 3D printers would be used to create new settlements directly on Mars.

[00:14:51] So, how is 3D printing going to affect you and me, assuming that we are unlikely to be personally colonising Mars?

[00:15:00] Will we literally be able to print anything we want? 

[00:15:04] Will we all have machines in our houses and we can press a button to create a cup, a new ear, or even a full English breakfast?

[00:15:13] Now, let’s actually take these three examples first, because they are all important in their own different ways.

[00:15:20] It is already possible to buy a 3D printer, the cheapest ones start at around €100 nowadays, so it is not completely inconceivable that you could have one in your house.

[00:15:34] You could certainly print a cup, that’s an easy one.

[00:15:37] It’s also possible to print a new ear, although that obviously requires some pretty complex medical knowledge as well, and your €100 3D printer probably wouldn’t be up to the challenge.

[00:15:51] And in terms of printing yourself a full English breakfast, or creating food out of nothing, this has been a theme that has interested science fiction writers for years. 

[00:16:03] If you are a Star Trek fan you will be familiar with a device called The Replicator, which was similar to a microwave oven, but could create objects from nothing.

[00:16:14] There are several companies that are already working on 3D printing meat, and the first 3D printed steak is set to appear on dinner plates at certain European restaurants by the end of 2021.

[00:16:28] The comparison might sound a little disgusting, but the process is similar to that of creating a human ear. You take a sample of the tissue, and from that you can create a replica of the original.

[00:16:43] I couldn’t find an example of any company that is focussing on 3D printing full English breakfasts, but there is no reason that the technology shouldn’t be possible in the future.

[00:16:55] Now, as with anything new, there are the usual fears about what this might lead to. 

[00:17:01] If anyone can create anything for themselves, what sort of dangerous implications will there be? 

[00:17:08] The most commonly cited example of this with 3D printing is of people printing their own guns.

[00:17:16] It is very possible to 3D print a gun, and these guns can often be hard to detect

[00:17:24] Indeed, an Israeli journalist demonstrated this in 2013 by 3D printing a gun, going to a press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, where he managed to take the gun through the metal detector without it beeping

[00:17:43] In the video of the event you can see the journalist holding the gun and secretly pointing it at Netanhayu. It would have been very easy for him to stand up, fire the gun and kill him.

[00:17:57] Netanyahu criticised this as an “an irresponsible act”, but 3D printing certainly does pose some security problems. 

[00:18:06] In most countries in the world, apart from the one very obvious exception, gun ownership is very tightly regulated, and the idea that anyone, anywhere could get their hands on a gun is something that most governments haven’t had to properly confront yet.

[00:18:24] But to think that people are going to start printing guns and shooting people just because they now have a 3D printer seems a little bit unrealistic

[00:18:34] If you are intent on killing someone then I’m sure you can find a way without a 3D printer.

[00:18:42] And there is the familiar critique of any new technology, that it is going to take jobs from humans.

[00:18:50] If we no longer need large factories with humans manning the equipment to produce the parts, or humans assembling the parts, this will cause these people to lose their jobs, so the argument goes.

[00:19:03] Of course these machines will replace the jobs of humans, that’s the entire point. 

[00:19:08] The job of any machine is to reduce the work of a human, whether it’s a fishing net or a 3D printer, the reason for creating machines is to reduce the amount of work a human needs to do.

[00:19:23] But to criticise 3D printing, or to legislate against it because it will lead to some job losses in the manufacturing sector is pretty shortsighted, and is comparable to regulating against driverless cars because they will put truck drivers out of work.

[00:19:41] This is such a familiar criticism of any new technology, and the economic system has a pretty good track record of creating new jobs to replace the old ones.

[00:19:52] Now, even though 3D printing as a technology has been around for over 40 years now, it is just getting started. It was worth around $14 billion dollars in 2020, and is predicted to grow at around 21% every year.

[00:20:10] Right now most of us probably don’t see the impact that it is having, but behind the scenes, in healthcare, manufacturing, space travel, and multiple other industries, it is helping us build products more quickly, more cheaply, and more efficiently.

[00:20:28] Only time will tell when the day will come when we can print our own full English breakfasts.

[00:20:36] OK then, that is it for the magical technology of 3D printing. It might have got off to a slow start, but it is playing an ever greater role in the world we live in.

[00:20:49] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:20:53] Have you ever 3D printed anything? What would you think about eating a 3D printed steak, or having something that was 3D printed transplanted into your body?

[00:21:04] I would love to know.

[00:21:06] For the members among you, you can head to our community forum, over at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:16] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:31] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:21:44] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about 3D printing.

[00:00:29] It has been hailed as the technology that will usher in a Fourth Industrial Revolution, will help take humans to Mars, help us live longer, happier lives, and revolutionise manufacturing.

[00:00:43] But people have been saying this for quite some time now, and the technology is actually a lot older than you might think.

[00:00:52] So, in today’s episode we are going to talk about how 3D printing actually works, what people think it will allow us to do, some of the fears that people have about 3D printing, and discuss how, if at all, it will change the world we live in.

[00:01:10] I should say that this episode is a member request, it’s from an awesome member of Leonardo English, a guy from the Czech Republic called Jachym. 

[00:01:19] So, Jachym, I hope you enjoy this episode.

[00:01:23] And if you want to be a bit more like Jachym, and do things like request episodes, listen to all of our bonus episodes, plus follow along with the subtitles, transcript and key vocabulary, then I would love for you to check out becoming a member of Leonardo English.

[00:01:40] Membership of Leonardo English gives you access to all of our learning materials, and will help you improve your English in a faster, more enjoyable, and most importantly, more interesting way. 

[00:01:53] So, if that sounds like fun then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:02:01] Right, 3D printing.

[00:02:05] One of the main differences between humans and animals is that we make things.

[00:02:10] We create tools from the natural world to help us do things.

[00:02:16] From a caveman making an axe out of some wood and stone right through to the creation of the phone or computer that you are listening to this episode on, humans make things. 

[00:02:27] An animal might make a nest, it might dig a hole to create a house, but the creation of objects is something that’s relatively unique to us, that's unique to human beings.

[00:02:41] To state the obvious, as time has gone on, and technology has developed, each generation has got better and better at producing objects. 

[00:02:51] 3D printing, to its proponents, to its greatest fans, is the most advanced and important manufacturing technology that currently exists.

[00:03:02] It allows anyone, anywhere, with the right machine, to produce custom-built objects, in a huge variety of different materials.

[00:03:13] So, how does it actually work, and why is this important?

[00:03:19] One way of thinking about the actual 3D printing process is that it is the opposite of traditional or classic manufacturing.

[00:03:29] Think of traditional manufacturing like sculpture, carving an object out of a piece of stone or marble.

[00:03:37] There is a block of material, and you cut pieces away until you are left with the object that you want.

[00:03:46] If we continue with the example of a sculpture, let’s take Michelangelo’s David, for example, this was carved out of a large piece of marble, it was smoothed and sanded until what remained was the form of David that we see today.

[00:04:03] 3D printing is the opposite. 

[00:04:05] You start with nothing, and matter is added and added until the desired shape, or object, is created.

[00:04:14] To call it printing is actually a little bit deceptive.

[00:04:20] To the uninitiated, to those who don’t know huge amounts about it, it makes you think of a printer.

[00:04:28] There are some shared concepts between 3D printing and traditional printing, but it’s probably more useful to think about the “printing” in 3D printing as building, creating, or simply “making”.

[00:04:46] Indeed the technical term for 3D printing is Additive Manufacturing - manufacturing by adding, rather than taking away.

[00:04:56] Although you might have seen headlines and news programmes in the last 10 years or so about the huge impact that 3D printing is going to have, the technology has actually been around since the 1980s.

[00:05:12] Early versions of 3D printing were similar to typical 2D printing at a conceptual level.

[00:05:20] If you are printing a document or a photo, there is a computer record of the text or image to be printed, then the printer adds ink to the paper in the right places, and ta-da, you have a printed document.

[00:05:35] Early 3D printing worked in a similar way.

[00:05:38] You would create your computer file in 3D of the object to be printed. 

[00:05:45] But the 3D printer didn't just go across the page at one level, it added matter vertically, so that gradually an object could be created from nothing.

[00:05:58] Although this was groundbreaking technology, in its early days it was too expensive and slow to be practical for widespread use.

[00:06:08] As one might expect, the technology continued to be improved and improved, and new forms of 3D printing would be created, and patented, they would be protected by a patent, a legal device to prevent others from copying it.

[00:06:25] As you may know, and you are probably extra familiar with this if you have listened to the episode on patents, patents all have a fixed term, they don’t last forever.

[00:06:37] This gives the inventor the opportunity to benefit from a time-limited monopoly on it, but they have to provide clear instructions for others on how to replicate the technology.

[00:06:51] Now, coming back to 3D printing, having a patent meant that the inventor of a particularly sophisticated 3D printing technique could charge higher prices for people to use their machines.

[00:07:06] In the 2000s, even though 3D printing objects could be very expensive, for some use cases it was still cheaper than traditional manufacturing.

[00:07:17] For example, one of the earliest obvious uses of 3D printing is for prototyping, for building a version one, a test version, of a product.

[00:07:30] With traditional manufacturing, you need to find a factory to build it. This factory needs to have expensive machinery, which needs to either be built or calibrated, and the entire process takes a long time and is expensive if you only want to build one unit, if you only want to make something once.

[00:07:52] With 3D printing, you can do this very quickly, and even with what we would now consider to be very high costs of 3D printing, it could still be more cost effective than traditional manufacturing.

[00:08:06] But, in 2009 the patent for the most advanced 3D printing technique, called fused deposition modeling expired. 

[00:08:16] These machines used to cost around $10,000 to buy, but almost overnight the price dropped to around $1,000.

[00:08:27] Still, not cheap, and not the sort of thing that anyone would buy to use at home, but a significant reduction.

[00:08:36] This not only meant that using 3D printing technology became a lot cheaper, but it also opened up the market to hobbyists, to people who wanted to 3D print objects for fun or for personal curiosity.

[00:08:52] Suddenly, there was renewed interest in the technology, and it became more accessible to companies of all sizes, across a huge variety of industries.

[00:09:04] Let’s talk through some of the examples of how it was used.

[00:09:08] Firstly, let’s continue with manufacturing, as this is the sector for which 3D printing is most exciting.

[00:09:16] For prototyping, a company could now buy their own 3D printer, and rapidly iterate on products, they could improve something continuously over a short period of time.

[00:09:30] An engineer could design a new product, and the next day a version of it could be produced, it could go from idea, to software, to physical product in a tiny amount of time compared to the status quo, to the normal way of doing it.

[00:09:48] It’s also thought that 3D printing will completely revolutionise the global manufacturing supply chain.

[00:09:56] If we take the example of a British car manufacturer, it currently buys parts for its cars from different factories all over the world.

[00:10:06] Perhaps a factory in China makes the windscreen wipers, a factory in Brazil might make the seat belts, a factory in Germany might produce the electrical wires, an Italian factory might produce the brakes

[00:10:21] Our economy has developed in this way, so that factories, or indeed entire companies, specialise in making just one or two components, which they ship all over the world.

[00:10:34] There are even entire cities in China which specialise in producing only one product, there’s cigarette lighter city, condom city, and so on.

[00:10:45] The economics of this currently make sense, and with our example of the British car company, it is cheaper for it to buy all of these parts from all over the world, and they are shipped to the factory where they are put together.

[00:11:01] For this car company to build its own factories to make all of the unique parts would be incredibly expensive, and so it doesn’t make sense for it to do it.

[00:11:12] But, what if it could 3D print these parts closer to home? 

[00:11:17] What if the cost to 3D print the parts was so low that it made no sense to buy them from the other side of the world? 

[00:11:27] 3D printing isn’t quite there yet, but it is currently at the level where if a company needs only a few units, it can print them itself, rather than having to order hundreds of thousands of them from the other side of the world.

[00:11:43] Obviously, when 3D printing does become cheaper than buying a product from a factory on the other side of the world, this will have huge implications for global trade.

[00:11:53] Producing goods closer to home means less transport, fewer emissions, and a complete rethinking of the global trade system that we currently live with.

[00:12:04] 3D printing also means you can produce a much greater variety of products. 

[00:12:11] There are some shapes and forms that are just very difficult to produce using traditional manufacturing processes, given that you have to cut, or bend, or fix things together. 

[00:12:24] Due to the fact that with 3D printing you are literally creating a shape from nothing, you can make practically anything.

[00:12:34] And when it comes to what you can make, 3D printing isn’t only about making quicker prototypes or a greater variety of products.

[00:12:44] It’s also already meaning that we can "print", in inverted commas, print things that we couldn’t previously do.

[00:12:53] It’s now possible to print or make human body parts. 

[00:12:58] Whether it’s an ear or a part of an organ, the technology now allows us to take cells and literally create new body parts.

[00:13:08] There is always a mismatch, a disparity, between the number of people who need new body parts and the number of available body parts, and advocates of 3D printing suggest that the technology will allow us to close this gap.

[00:13:24] Need a new tube going into your heart? No problem, we can print one for you.

[00:13:29] It would certainly revolutionise global healthcare.

[00:13:33] And, moving further afield, out of this world even, 3D printing is a technology that is already playing an important role in space exploration.

[00:13:44] At the moment, everything that is taken into space is manufactured on Earth and shot up into space.

[00:13:52] A spacecraft needs to take everything it needs with it, because there obviously isn’t an easy way to get a new piece of equipment when you are circling the Earth.

[00:14:04] But, with a 3D printer, you can literally make any object you need, you can use that object, and when you no longer need it you can melt the material down and create something else.

[00:14:17] Amazing, right?

[00:14:19] And it’s not just for making spare parts on spaceships.  

[00:14:23] It is thought that 3D printing will play a very important role in a human settlement on Mars.

[00:14:31] These settlements would have to be created somehow, and it isn’t feasible to shoot up an entire pre-built settlement and fly it to Mars.

[00:14:42] Instead, so the theory goes, 3D printers would be used to create new settlements directly on Mars.

[00:14:51] So, how is 3D printing going to affect you and me, assuming that we are unlikely to be personally colonising Mars?

[00:15:00] Will we literally be able to print anything we want? 

[00:15:04] Will we all have machines in our houses and we can press a button to create a cup, a new ear, or even a full English breakfast?

[00:15:13] Now, let’s actually take these three examples first, because they are all important in their own different ways.

[00:15:20] It is already possible to buy a 3D printer, the cheapest ones start at around €100 nowadays, so it is not completely inconceivable that you could have one in your house.

[00:15:34] You could certainly print a cup, that’s an easy one.

[00:15:37] It’s also possible to print a new ear, although that obviously requires some pretty complex medical knowledge as well, and your €100 3D printer probably wouldn’t be up to the challenge.

[00:15:51] And in terms of printing yourself a full English breakfast, or creating food out of nothing, this has been a theme that has interested science fiction writers for years. 

[00:16:03] If you are a Star Trek fan you will be familiar with a device called The Replicator, which was similar to a microwave oven, but could create objects from nothing.

[00:16:14] There are several companies that are already working on 3D printing meat, and the first 3D printed steak is set to appear on dinner plates at certain European restaurants by the end of 2021.

[00:16:28] The comparison might sound a little disgusting, but the process is similar to that of creating a human ear. You take a sample of the tissue, and from that you can create a replica of the original.

[00:16:43] I couldn’t find an example of any company that is focussing on 3D printing full English breakfasts, but there is no reason that the technology shouldn’t be possible in the future.

[00:16:55] Now, as with anything new, there are the usual fears about what this might lead to. 

[00:17:01] If anyone can create anything for themselves, what sort of dangerous implications will there be? 

[00:17:08] The most commonly cited example of this with 3D printing is of people printing their own guns.

[00:17:16] It is very possible to 3D print a gun, and these guns can often be hard to detect

[00:17:24] Indeed, an Israeli journalist demonstrated this in 2013 by 3D printing a gun, going to a press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, where he managed to take the gun through the metal detector without it beeping

[00:17:43] In the video of the event you can see the journalist holding the gun and secretly pointing it at Netanhayu. It would have been very easy for him to stand up, fire the gun and kill him.

[00:17:57] Netanyahu criticised this as an “an irresponsible act”, but 3D printing certainly does pose some security problems. 

[00:18:06] In most countries in the world, apart from the one very obvious exception, gun ownership is very tightly regulated, and the idea that anyone, anywhere could get their hands on a gun is something that most governments haven’t had to properly confront yet.

[00:18:24] But to think that people are going to start printing guns and shooting people just because they now have a 3D printer seems a little bit unrealistic

[00:18:34] If you are intent on killing someone then I’m sure you can find a way without a 3D printer.

[00:18:42] And there is the familiar critique of any new technology, that it is going to take jobs from humans.

[00:18:50] If we no longer need large factories with humans manning the equipment to produce the parts, or humans assembling the parts, this will cause these people to lose their jobs, so the argument goes.

[00:19:03] Of course these machines will replace the jobs of humans, that’s the entire point. 

[00:19:08] The job of any machine is to reduce the work of a human, whether it’s a fishing net or a 3D printer, the reason for creating machines is to reduce the amount of work a human needs to do.

[00:19:23] But to criticise 3D printing, or to legislate against it because it will lead to some job losses in the manufacturing sector is pretty shortsighted, and is comparable to regulating against driverless cars because they will put truck drivers out of work.

[00:19:41] This is such a familiar criticism of any new technology, and the economic system has a pretty good track record of creating new jobs to replace the old ones.

[00:19:52] Now, even though 3D printing as a technology has been around for over 40 years now, it is just getting started. It was worth around $14 billion dollars in 2020, and is predicted to grow at around 21% every year.

[00:20:10] Right now most of us probably don’t see the impact that it is having, but behind the scenes, in healthcare, manufacturing, space travel, and multiple other industries, it is helping us build products more quickly, more cheaply, and more efficiently.

[00:20:28] Only time will tell when the day will come when we can print our own full English breakfasts.

[00:20:36] OK then, that is it for the magical technology of 3D printing. It might have got off to a slow start, but it is playing an ever greater role in the world we live in.

[00:20:49] As always, I would love to know what you thought of this episode.

[00:20:53] Have you ever 3D printed anything? What would you think about eating a 3D printed steak, or having something that was 3D printed transplanted into your body?

[00:21:04] I would love to know.

[00:21:06] For the members among you, you can head to our community forum, over at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting away to other curious minds.

[00:21:16] And as a final reminder, if you enjoyed this episode, and you are wondering where to get all of our bonus episodes, plus the transcripts, subtitles, and key vocabulary, then the place to go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:21:31] I am on a mission to make Leonardo English the most interesting way of improving your English, and I would love for you to join me, and curious minds from 50 different countries, on that journey.

[00:21:44] The place you can go to for all of that is leonardoenglish.com. You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:21:54] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.



[END OF EPISODE]