Christopher Barnatt is the author of 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution. He is a professional futurist and videographer and for 24 years has lectured in computing and future studies at Nottingham University Business School.
(6:55) A listener calls in with a question about private lending
(13:19) Introducing Christopher Barnatt
(13:58) Background: how Christopher Barnatt became interested in 3D printing
(17:29) The range of 3D printers available today
(19:49) The materials and capabilities of 3D printing
(23:48) Other possible applications of 3D printing
(28:50) The implications of 3D printing for mass-produced products
(32:23) Closing comments
Visit Christopher’s website at ExplainingTheFuture.com
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Creating Wealth with Jason Hartman! During this program Jason is going to tell you some really exciting things that you probably haven’t thought of before, and a new slant on investing: fresh new approaches to America’s best investment that will enable you to create more wealth and happiness than you ever thought possible. Jason is a genuine, self-made multi-millionaire who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. He’s been a successful investor for 20 years and currently owns properties in 11 states and 17 cities. This program will help you follow in Jason’s footsteps on the road to financial freedom. You really can do it! And now, here’s your host, Jason Hartman, with the complete solution for real estate investors.
JASON HARTMAN: Welcome to the Creating Wealth Show. This is your host, Jason Hartman, this is episode #401. 401. And I have just recruited a client of ours, who I was talking to on the phone, who so graciously agreed to join us for the intro portion of the show, and that is Eric. Eric, you there?
ERIC: Hey Jason, how you doing today?
JASON HARTMAN: Good, good. Hey, thanks for volunteering! I hope I’m not putting you on the spot too much here.
ERIC: A little bit, but that’s totally fine. This is fun.
JASON HARTMAN: All right, good deal. Our guest today will be talking about 3D printing, and the future of computers and technology, and you know, I’ve talked about this on many past episodes. I mean, we are living in a truly amazing time. I kind of wonder, did they think it was as amazing in the days when, like, the steam engine was invented, or the telephone, or the radio? I don’t think so. It seems more amazing now. What do you think?
ERIC: I tend to agree with you. I’m sure at the time they thought, man, we could never have an engine that does this, or a vehicle that does this, but I think the technological revolutions that have happened, and changes that have happened, they’re coming even faster now, and they’re getting more futuristic. And like you said with the 3D printing, all these different things, it’s a logarithmic jump, and I think it’s just a fascinating what they’re doing with it.
JASON HARTMAN: It really is. By the way, I don’t know what you do for a living. So, the listeners can understand your background. What do you do?
ERIC: Yeah, absolutely. I’m calling from Ohio, I’m just outside the Columbus area. Actually I work in Columbus, but I’m a little east of there, about an hour east of there, more of a rural area. But I’m a physician, and been doing that for gosh, well over a decade now. But started getting involved with real estate, gosh, I don’t know, probably eight years or so ago. I bought a few properties on my own, and I also bought a few properties from Jason, and overall been a very good experience, and it’s a whole different thing from medicine. So it keeps me interested, it keeps me learning, and it keeps me sharp.
JASON HARTMAN: What kind of medicine do you practice?
ERIC: Emergency medicine to start off with, and I still do some of that, and I met a partner of mine, and we got involved in vein treatments, and a little bit of cosmetic surgery as well. We do cosmetic surgical treatments, vein treatments, things like that. So, been doing that for the last four or five years.
JASON HARTMAN: Great, great. Is that really profitable, the cosmetic side? This is where insurance isn’t involved, it’s just elective type work, right?
ERIC: The vein aspect actually is covered through insurance, because there are people with legitimate medical issues from varicose veins, and things like that. We get a lot of dysfunction from pain and swelling, and problems. So, that is—we do work with insurance with that. The rest of it, yeah, the rest of cosmetics—skin treatments, things like that, that’s just obviously not insurance. So that’s more a cash business.
JASON HARTMAN: Absolutely. You’re an ER doc then, right? I mean, you work in the emergency room.
ERIC: That’s where I got my start. Did my residency training in emergency medicine. Did that about six years, and was the director of my emergency department for a couple years, and then started looking for a plan B to do something else. To keep the wheel sharp, I guess, and keep spinning, keep learning and growing. And I met another physician who was just getting this business off the ground, and it sounded like a great opportunity, and I like what you mentioned earlier—ready, fire, aim, I just jumped, and we went from there.
JASON HARTMAN: I was telling Eric just before we started recording, folks, and we literally only talked for maybe, I don’t know, how long, Eric? 5 minutes? 3 minutes?
ERIC: Not even 5 minutes, yeah.
JASON HARTMAN: Before I said, I’m recruiting you to be on the show.
ERIC: I said sure, why not.
JASON HARTMAN: Well, thanks for doing it. We really appreciate that. And I gotta ask you a question that all our listeners and I are probably dying to know, so here’s the big question. Since you were an ER doc, I bet you’ve seen some amazing and scary things. I could never do that job. I mean, I would faint when I see blood, you know? And I’m sure you’ve saved a lot of lives, and that’s awesome. But I gotta ask you, is it true what we’ve all heard about that the ER—the emergency room—is full and busier and crazier on nights when there’s a full moon? Is that a myth? Or is that an old wives tale? Or is that true?
ERIC: If you actually look at the statistics, it is a bit of a mess. Although from anecdotal evidence, I swear you’re right…every time you go there, you talk to the nurses, you talk to the patients, they will swear up and down that it is crazier and more unusual than ever. But I think they’ve actually studied this, and I think they’ve shown that not a huge jump in the number of patients or unusual things. So, I don’t know. I haven’t had anything crazy myself. But I’ve heard both sides of it.
JASON HARTMAN: Right, right. Very interesting. Well, I just had to ask you that. You know, forget about real estate. We’ve gotta know about the full moon theory.
ERIC: Oh yeah. Well, I got lots of stories. Some of them are kind of gross, you may not want to hear about them.
JASON HARTMAN: Tell us about your real estate portfolio, and what you’re doing. And then I know you’ve got a couple questions I want to address, and I know the listeners have those same questions. Let me just mention—folks, I got stuck in Dallas last night. Thank you very much American Airlines. I am actually in a hotel lobby, so please, excuse me on the sound quality, if it’s not as good as usual. I’m not at home with my good microphone, and there’s probably some background noise. So, I just wanted to explain that. But, go ahead. Yeah, tell us about your real estate investing experience.
ERIC: Yeah, absolutely. Again, I kind of wanted to diversify my income years ago. Started reading all the usual books, and hearing all the usual things about diversification, especially in terms of real estate as a wealth builder, and it’s a hard asset to protect, especially in times of pending inflation, etcetera, etcetera…that’s kind of how I got my start, plus it’s totally different from medicine. A whole nother world and language to learn, which, I like to learn. I like to learn new things. So. Mostly just been buying income properties, as Jason advocates. Mostly single-family houses, although I’m currently in the process of working on a closing for a quad. And that’s kind of what I’ve done. I’ve got about over 13 single families right now. And as I mentioned, I have three that I’ve bought through Jason’s network. A lot of them are right here in my backyard in Columbus, but I’ve got a couple in a few other states. So overall, it’s been a very good experience, and as we’ve talked about on the show, it’s a slow build, but that’s kind of how you do it.
JASON HARTMAN: And just to explain to the listeners, a quad is a fourplex. Just so they know what you mean by that. You’re also interested in two other areas, one that I talked about recently on a couple episodes ago, and that is investing in discounted notes, and also doing hard money lending, or private lending. And those two, we should make the distinction for the listeners that those two are different things, but they’re sort of in the same area, but they are different. What are your thoughts and questions about those, Eric?
A listener calls in with a question about private lending
ERIC: In terms of private lending, I have had some experience with it myself. I’ve been a lender on another gentleman who did some real estate transactions, and utilized private lenders, and I’ve also lent out—so, I’ve used private lenders myself, for one of my deals; I have a couple of people that I’ve borrowed some funds with, they were my private lenders. And both roads have worked out very well. There was one private lending deal that didn’t work out so well, but you will have that. So, my question, and what I was curious about with your network and your experience, because I remember you spoke about it some time ago, about you doing some short term private lending as well. I was curious about if you’re still doing that, the amounts you’ve used, I think there was a limit, or like an upper, or a lower limit of funds, and how you’ve done it, where you’ve done it, and just to kind of get some interest in someone else who’s got probably more experience in the whole realm other than myself. And the reason I came about it is there was actually some funds I came across, I was doing actually it was another private lending deal in an IRA, it was a self-directed IRA that I was utilizing, those will free up pretty soon, so I’m just looking someplace to park it, and you know, again, the velocity of money, keep that money moving, trying to find something to do with it, and I wanted to reach out to you and get your take on it.
JASON HARTMAN: It’s definitely good that you want to always keep your money working. That is a principle, you know. I always say to people, if you owned a business, and you’re an employer, would you tolerate a lazy employee? Probably not. Hopefully you wouldn’t, you know, you’d get rid of them. And the same is true with money. Don’t tolerate lazy money. Your money has got to be working for you. When money becomes lazy, it’s either in the bank, that’s a good example of lazy money, or it’s in equity, in your house, or other real estate, because that’s lazy money too. There’s no real thing, is what they call return on equity. You know, that’s kind of a misnomer, because that return would be there regardless of the level of equity. So, I’ve always thought that was a misleading term. You did some private lending, and it’s always worked out well except for one time. On that one time, were you—was that a first position, or a second position trust deed?
ERIC: First position.
JASON HARTMAN: First position. Wow, that’s surprising! That that didn’t go well, huh?
ERIC: Yeah, it’s a long story, and I was actually working with a gentleman who has been doing it for some time, and he got snookered by a guy who—he just got scammed, basically, by the person who was buying this property, and it’s a very long story, and like I said, we ended up taking the property back, and now we’re selling it, and I think it’s all gonna work out okay, but certainly one of those things that makes you get a little nervous, that’s for sure.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah, definitely. Well, private lending is lending when you’re originating the loan, versus trading discounted notes, is when someone else originates a loan, and then you buy that mortgage, or you buy that loan. And the right to collect those payments. So, those are totally different things, and they definitely have different rules. With the type of private lending that we do, and you can do all sorts of different kinds. I mean, there’s virtually no limit to the creativity you can have in this world. With the kind of stuff we typically do, these are short, six-month loans, and they will be to our providers. So, the nice thing is, they’re kind of kept in our little universe. We have a lot of leverage over those providers, as I’ve talked about many times, because, you know, they get a lot of business from us. And they’re unlikely to want to mess that up ever, you know? They really want to keep that business coming in. So you always have like that lever of more business, which is a good leverage point. And typically the way they work is, the rates vary, and the deals vary; everything’s open to negotiation. But the typical deal’s about 12%, and it’s a six-month loan term with no payments.
You get everything paid at the end. So, that may sound like a strange deal, or whatever. But it’s really easy accounting wise. You know. When you start collecting payments, you gotta account for them every month, and then you’ve gotta amortize the loan, or do interest only, or whatever. Just when you collect it all at the end, it’s much easier. And you’ll typically get, you know, one or two points on the deal, which is one or two percent of the loan amount. They’re pretty safe deals, because what you’re doing is you’re financing the purchase and some of the rehab, or the construction, to fix up that property so that they can resell it. And they usually resell it through our network. It’s kind of a nice little deal. And it’s real simple. Again, trading the discounted notes, or hard money, or private lending—hard money and private lending are really the same thing—that’s not as good as actually owning the real estate. Most of the time. Because it’s not multidimensional. It’s just one-dimensional. So, you don’t have all of those other benefits. But, the advantages are, it’s simpler, it’s more scalable, you don’t have to get involved with really much of anything. You know, you don’t have to go deal with a property manager, a tenant, or anything. That’s not your responsibility. That’s someone else’s responsibility, if it exists at all. Or, you know, you don’t have to deal with fix up, or anything like that. You’re just simply the lender. It’s a very clean, simple deal.
ERIC: Sounds real clean, especially like you said with the no payments thing. Is there a minimum amount when you work with your providers?
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. You usually need about $50-75,000 to really do anything in that arena. But you wouldn’t want to do smaller deals. Like, people come to me sometimes with smaller deals, and I really don’t like them, because it’s sort of not worth the trouble to, you know—you gotta look at the deal, you gotta go to the bank and wire the money—I know that may sound incredibly spoiled, but in day-to-day life, you want to do slightly larger transactions to make it worth your while. But $50-75,000, someone can get started.
ERIC: Perfect. Well, we’ll definitely have to talk, because right in that range of funds—when the deal closes, I think I’ll have that to play with, so that would fit perfectly.
JASON HARTMAN: Absolutely. Well, good stuff. And we will talk—the whole idea of trading discounted notes and so forth—that’s a lot more complicated, and there’s a lot more to know, so we’re gonna talk about that in upcoming episodes in depth.
JASON HARTMAN: Okay?
ERIC: Perfect, that sounds good.
JASON HARTMAN: So, good stuff. Well, I know you have to go; I think you’re going to your son’s game, or something like that? Where are you going?
ERIC: Yeah, football practice for the boys.
JASON HARTMAN: Football practice.
ERIC: It’s that time of year.
JASON HARTMAN: Good deal, good deal. Well Eric, thanks so much for being recruited on the show at the last minute.
JASON HARTMAN: And I and the listeners appreciate having you, and we will be right back in just a moment with our guest to talk about technology and 3D printing, and register and join us for our Little Rock tour coming up in about five weeks or so! We look forward to seeing you there, and you can get the information at www.jasonhartman.com, click on events.
Introducing Christopher Barnatt
JASON HARTMAN: It’s my pleasure to welcome Christopher Barnatt to the show! He is the author of 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution. And you know you’ve heard me talk about 3D printing many, many times on past episodes. I’ve been fascinated by this technology for, I guess just a little over 10 years now. And I think it is a major, major game changer, and I’m glad Christopher is joining us today to talk about it. Christopher, how are you?
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: I’m very well. It’s good to be on the show.
JASON HARTMAN: It’s great to have you. And just to give our listeners a sense of geography, tell us where you’re located!
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: I’m located in Nottingham, in the United Kingdom.
JASON HARTMAN: In the United Kingdom. Well, your accent wouldn’t have given that away.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Oh I see, yes.
Background: how Christopher Barnatt became interested in 3D printing
JASON HARTMAN: So, tell us a little bit about how you became interested in 3D printing.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: I suppose for me it started back in around 1995. I wrote one of the first ecommerce books to come out in the UK, and that got me into looking at how computers were to trigger revolutions. And the next logical one was not just using computers to handle information and to communicate information, but to help us handle and redesign and communicate physical objects across a network, and that’s when I really started looking at 3D printing, and by 2001, I was actually starting to see people printing things, and it’s just built and built from there.
JASON HARTMAN: I think the first thing I read about it was maybe a Popular Science, or Popular Mechanics article, I’m not sure, about how they were intending to use it on the International Space Station to make spare parts. What an incredible technology. And last summer when I was touring around Europe, I read the book Makers, by Chris Anderson, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Tell us where you’re focus is on 3D printing. Is it on the personal uses of it, the industrial uses? How do you see it interplaying with the economy, and just our lives in general.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: I’m interested in almost everything related to 3D printing. I’m probably most interested in how it’s going to change industry. There’s a lot of focus now on people having printers in their homes, and you can print everything on your desktop, and I think there will be printers in people’s homes, but they will be fairly limited in terms of what they can do. They’ll probably print in just plastic materials; you won’t be able to make very big objects very quickly. Whereas already we’re seeing 3D printing becoming an industrial technology. So, you could start to use it to make parts of cars, or aircraft, or, you know, indeed in the US Air Force, many planes already have 3D printed spare parts, because it’s cheaper to 3D print metal components for the plane than to keep lots and lots of different parts in stock. You just print the ones when you need it. So, there are quite a few companies now starting to make products which are customized using 3D printers. You can go to a company called Nervous System, in New York; they produce jewelry, they produce all sorts of objects; lampshades, all sorts of artistic creations. You can customize the products on their website, and they print exactly what you produce. So, I’m interested in the way that industrial companies can produce for us products which we will change ourselves. The other thing which I think is going to be really, really big, which is not getting the media attention, is using 3D printing to change how standard industrial processes take place. So, to give an example of that, at the moment, a lot of industrial parts, metal parts, are made by a process called sand casting. So you basically make a pattern of your object, normally out of wood, you pack sand around it, you remove the wooden pattern, that’s sometimes difficult, you pour in metal to the mold, the metal sets solid, you break away the sand. We’ve been doing that for thousands and thousands of years. It’s a standard industrial process. There are now 3D printers that can print you that sand mold. So, rather than having to make a pattern and put sand around it that way, you can literally just print out your mold in sand. There’s a [unintelligible] who print you a sand mold 4x2x1 meters. Very, very large industrial printer. If you start doing that, you can cut costs by typically 70 or 80%. So, you take a standard industrial process, do it better, do it quicker, do it at a much lower cost—that’s where 3D printing is really going to have a big impact.
The range of 3D printers available today
JASON HARTMAN: Just to give people an idea of the range of this, it seems as though nowadays there are consumer printers—consumer 3D printers—that start around $12-1500. I’ve always sort of set my sights at, you know, when they get to be about $700 and they’re pretty good, I’m gonna jump in and buy one for my home. What is the range of them? Consumer, up on to the biggest, most incredible industrial printer? I mean, what do these things cost?
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: The cheapest consumer printers are now about $300.
JASON HARTMAN: Oh my gosh! Wow! I guess I’ve gotta strike!
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: They’re not typically good, but they do work. If you’re prepared to put a bit of work in, and to nurture them into making each printout, you can buy, for example, a printer called a Printrbot for $300, plus you are looking at, as you said, towards about $1500 to $3000 for something which is a bit more robust and reliable for personal use. And then it basically goes up from there. When you get through to big industrial machines, you’re into hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes into a million dollars, million and a half dollars. Depending on what you print in. The cheaper printers will print in plastics; the more expensive printers, right at the top end, will lay down layers of powder, and they’ll use a laser beam, or another source of heat, to fuse those layers of powder together, which is inevitably a very expensive technology. In the middle you’ve got printers costing maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars which print using resins. So, you give them a liquid, and they set that liquid solid using UV light or a laser beam. And some of those printers can now produce multiple material objects. So, for example, a Connex printer from Stratasys, one of the big players in the industry, can lay down, effectively spray, layers of resin. They can put different layers together. They set each layer solid with UV light as they print it, and they can now produce multi-material, fully multicolored objects from that printer.
JASON HARTMAN: Wow. It’s just incredible. How long does it take? I mean, it seems like this would just take a very, very long time to create any 3D printed object. I mean, layering and layering the material—that’s gotta just take a very long time.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: It’s a long process. And the higher resolution you use, the more layers you have to print, and the slower it gets. To give you an idea, to print a plastic object that’s maybe a few inches tall, will probably take you a few hours. It’s that sort of time. But it can be a very, very long time. I saw part of a nuclear power station which actually was 3D printed last year, and I think it took 40 hours to produce something about 10 inches tall. So, it can be a long process. You might watch your first print come out of the printer; you’ll get pretty bored once you’ve seen it happen once. It’s an overnight process, or a process you come back to when it’s finished.
The materials and capabilities of 3D printing
JASON HARTMAN: Let’s talk about some of the materials available, and some of the things that may amaze people that can be 3D printed. You know, I read an article just a couple of months ago about how they are now able to create synthetic food. The synthetic hamburger. And I think when you combine this type of thing with the concept of 3D printing, it’s going to be like on Star Trek where, you know, food is just created out of materials, and it’s built, if you will, by illogical components. Maybe a spare kidney. Or spare body parts can be created with 3D printers. You know, maybe nanocomputers. I don’t know! You know? Talk to us about all of that.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Bioprinting is an area getting a lot of attention. Bioprinting, just basically means 3D printing but with living material. There are several companies worldwide doing this, but most particularly Organovo in the United States, which is really a pioneer in this area, which now sells a commercial bioprinter. For research use; it’s not on sale to the public, but it basically puts down layers of cells, which you basically tell from a patient; so, say, potentially in 5 or 10 years’ time you needed a new kidney. You would take cells from the patient, you would culture those cells to get enough of them, you’d lay them down in layers. And the clever thing is, with bioprinting, when you put cells down, they then fuse together. They then rearrange. So if you want to print a kidney, you don’t have to print all the intricate details [unintelligible]; you put roughly the right cells in roughly the right place, and nature takes over and sorts it out for you. That was first shown back in 2010 when Organovo printed parts of a chicken’s heart muscle as a test, and about 70 hours after it had been printed out, it starting beating. We’ve already got clever enough to print living tissue which will actually be functional a few tens of hours after it’s been printed out. So, we’re starting to see the potential in medicine, in all sorts of ways. Producing new organs, we’ve seen things like human arteries printed out and put into a patient a few weeks ago now in Japan, the first human trials have started. But there were also tests at the Wake Forest Institute in the States, printing directly onto the body. So you could potentially take someone with, say, a burn injury, remove the cells automatically which had been damaged, and print on new cells. And again, tests are already taking place in that. So, 10 years out, this isn’t just about necessarily producing replacement organs; it could be repairing the body in situ. It could be doing cosmetics. This technology will start out [unintelligible] serious medical problems, but it could be used to change the body in any way people want it to be changed.
JASON HARTMAN: Incredible. I mean, this is just amazing. We are on the verge of an amazing, and sometimes rather scary, future. In so many ways.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: That is very true. It opens up all sorts of possibility. One of the parallels people keep drawing is that the Internet gave us complete control over information; we could do with it what we wanted to, we could democratize access; the same thing could be happening with objects, with 3D printing. And something we haven’t really started to think about yet.
JASON HARTMAN: In a way it could be argued that the Internet gave us a complete loss of control over our information.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Well, in the same way, yes.
JASON HARTMAN: In the near future, will we need, you know, Intel to set up a giant multibillion dollar fab facility to create circuits and circuit boards? Or can they be 3D printed custom, one by one?
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: There are already printers that can print circuits, to some extent. They can put down layers of the material and produce chips, produce solar cells, and there have been experiments 3D printing batteries. At the moment, today’s printers by and large produce single material objects, or fairly standard materials mixed together. Different colors of plastic, for example. But it is perfectly possible we will get printers which will lay down the components to circuit boards. To a certain extent, microprocessors are quite a good thing to print in this, because microprocessors are made by a current printing process. [Unintelligible] is effectively a printing process already. So it’s quite likely 3D printing will be used to produce circuit boards maybe five years out.
Other possible applications of 3D printing
JASON HARTMAN: Tell us any of the other applications, or expand on any of the ones we’ve discussed. Whatever you want to say.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: The other road we’re starting to see potential application is in buildings. We tend to think of 3D printing being about using fairly small objects, but there are already 3D printers that can print, say, in concrete. So you could actually take to a building site a 3D printer, you’d assembling it in place, and it would actually literally print out the building in layers of concrete.
JASON HARTMAN: That’s interesting, because I saw a video on that recently, and basically, this was sort of like a device laid out on a track, and it went around the rectangle of this house, or this structure, and just built it. It just poured concrete, I think. Into a mold, essentially. Is that what you’re talking about?
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: This is I think even more sophisticated than that. This is actually like a framework; the biggest mounted about 6x6x6 meters, so quite a large thing, about a 20 foot cube. And it literally, the same way a smaller printer would put down layers of material building it up, it does the same thing. It moves a jib back and forth, extruding concrete maybe about half an inch diameter from a nozzle, and then built up in any shape you want it, and it does it. And one of the advantages of that—you can not just print out any shape. You can build a curved building very easily, which is obviously difficult with bricks and traditional materials. But you can also, for example, put gaps in a building. You can put insulation gaps. You can put services inside a building. Service docks as you’re printing it. So that opens all sorts of possibilities. The company that’s doing that is now working with the, I think it’s the New York Harbor Authority. You have a situation where lots of the pillars in the harbor have been eroded by the weather and the elements. It’s replaced about 20,000 pillars. And one of the things they’re looking at is scanning these pillars into the water, 3D printing set in to match, and fitting them back. So we might start to see 3D printing used in massive reconstruction and regeneration projects.
JASON HARTMAN: People talk about, oh well, you know, 3D printing is going to bring down the cost of real estate, or construction. I don’t think people really realize, there’s still materials costs. This isn’t made out of thin air. It’s not like stuff is just created out of thin air. You still have raw materials.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: One of the things that 3D printing will do, not necessarily in making buildings, but more generally, is it will allow material savings, because 3D printing is an additive process. So, in other words, you start with absolutely nothing, and you add on the layers of material you need to build your object. Whereas a lot of traditional manufacturing processes start with, for example, a piece of metal, and then they sheen away lots of metal to get to the final object; they waste lots of material. If you look at, say, production of aircraft engines, Rolls-Royce in the UK here make aircraft engines. And they built a one ton engine out of seven tons of metal. Most of the metal is taken away and ends up on the machine shop floor. They are running a project at the moment called Project Merlin, looking to try to 3D print the majority of a civil aircraft engine. And they could produce that one ton engine, with one ton of metal.
JASON HARTMAN: But that metal that ends up on the shop floor is still recycled. It’s not like it’s complete waste, right?
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Most of it is wasted, sadly.
JASON HARTMAN: Really? Wow.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Because it isn’t something—once you’ve got these tiny little bits it gets contaminated with all the oils and things that go into the process. That was my first question. You must use this again. And I’ve spoken to several engineers that go, well, we could in theory; in practice we don’t. I’ve spoken to people in car parts who said that they have specialized aluminum parts where it’s a 20 to 1 ratio, 19 kilograms of metal disappears and one gets used for the special parts they make. The other thing to bear in mind is that the current industrial model is quite a wasteful model. It’s basically based on the idea, we think of a product, we make loads of it, we put it in a warehouse, and we hope somebody wants it. And then we ship it.
JASON HARTMAN: It’s not just in time delivery.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Absolutely not. So, for a lot of products, someone was recently telling me about shoes, in the shoe industry. The average shoe, about 10% of the cost is the material in the shoe. The rest of it is the cost in logistics, in storage, in waste of shoes that never get sold because no one wants to buy those. So, we’re used to a model where we spend an awful lot of money not on the products, but keeping the product and shipping the product, and a product that no one ever buys. Whereas, 3D printing, potentially, is about a world where we only produce the products that people actually want, customized for that person. You might have a shoe printed to the scale of your foot, for example, in the store, and we do it pretty locally. President Obama talked about 3D printing in his State of the Union address, back in 2013, and he talked about it as bringing manufacturing back home, by which he was clearly referring to manufacturing moving back from, say, China, to the United States, because people produce things where they were, rather than somewhere around the world.
JASON HARTMAN: Do you think that’s true? When I’ve examined that issue, I certainly think it’ll bring back one off customized manufacturing of things.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Yes.
The implications of 3D printing for mass-produced products
JASON HARTMAN: But we’re not making iPhones with 3D printers. I mean, maybe granted some of that process—you know, 3D printing, it’s wonderful for the small run, or one off run, of something. But does it really have that much implication for something that’s mass-produced? You know, five million copies at a time?
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: At the moment it doesn’t. And I think—my guess is that about 20% of products in 10 years’ time will be either 3D printed directly, or will have some mold, which will basically be printed, or be customized with a 3D printed part. If that’s an accurate figure, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the industry about it; people seem to think 20% in 10 years is a reasonable guess, I think it would be completely revolutionary if one in five things you own comes in whole or part of a 3D printer—that’s a big change in the industrial model. Even if that’s about a manufacturing—if relocated, it’ll change an awful lot of the economy. The other thing, we live in a world at the moment which is based on constant disposal. We’re always buying new products all the time and throwing them away, changing them around. We’re not attached to items. As we start to see more constraints on resources, as environmental issues come up, potentially we might actually have to own fewer things and keep them longer, and therefore want more customized, and that’s where 3D printing comes in. You can’t look at 3D printing in the context of the current world. Like so many new technologies, you have to say, what will the world be like 10 years out? How does 3D printing fit with that? And I think in that context it will start to have a big impact. You can see that China, for example, is really worried about 3D printing. It wasn’t long after President Obama made his pronouncements on 3D printing, they started to invest in it incredibly heavily.
JASON HARTMAN: The concept in the industrial process, making molds with a 3D printer, I remember I had a girlfriend years ago who sold plastics for Dow Chemical, and she sold the raw materials, and she was always dealing with the molds. And these companies would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars just to make a mold. To make one product. And I mean, these molds were incredibly expensive. And you know, there’s really no chance for iteration there, because you cast them, as the old saying goes, the die is cast, right?
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Absolutely, yes.
JASON HARTMAN: You cast that mold, and you spend $300,000 to make some little part or housing or you know, it’s going to make plastic cups or something—you’re not gonna redo it, you know? It’s sort of a one-shot deal usually, right?
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Absolutely. And 3D printing is now starting to change that. If you want to produce, say, 5,000 plastic objects, it’s already cheaper to 3D print them than it is to actually get a mold and to cast or mold them in the normal way. Precisely as you just said, because molds are so expensive. And that’s one of the areas, industrially, where 3D printing—you’re gonna have a really big impact. The ability to make a mold, the ability to make a mold at home and then do the bit of injection—that’s starting to take hold. And I think when we talk about where manufacturing will take place, it’s also about where the molding comes from as well. At the moment, if a company outsources its manufacturing to China, it’s partially because they can do the actual molding, and it’s partially because they will make the mold cheaper, and therefore the balance may change. Companies are much more likely to make their own molds. Companies are much more likely to make lots of different molds, because ultimately they won’t cost as much to put together. So, 3D printing has a big impact all the way across the value chain. It’s not just about the final product potentially being customized; it’s the mold that goes into it. And that’s [unintelligible] about making spare parts; you eventually—the International Space Station, you can’t nip out to get the spare parts in space, but you could print every individual part. You don’t have to keep a mold available to make every item.
JASON HARTMAN: Amazing implications. What else would you like people to know about 3D printing, and do you have a website you can give out, and a place where people can get your book? Of course Amazon.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Indeed, yes. The website I’ve got is at ExplainingTheFuture.com, so, if you go to ExplainingTheFuture.com and either click on 3D printing on the front page, or if you just go to ExplainingTheFuture.com/3DPrinting, you will find access to the first chapter of the book for free. There’s various articles for free, there’s loads of video content about 3D printing there. Because although we’ve been discussing this topic, I think you have to see the printers working in practice to really get an idea of—
JASON HARTMAN: Christopher Barnatt, thank you so much for joining us today, and very interesting future we have to look forward to. The book where I became familiar with you was 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution. Keep getting the word out there about this; it’s very, very exciting.
CHRISTOPHER BARNATT: Thank you very much.
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