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3D printing takes off in 2015

As people begin to understand the benefits of 3D printing, devices get cheaper and support for the technology grows, 3D printing is set to take off this year, writes NATALEE ROBERTSON.

Imagine a world where you don’t have to buy replacement parts for your car or home appliance – you can just print your own. Picture having the most creative and innovative idea of your life and having the tools and technology at your fingertips to be able to bring it to life. This is the reality of 3D printing.

The last few years have seen the rise of 3D printing as the technology has developed. However, what has been lacking is an understanding of just how useful this technology can be. That said, there is a lot more evidence that 3D printing is a smart investment, especially as people begin to understand the technology, new players are entering the game, support is increasing and real innovation is beginning to take place across industries.

As global recognition increases, it makes sense that there are several new players entering the 3D printing game. While it is still a difficult market to break into, the established players are investing a lot in their own research and development, which is helping to move things forward by growing support for the industry and resulting in the addition of new composite materials to the mix.

As we all know, nothing new comes without a few stumbling blocks and one of the main ones for 3D printing has been navigating CAD software, which is targeted at engineers. In 2015, however, many companies are coming up with solutions for this, either in the form of better services or by incorporating scanners into their offerings, which means that any design can be uploaded to a desktop 3D printer. This lends itself to the idea that 3D printing truly consolidates the physical and digital world.

The announcement by MakerBot at CES 2015 that it will offer spools of PLA composite materials, created in three categories i.e. metal, stone, and wood, later this year is also a major development for the industry. With these new materials, that look realistic, becoming available for home and industry printing, the technology will become more valuable and reach a wider user base.

Currently, the user base largely comes from professional industries with a design focus, such as engineering and architecture, with the biggest print categories being scale model, prototype and art/fashion creation.  There is also significant adoption among hobbyists. The opportunities to use 3D printing are endless, and some areas where it has the potential to make a notable impact include:

·         Food: Nasa is one of the biggest advocates for printed food, because of the logistics involved in feeding astronauts on long-term space travels. They are particularly excited about being able to eat printed pizza on their journeys.

·         Transport: 3D printing is playing an increasingly important role in the design and development of vehicles, with the potential to transform not only the way cars are designed, leading to greater efficiency, but their ergonomics and aerodynamics, too. Airplane parts will also be made lighter thanks to 3D printing.

·         Surgery: Creating artificial body parts is another great use for 3D printing in the healthcare industry. Not only would it speed up the process for patients urgently needing surgery, but it would also give doctors in training the opportunity to practice on life-like models to hone their skills.

·         Manufacturing: No longer will manufacturing be synonymous with factories, machine tools and production lines. 3D printing is levelling the playing field and reshaping product development, turning individuals, small businesses and corporate departments into the ‘makers’.

·         Education: Schools are still in the early stages of adopting 3D printing technology, but its potential in the education space is massive. It can provide teachers with 3D visual aids to illustrate difficult concepts and capture students’ attention, and it can make the classroom more interactive as students can work in a hands-on manner with 3D models and even create their own mini-models.

What is significant for the 3D printing industry is that as more people are acquiring the skills to use it, we are seeing the technology being used in new ways for real innovation. Until now, it has mostly been used to print already-existing objects in a different form; however, as we move into the future, there is a definite trend towards using the advancing technology to develop new ideas and new products, as well as customise these products to make them more useful. In addition, the scope to use this technology to improve a host of situations and industries is immense.

And that is the crux of it all. Yes, we are seeing an increase in the speed of printing coupled with the addition of new features that make the price of a printer more justifiable. But what is driving the tech creep from new innovation at the high end, through to the prosumer and finally the consumer, is the fact that new materials, better software and more developed companies are resulting in more valuable technology with more realistic benefits – and really, the sky is the limit.

* Natalee Robertson, MakerBot Product Manager at Rectron South Africa

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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