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3D printing takes off in 2015

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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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