3D Printed Buildings

Like most new technologies, 3D printing is going to go through stages where people scratch their heads and wonder whether the technology will really work for some purpose. Previous blog posts have covered a number of interesting uses for 3D printing. The story really began to take shape in Potential Commercial Uses for 3D Printing. Most of the uses in that post were a bit on the mundane side, but I really thought the use of 3D printing for horseshoes was one of those uses that would make people think. The point is, 3D printing is being used for an odd assortment of tasks at the moment and printing buildings seems to be just one more in a long series of what could be interesting uses.

The ComputerWorld article makes it plain that the technology is being used for this purpose in China. I’m almost certain that the building wouldn’t pass muster in this country (then again, I could be wrong and I’d love to hear from anyone who has an opinion on the matter). Attempts to research the article further haven’t produced much, so it looks like someone wrote it up as a special interest story and that’s the end of that. The point is that these ten buildings went up in just one day and used materials recycled from other buildings. The whole story reminds me of the scene in I Robot where a robot comes and tears down a building, presumably so that another could be put in its place. At some point, 3D printing of this sort could make it possible for robots to demolish and build custom abodes for anyone who needs one in a fraction of the time and cost that buildings require today.

Where do you think that 3D printing will go in the future? Is it possible that the Star Trek version of the future will really take shape in the form of 3D printing. Of course, in Star Trek the replicator was simply another type of transporter, but 3D printing seems like a more concrete manifestation of the technology to me. Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering the Inefficiency of a Global Economy

A lot of people have said a lot about the global economy—how it exists and is pretty much unstoppable. However, a recent article in ComputerWorld, amongst others, have highlighted problems with the global economy. In this case, flooding in Thailand has impacted the availability of hard drivesdriving up the price that everyone pays. If manufacturing were decentralized, flooding in a single country wouldn’t have much of an effect. In short, the emphasis on cost of individual products instead of emphasizing the reliability of multiple sources of hard drives at an increased cost has proven a shortsighted strategy that inevitably hurt the world supply.

Some countries are using the global economy as a source of blackmail. According to the New York Times, China has consolidated its grip on rare earth metals used for everything from compact fluorescent lights to displays used in smartphones. The blackmail started after a disagreement with Japan. As a consequence, the price of any item that requires rare earths has gone up and will continue to increase. It’s another instance where price advantages offered by a global economy have come back to haunt us. In fact, this problem is so significant that the United States government is doing everything it can to create alternative sources, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, it will require nearly 15 years to fully develop those alternatives.

These two stories, and many more, only hint at the potential problems of a global economy. The problems are actually far more severe than you might initially think. When someone ships a hard drive all the way from Thailand to your home, the carbon footprint of that drive is quite large. It takes a lot of gas to move that hard drive. What the global economy does is it trades fossil fuel for price. The cost of the oil, plus the cost of the object (whatever it might be), is less than the cost of producing the object locally. The short term monetary gain takes priority over the cost to the environment and its eventual cleanup. In the long term, that hard drive will cost everyone a great deal more than if it had been purchased locally.

This blog has contained more than a few self-sufficiency posts (60 as of this post). You’ve seen discussions of how to grow your own food and reasonably recycle products instead of dumping them in a landfill. I even told you how to obtain CFLs for free (see CFLs for Free). All of these posts are practicalI’ve worked hard to write posts that demonstrate techniques that improve the condition of your wallet, decrease your health problems, and still help everyone around you by producing a greener environment. Even with these measures, I’m well aware that my carbon footprint is huge because a global economy forces me to buy articles from overseas. These items aren’t available locally and I can’t make them myself.

In the long run, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to sustain a global economy unless the equation changes dramatically. Fossil fuels aren’t unlimitedwe’ll eventually run out, so from a practical perspective, transportation of items from overseas must change or we won’t be able to transport them. However, long before that happens, the damage to our environment will take a dramatic toll on everyone. The question is why anyone would wait around to see it all happen? Is the world determined to wait until everyone is so sick and so without resources that we have no choice but to toe the line? Does no one think about the effect they’re having until it’s too late?

I ask these questions because the global economy is simply a bad idea. Producing goods locally is far more efficient, even when the initial price for the good is higher. Eating and using what you can produce locally is far better for everyone. You do have a choice. Even with the global economy in full swing, you can buy local goodsin fact, insist on them. Tell local stores that you’re willing to pay more for local goods that are good for the environment. Your money matters. When stores find that they can’t sell those overseas items at any price, they’ll buy locally. “Give the customer what they want” is a cliche, but it’s also a fact. Vote with your cash to bring down a global economy that is ill conceived and killing us all. Let me know your thoughts about the global economy at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.