Platforms and Business Models for Reusable Feedstocks

If taken to an extreme, the capability to completely reconfigure printed objects could ultimately transform our attachment to physical goods. Indeed, work under way at Cornell University hints at this possibility. There, researchers at the Computational Synthesis Lab are working on a project for “rapid fabrication of physical voxels.” Essentially, the idea is to print future products by precisely adhering thousands of individual microscopic spheres made of a wide variety of different materials. The “voxels” here can be thought of as the 3D physical equivalent of image pixels. The  researchers speculate that these voxels could be completely recycled by using a solvent that breaks down the adhesive.

Cornell University research into fabrication with physical "voxels" (Source: Cornell University)

The potential to employ reusable feedstocks in open fabrication may rely on the relative openness of the architecture of the machines themselves. There may be little incentive to facilitate full material recycling unless 3D printing machines have an open architecture. Otherwise, the home fabrication industry may end up copying the home printing business model, in which the printer itself is relatively inexpensive but offset by large profit margins on ink cartridges. Under this type of scenario, the drive to radically reduce the amount of material used is something for the industry to actively block rather than encourage.

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