With numbers like 500% growth in the next 5 years it’s no wonder there’s some serious buzz right for 3D printing and manufacturing right now. For me however with all the buzz there seems to be confusion on the consumer level with 3D printing – what is it actually for?
B2B makes complete sense with rapid prototyping and the manufacturing of components it’s easy to see why there’s surging demand for it but time and time again I catch myself wondering what the benefits are if you stop making ornaments and key chains with your home 3D printer.
Also I’m not one for start up/business buzzwords but I do feel that ‘tipping point’ resonates the right message when it comes to the current consumer mindset on 3D printing.
Right now I feel that the exploration of 3D printing is on the same level as what I can only imagine the discovery of fire was like – we’re throwing random things at it to see what it can do and what this new discovery is capable of. At some point 3D printing, just like fire, needs to start working for us, diving into the deep and untapped pool of potential that comes with creating something out of virtually nothing.
I personally feel that there are 2 ways that 3D printing will take off within daily home use.
The Amazon of 3D Printing
As consumers we’re always looking for 2 simple things – convenience and price. Those two have been greatly answered by the rise of ecommerce shopping over the last few years and none have done it better than Amazon.
For 3D printing to kick start it’s dominance there has to be some real need for the products it can produce. Ornaments and fancy looking lamp shades don’t cut it. Everyday things like food, clothes and electronics are what we desire and what we spend our daily lives using and being around.
3D printing at home needs to answer to these demands, there needs to be an online market place for everyday products that can be purchased and created through the 3D printer. Whilst websites like Thingiverse provide plans for wonderfully artistic ‘things’ to create and have in your home, it doesn’t really go beyond the levels of toys or gimmicks and factor in that everything is free it just doesn’t make it a viable more even sustainable idea.
3D technology is advancing at what seems a daily rate and the advances that occur aren’t minimal either. Time of manufacture is being cut by 40+%, costs are dropping dramatically, new materials are becoming available and all this signals to me that we’re still not even close to being ready for legitimate, daily 3D printing use.
The solution to taking 3D printing to the next level is to go back in time and look at the production line, see how it revolutionised the world and then take it and condense it down so everyone can have a personal production line in their home.
Home Production Line
A mini/micro-production line of 3D printers at home is what I’ve always felt will be the key to the rise of the industry. The products we need and use everyday at home and throughout the day are intricate pieces of equipment no matter how mundane they may look. Take for example the TV remote, a mass produced product that on face value seems easy to make, but try getting a single home 3D printer to make the most basic of TV remotes. It won’t happen.
‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ – if you look at 3D printing at home with this mindset you’ll realise that what we use on a daily basis, even what we consider to be very basic equipment, is in fact too intricate for a basic 3D printing set up to complete. It’s not impossible but by the time it takes to print and construct together each and every component of say the most basic TV remote, it would make far more sense to go out and purchase it.
This is where my ‘dream’ of a home based production line comes into play. The idea includes multiple 3D printers that have different jobs in the construction process. Literally a miniature production line. This allows for multiple materials, styles and processes of printing to take place throughout the process, if it works together and constructs the product in stages it shortens the time and more importantly with only a few clicks it becomes an automated process.
Whilst I’m a huge advocate and follower of the 3D movement, I do wonder if there ever will be a use for 3D printers within the home. Dealing with medical, engineering, automotive, aero etc makes 3D printing a perfectly viable and brilliant idea but as always the biggest profit and success comes from getting your product into every home. Right now I can’t see any benefit or need for a 3D printer in my home short of wanting to build a prototype car I’m certainly in no rush to get a Makerbot or likewise!
I’ve recently spent a lot of time diving into the the realms of vertical farming; from understanding the tech behind the ideas to actually setting up my own micro-versions at home using various breadboards and UV LEDs to test ideas and see what the potential is.
Honestly, I’m pretty excited to see the increasing progress in the world of vertical farming and the new push that’s happening to actually see farm designs come to fruition.
However I like to look at both sides of the equation – I take the bad with the good, which tends to make me sound negative. But looking at the negatives and understanding them first, limits how likely you are to become disillusioned with the initial idea, it also stops you from sounding like a crazed activist hell-bent on setting up a tent and forcing your opinion upon the disbelievers!
Firstly the obvious benefits of vertical farming:
– Reducing soil erosion
– Increasing output
– Improving nutritional value of food
– Preparing for the wave of population increases headed our way
– Reducing carbon footprint
– 1 acre of vertical farm space is equal to 10 – 20 acres of agricultural land
There’s plenty more benefits but for me these stick out the most and provide the best arguments for vertical farming.
Now aside for the more obvious, I’ve thought about some underlying factors that may not have been thought about. Ideas that are forward thinking rather than thinking about the right now and the more obvious.
Much of the North of the UK was once a thriving industrial area, jobs were abundant and housing was built around the many factories that were in full motion. As production and manufacturing shifted overseas these same towns have now become forgotten about ghost towns with outside investment being non-existent.
Many of these towns are in dire need of an injection from investment and opportunities and the way I see it with one vertical farm employing around 80 – 120 people it could mean these towns start to see a resurgence back into the areas of production and manufacturing.
The set up of the land and real estate hasn’t changed much since the booming years so it’s perfect with most streets and housing built close to the factories. It would be going back to the ‘old school’ methods of working and daily lifestyles but the potential for regeneration could be huge.
For the real estate developers amongst us, buying whole streets and redeveloping the housing wouldn’t actually be too expensive (some houses are being sold off at £1) and the profit would potentially be of a sizeable amount if vertical farming was to take off.
To me vertical farming won’t just be about creating food in a more sustainable way it’ll also be the potential to bring back life to towns that have become stuck in a rut.
Developers will be able to profit for the increase in activity and ghost towns will soon start to become places that are liveable and desirable. The good thing is that all of the above stands true for places like Detroit which has also experienced a similar fate thanks to the decline of production and manufacturing.
Land in and around, what seems to be 100 miles, of London is in high demand and prices are constantly going up. London real estate is practically a safe haven for down times so investors are flooding in.
As vertical farming starts to remove the need for agricultural land, developers will see the opportunity to swarm in, buy up land regardless of what may be there and go on a building rampage. Country sides with rolling hills will become construction lots and housing templates built in row upon row of endless clones.
For me the land that gets saved with vertical farming is of great concern. Rather than taking back what we’ve aggressively demolished or over-farmed our more profit hungry peers will look to develop anything and everything to get their fix of money.
Whilst I’m a huge advocate of vertical farming I’d be very scared to see what happens on the backend if the construction of farms took hold.
Realistically land would need to be regulated with stricter and more stringent planning permissions put into place, that being said real estate is highly profitable and again the demand will increase once the population continually increases and at that point the government will have no other option but to go ahead with construction on now what should be cheaper and abundant land.
Right now, even with the conversion of old unused buildings, the cost of creating a functional vertical farm is out of reach for many people. Even the wide eyed entrepreneur will struggle to get a vertical farm going with initial costs starting at $30 million and having the potential to reach $100 million it’s easy to see that seed funding will be pretty hard to come by.
So how do companies like Aerofarms create their vertical farms?
The high costs and lack of real evidence of financial success right now means that the government is your first and really only go to entity to get that large investment. But governments don’t hand cash out to anyone and more importantly, this one is for the conspiracy theorists out there, without some sort of hidden agenda (maybe Monsanto as an example?).
Vertical farms come with the potential ability to be totally off the grid with self sustainability thanks to various advances in LED technology efficiency and more importantly the prominent rise of solar power energy.
With enough square metre space on the roofs of factories and the introduction oftransparent solar cells it would be pretty difficult to not see these vertical farms as giant power cells with the potential to turn them into batteries for surrounding towns and cities.
The largest vertical farm in Japan is producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day but with a 2,500 square/0.62 acres metres of space. Some photovoltaic numbers here – it takes 2.8 acres of solar panels to produce 1GWh of power per year so to power 1000 homes that would mean 32 acres of solar panels would be needed.
Whilst the acreage sounds like a lot it actually isn’t as land that is saved can be converted into solar panel farms and as technology advances at the current rate we have the potential to see panels increasing efficiency to 66% and decreasing in size.
So why do I mention all of these numbers? For investment opportunities to flood into vertical farming there needs to be some sort of benefit. For the government the idea of turning vertical farms into giant power plants as a secondary mission is where the benefit comes from and for investors the chance to charge for power stored and generated from these farms is another revenue stream.
At $30 million seed capital that’s a lot of lettuce heads that need to be sold to get your money back. With the introduction of solar energy generation and the profit from selling into the grid it adds another piece of value and reward to the risk ratio making the cost still expensive but ultimately that little bit extra inviting.