What’s Happening in the World of 3D Printing?

We’re all very excited about 3D printing and the potential it has to change our lives. When it first received widespread media coverage 5 years ago everyone imagined essentially having their own mini-factory in the home able to print any desired material object at the press of a button.

The head of the most powerful office in the world, at the time President Obama, even embraced 3D printing in his 2013 State of the Union address when he proclaimed, of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Ohio, “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionise the way we make almost everything.”

So, what has happened in the world of 3D printing since then?

The hype surrounding the technology has come crashing back down to earth owing to the realisation of the many hurdles that must be overcome before we see a 3D printer in every home. The graph below lists the share price of Stratasys, one of the key players in the manufacturing of 3D printers, and tells a story reminiscent of the dot-com bubble:

3D Printer Graph

That’s not to say there isn’t a market for the home consumer, but a very basic plastic-printing 3D printer model will set you back several hundred pounds and the better models will cost upwards of several thousand pounds, and this is before the added expense of materials and maintenance.

And even these printers are generally intended for printing prototypes of products due to their many limitations such as each printing in just one type of material, having difficulties with hollow objects, or printing objects with a poor-quality surface that requires finishing. Advances  are being made, but these are perhaps best observed in the many industries and research organisations in which 3D printing is being deployed.

In the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Stratasy’s aided the design and manufacture of the USA Luge team’s sled with Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printing technology, helping the country to their first ever medal in the men’s singles Luge (Chris Mazdzer – Silver).

Additionally, snowboarders using CAPiTA’s snowboards have profited in PyeongChang, the boards having been enhanced with FUS3D 3D printed sidewall technology. Furthermore, a collaboration between Belgian additive manufacturing specialists Materialise and Swiss boot designer Tailored Fits in August last year saw them 3D printing custom insoles for ski boots in time for PyeongChang much to the benefit of the wearer.

3D printing has revolutionised healthcare, used in the planning of surgical procedures and for building implants and prosthesis. Research is ongoing in the field of 3D bioprinting, whereby biomaterials and small units of cells are dispensed to form tissue-like structures with micrometre precision, for applications including artificial organ generation, drug discovery and in vitro disease study.

Archaeologists are also employing the technology to greatly enhance their forensic reconstruction capabilities. Just recently the University of Athens revealed the face of a woman who died nearly 9,000 years ago at the age of 18, whom they aptly named Avgi, the Greek word for Dawn. A team of archaeologists and medical experts scanned her skull, which was unearthed back in 1993, and used 3D printing to produce a model of the skull that was then built on top of. This is not the first use of the technology in this field with 3D printing used in many other forensic reconstruction projects, including in a reconstruction of the face belonging to the 9,500-year-old Jericho Skull a year prior.

Even certain foods are now being made using additive manufacturing, whereby the ingredients are squeezed out layer by layer into 3D foodstuffs such as pizzas, pasta, chocolate and candy.

With all the above-mentioned applications of 3D printing, which is by no means exhaustive, the effectiveness of the technology can only rise, with cause-driven innovations continually being made in the design of the 3D printer, the materials they are able to utilise, and the scope of their use. As breakthroughs on the industrial scale will naturally fuel the ability of businesses selling directly to the consumer to break down the barriers they face, it seems inevitable 3D printers will develop into something every household will wish to own, something capable of replacing factories with individuals able to print out everyday goods.

Certainly, the ability to print out replacement body parts in your own home is the most exciting and life-changing of the many uses the 3D printer could be developed for.

When this envisioned revolutionary level will be reached remains to be seen. Moreover, whether this anticipated technological change will bring with it a tide of downsides, such as dissipating the line between home and the workplace and counteracting globalisation as some have predicted, or just the advantages others have foreseen, such as introducing economies of scope to developing countries, is unknown.

Progress in the field of 3D bioprinting especially has sparked many to warn that the technology carries important ethical concerns and regulatory considerations that are presently being overlooked. But what is clear is that 3D printing is already making in-roads into the development of our goods and services, and that the future of technology in the world in which we live is therefore intertwined with the world of 3D printing.


Bismarck and the Beginning of Universal Healthcare

When learning about history, either through active searching or through opportunistically bumping into documentaries on TV, it usually takes you to the great events and personalities of history. While enormously fascinating the great wars, great generals and politicians of history are not the whole package, but rather the social consciousness of nations is just as much the driving force of history. Everyone who heard the name Bismarck in a historical context, besides the great second world war battleship, knows the great German politician as “the Iron Chancellor”, the man who through sheer willpower created the German Empire out of a hotchpotch of smaller states, a state builder. While this is an undoubtable historical merit, Bismarck’s ability to react to calls for social reform, as in this case regarding healthcare, had a great historical influence, felt now all around the world.

The year 1883 and Germany’s Social Health Insurance marks the first concrete stepping stone towards Universal healthcare and a landmark moment in the creation of welfare states.

It is very important to understand what triggered the implementation of the Social Health Insurance System; what were the political, social and economical circumstances which give birth to this necessity at this point in human history.

Germany in 1883 was one of the newest states that appeared on the map of Europe. Little over a decade before the German state didn’t exist, but rather it was a loose confederation of German kingdoms, duchies and free cities. In 1848 the German national sentiment really got going, and despite its defeat, the dream of a united German state did come to fruition in 1871, with the defeat of the second French Empire and the coronation of Kaiser Wilhelm I as emperor of Germany in the Versailles palace.

Despite Germany’s youth, it quickly become a European superpower, a player on the world stage and this happened thanks to its rapid industrialisation, especially in the Ruhr valley. Now, this rapid industrialization and the mass migration of people from rural to urban centres that it caused, gave birth to a powerful political movement that has shaped history since then, and it continues to do so: “socialism”.

Socialism is a very powerful political movement that started flourishing in the 19th century, along with the industrialization of the economy and the impact that it had on society. In 1883 the socialist ideals were represented in German politics by the Social Democratic Party(SDP), and this had the indirect effect on the creation of the German Social Health Insurance System by making it into a political tool.

Otto von Bismarck was in 1883 the long-time German chancellor, the very powerful office in the state, second only to the emperor. He managed to forge the German Empire through “blood and iron” and to set up the necessary diplomatic alliances to ensure its survival until the First World War.

Although, at first glance, you would consider the 1848 Revolution in Germany as more of a nationalistic and unionist movement, in 1949 Bismarck expressed the underlying social tensions inside German society by publicly saying “The social insecurity of the worker is the real cause of their being a peril to the state”. You should not be confused by this and consider Bismarck a socialist, or a politician with socialist inclinations. Bismarck was a conservator, with a strong Christian faith, belonging to the Prussian landowning aristocracy, but even he realised the growing political power of the working class, political power channelled especially by the Social Democratic Party, and the Social Health Insurance System set up in 1883 is an attempt to nullify the growing power of the SDP by resolving one of the main issues faced by the factory workers.

Many policies and mechanisms crucial to the SHI pre-date the 1883 Sickness Insurance Act. In 1838 Prussia (the main predecessor of the united German state) passed a law placing responsibility for workers’ injuries on the railroad companies unless they could prove negligence by employees. In 1871 this standard was extended to other industries, detailing responsibilities by occupation.

In the 19th century a system of mutual benefit societies already existed. Those organizations were the forerunners to modern unions and provided benefits, disability payments, pensions and support to widows. They were supported by contributions made by voluntary members. In 1854 membership was made compulsory and mandated employers to pay no less than half of what the worker was paying. In 1876, over 850.000 citizens had insurance coverage through more then 5.000 sickness funds.

Under the Social Health Insurance System, all members of a group contributed to an insurance fund that offered defined benefits. The members provided a steady stream of revenue, often via a portion of their wages.

Bismarck’s innovation in 1883 was the creation of the “sickness funds” that had mandatory enrolment and defined benefits. Unlike previous individual insurance funds, the new system covered members at a national level, but it must be said that this was only for about 10% of the population. The great majority were industrial workers, salt mine workers, metal workers, people working on railways, shipyards and power plants. The benefits included sick pay, free pharmaceuticals, death benefits.

Under Bismarck, the German state took steps towards the social protection in health. He solidified the previous vague principle of government involvement in private healthcare by specifying the mechanism that guaranteed funds and defined benefits. In the next century, Germany continued expanding the system to include more and more categories of workers until all Germans were covered. In 1911 agricultural and forestry workers were enrolled, civil servants in 1914, the unemployed in 1918, non-working wives and daughters in 1919, all primary dependents in 1930, all retirees in 1941, the physically disabled in 1957, students in 1975 and artists in 1981.

Although you would consider Bismarck to be a politician practicing power politics and not a social revolutionary, the step he took in 1883 served to be an example for other states to adopt his ideas and had the effect that today a great majority of European states have Universal Healthcare and a considerable number have it around the world too.

How Can Gaming be Turned Into Learning?

Video games are becoming increasingly popular from day to day. It used to be considered that video games were something children played to waste time; since then all age groups have been playing them. The games themselves have changed a lot, both technically in terms of graphics, and from a design point of view. Now there are competitive games which have million-pound tournaments and casual games which anyone can download onto their smartphone. More recently, games have started moving further and further into the world of teaching and learning. This is what I would like to address in this blog, as video games can be a great tool to teach students, or train employees.

Games can be used as a great learning tool to teach useful non-academic skills like hand-eye coordination, all the way to teaching them specific skills like guitar (Rocksmith is a great example of this). They can simply focus on teaching you one thing, for example, you can have a game that specifically teaches you a language, or even just a character set for a language (See Hiragana Pixel Party), or it can have a broader scope, like teaching you general concepts around a subject. It can also do this in a very basic level or very complicated. Rocksmith teaches you guitar, and it goes from the very basic, and follows you along, always pushing you to improve. With a bit of dedication, by the end you could be playing full songs perfectly.  

The way I see this is that there are two types of educational games. The first is “Here is something we want to teach, let’s make a game around it”, which involves taking a subject or skill that they want to teach, and making a game solely around that concept. This is often seen in educational flash games such as those listed on BBC bitesize. The other is “Here is a concept for a game, and it will happen to teach the player this”. This involves designing first and foremost a game, possibly without any idea of skill it wants to teach, then implementing a skill they want to teach as a core gameplay mechanic.  

A great example of this is Human Resource Machine. This is a puzzle game about taking some input and converting it to a specified output. The overarching objective of the game is to reach the top of the company’s building to the CEOs office. However, to reach the next floor you must complete a puzzle. The puzzles involve core programming concepts. While it does not specifically teach you a programming language, it teaches you the fundamental concepts which you would need to know regardless of language.  

There are plenty of games that teach either academic skills, like language, or instruments, or more functional skills, like hand-eye coordination, and typing speed. In fact, there are plenty of typing games online which can be used to monitor your typing speed, and accuracy. These usually give numerical values to score you, so you can compare against other users. Using these concepts, I believe it is possible, and maybe a wise future step to implement video games as a learning tool in the future of company training schemes.  

One example of where games could be a good learning tool is in the military. Very advanced weapons are being developed, but with that they are getting harder and harder to use. To solve this the US military employed the use of Xbox controllers as a method of controlling high end submarine periscopes. Creating a game could allow them to then train operators on how to use the periscope, without the need to have them in the submarine itself.   

Games can be a great way for employers to teach new employees the skills relevant to their job and have several benefits over more traditional methods. 

  1. They are less expensive, and more flexible. Businesses are always looking for cheaper ways to do everything. Games for learning are a great way to do this as games are getting cheaper to develop. Also, because they are in a digital format there is no need to have trainees go to a training centre.  
  2. They enhance motivation. This is more dependent on the game and the user, however when done correctly they can encourage the user to spend more time playing and therefore learning. One way to encourage the user is to give rewards for completing activities within the game, such as basic medals or points.  
  3. They create clear goals for education. There can be objectives listed in the game that the user should aim for and sets a clear end for the game or just each objective.  
  4. They help the company evaluate the learners. The games can report back to the developer or to the training company. It may give reports on progress and time, which will give a good indication of how well, and how thoroughly the player is learning the subject.  

While I have been talking about how games are a great tool for learning, there are also some disadvantages. A main one is that if a game requires a lot of time, or if it is just that enjoyable, they player may end up sitting in one position for a long time. This could cause physical strain; however, good practice is to take short breaks every one or two hours. If working in an office, they trainee would be encouraged to take 10-minute break every 2 hours.  

Another disadvantage could possibly be that it isn’t a universal method of learning. Everyone learns using different methods, and some that work for some people, are completely unsuitable for others. While implementing games as a method of training is good, it’s probably best to have other methods for people who are struggling. However, if you have a game that reports stats to you, you may already have an idea of who would need alternative methods.   

In conclusion, I think that using games is a great way to teach students or train employees, however this will depend on the game itself, and the learner. It won’t be a “one size fits all” solution, however it is cost effective, and could possibly be very effective for a large portion of the users.  There are plenty of learning and educational games, so give some a go and see if you can pick up some new skills. 

Here are some example games: 

All the games on BBC Bitesize, which are aimed at young children, but are designed to teach them basic academic skills in different subject areas – https://www.bbc.com/education 

Human Resource Machine, which is developed by the Tomorrow Cooperation. This teaches programming techniques without directly teaching a programming language. You use something like machine code to do this. http://store.steampowered.com/app/375820/Human_Resource_Machine/ 

Kerbal Space Program, which was developed by Squad. On this base level, you design rockets to launch into space. And launch them yourself. However, you can consider weight, thrust, aerodynamics, and more. http://store.steampowered.com/app/220200/Kerbal_Space_Program/ 

Democracy 3, which was developed by Positech Games. This game simulates government, and allows you to make changes, and see exactly how it would affect a country. While it may not be 100% accurate to the real world, it can give a general idea as to what can be changed, and what effect it would have. http://store.steampowered.com/app/245470/Democracy_3/ 

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