When thinking of Australia, many of us visualize a beautiful country filled with the wide expanse of the outback where rugged people and wildlife enjoy the simple life away from it all. While Australia certainly boasts sophisticated metropolitan areas, indeed plenty of land is still remote. It may be destined to stay that way too, but that doesn’t mean technology isn’t going to seep in—and hopefully with positive results. The Australian government currently has plans for everyone to have internet by 2020, which is a large undertaking to say the least, and still a work in progress. As this begins to seem a reality, many now are discussing the doors this will open to 3D printing for many in Australia who may previously not have been able to get a solid enough internet connection to use the technology independently.
While many may say they want remote to stay just that, being able to get online to do banking, order supplies for anything and everything, and actually downloading files and replicating or creating a new part altogether should be an attractive idea for most.
In his book The Great Fragmentation, Melbourne-based author Steve Sammartino points out what is becoming obvious to many who are already on to the new life one can lead as long as they have a good wireless connection. Seeing innovations today beginning to transform the business world and workplace as we know it, Sammartino states that those living in remote areas will suddenly be able to work there too as “the power bases of the industrial age are shifting.” He likens this to the creation of important tools like the spear.
“In the hunter-gatherer era, our spear and primitive tools defined work and location – we followed the herd,” said Sammartino in The Guardian.
“We lived off farms and villages in the agricultural era and moved to the cities en masse during the industrial revolution. But now, in the age of silicon, for the first time we can separate location and labor. We can live where we want and it provides the greatest opportunity in human history for remote locations. Silicon is the great equaliser.”
Sammartino really takes what is just forming as a glimmer in many people’s minds and brings it out in to the open. Yes, this really is happening. Technology today is opening multitudinous opportunities for people everywhere—directly from the comfort of their homes. And while surfing the net is one thing, being able to download files and fabricate items to our hearts content truly does open the door to a new world of independence. Sammartino presents 3D printing as the “biggest opportunity for remote areas since continental drift.”
The benefits of 3D printing are obviously apparent in the manufacturing world as well as opening up significant opportunities in university labs and classrooms worldwide as well. But as Sammartino points out, already you do not have to live in an industrial area to enjoy making a living. He sees a “positive impact” about to occur in terms of the pricing and speed of delivery to areas that were previously more off limits and considered too remote—as 3D printing allows for more provincial venues.
“In 20 years many goods which are currently produced centrally, most often in densely populated areas, will be produced on location via 3D printers,” he explains. “Simple things at home and more complex items in 3D printing picked up in stores you send your files to. This means that the cost of delivery evaporates, as does the time constraints, because now we are simply selling and moving files across the internet to make physical things.”
The question is when and how we will actually see this applying in Australia, as their government works to offer broadband internet to everyone in their country by 2020. For remote areas, this represents a giant leap—not to mention considering the latitude 3D technology would allow as well.
Tim Sercombe, head of mechanical and chemical engineering at the University of Western Australia, has consulted with Aurora Labs, and states the following:
“These printers are orders of magnitude cheaper than conventional 3D metal printers. This brings the possibility of access to communities where the technology is currently too expensive to contemplate. They normally cost half a million [Australian dollars], well beyond just about any remote community, but this one is fifty grand, which is more likely to be raised.”
Obviously this type of technology in remote areas allows for much more speed and affordability in replicating parts that might break and need immediate replacing such as that for a crop harvester or home appliance.
“People in remote communities won’t necessarily have 3D printers in house but their town might have a local hardware or a farming supply depot, maybe a local mechanic or general corner store that is equipped with one,” he says. “It would be relatively local compared to shipping it in.”
“Sure, if you break your tennis racket and can’t get one for three weeks, it is not the end of world. A bore pump goes down in a remote community and you don’t have any water – that’s much more significant.”
CSIRO manufacturing group leader Dr. Leon Prentice also brings up a very important benefit for remote communities as he sees 3D printing as offering short-term medical solutions quickly.
“Additive manufacturing could, for example, print custom prostheses, like artificial limbs for amputees, custom splints/casts/braces, possible temporary implants – including dental – before more formal long-term treatment is available, and items for patient support,” he says.
And of course, while optimism runs high for the opportunities technology will be offering to remote areas, others have a wait and see attitude.
“It’s still too early to really see how these may have an impact in remote communities – our focus is on getting basic connectivity and skills in communities,” says Daniel Featherstone, the general manager of the Indigenous Remote Communities Association.
“No doubt once there is good connectivity and skills the possibility of 3D printing will become apparent, especially due to the lack of access to suppliers for spare parts and items that can be printed on-site.”
Ray Heffernan, chairman of Broadband for the Bush, sees the responsibility for such progress as being up to the cities in Australia.
“3D printing is primarily a manufacturing process and, if it comes to remote communities, I think that is only going to happen when it becomes commonplace in wider [urbanized] society,” says Heffernan.
Sammartino is concerned however that while 3D printing will be able to offer so much, if the internet infrastructure and Australia’s new broadband network (NBN) is not advanced enough, that may all be a wasted point.
“I fear the NBN is both piecemeal and not at the level our modern economy will require given everything we touch will be connected to it,” he says.
While it could mean that many users don’t operate as quickly as they want, certainly a lack of speed should not count out remote residents in Australia being able to use 3D printers altogether.
“Dial up speed, yes that would be an issue,” states Sercombe. “But even if the NBN only delivers current ADSL speed, it might take a few hours [to download a product design]. That’s not the end of the world, I wouldn’t think.”
And while remote areas would be experiencing progress with 3D printing, the technology has already gone through an accelerated evolution of its own, which continue to surprise—and thrill—everyone. Hardware, software, and material are all available much more affordably—and the accessibility industry leaders repeatedly stated was needed is now becoming available. Progress may be slow in some areas, but indeed, it is happening. Discuss further in the 3D Printing in Australia forum over at 3DPB.com.[Source: The Guardian]