Monday, October 21, 2013

Surfboards vs. 3D Printing

If you listen to the hype surrounding 3D printing, we'll soon be able to print everything from soup to nuts. In fact, NASA funded development for a 3D food printer for astronauts. With consumers and manufacturers squealing with glee over the possibilities, even the surfers have started thinking about the future of surfboards.
It sounds pretty sweet. Pop in your CAD file (Computer Aided Design) and hit the button. Then pop a cold one while your new board emerges from your 3D printer like a gift from the surfing gods. But is it really that easy? 

From the computer end, yes. It technically is that easy. From a practical perspective, not so much. A big hurdle is the size of the board itself. The size printer you would need would come with a prohibitive price tag. You'd have to print your board in multiple pieces on a smaller printer. Fins you could do, but the materials cost would be about $100 for a set of three plastic fins. Also worth noting is that a set of three fins could take 12 hours or more to print and may not come out right the first time.

Materials are another issue. Finding the right materials to put up with heavy water conditions is still some ways off in the future. Many progressive designers, however, feel its only a matter of time before science meets the surf and you can print out fins in the morning and test them in the afternoon. 

The elephant on the beach, however, is intellectual property laws. The designers will naturally want to protect their work from patent and copyright infringement, but this will be nearly impossible to do if everybody and their grandmother is simply grabbing files from online and printing out whatever they want. They might take a lesson from the music industry, however, and sell their files online. (Of course, they'll have the advantage of not alienating the public after spending millions in attorney fees.) 

3D printing is here to stay. It's not a question of if surfboards will be made through 3D printing but when. It will be up to the artists and craftsmen, and the businesses that allow them to ply their trade, to find a way to embrace it.  Any question? Contact us.

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