After looking at several AI tools recently, I’ve realized there is another fundamentally important way AI will affect the 3D printing world.
I’ve already been thinking about how image generation tools could eventually morph into full-on CAD tools, but that’s another story.
The tool in question is ChatGPT, one that’s been all over social media in the past week. It’s a free public demo of the new GPT text generation AI tool developed by OpenAI. Basically it’s a chat window into which you can request any conceivable text to generate.
Some simple requests might be:
- Write a letter to my landlord complaining about the rent increase
- Make a list of cool names for my tech company
- Translate this into Ojibway: “[some text]”
In seconds, a text result is produced, and it’s often nearly perfect.
But wait, there’s more. It seems that ChatGPT’s model is deeply trained on a lot of data found on the Internet, and thus you can ask very specific advice questions such as these:
- Explain how to fix a leaky faucet
- Write some HTML code to display a floating box with a red border and an “OK” message
- What are the best ways to act during a job interview?
In a way, these almost replace Googling, except there are no annoying ads and you get the bare result instantly. Some programmers have even said it’s much more efficient to use than trolling through StackOverflow for answers to complex debugging questions.
ChatGPT can also be hugely creative, as you can request generations like this:
- Write a Seinfeld sketch about Kramer trying out a makerspace
- Prepare an outline for my presentation about hydroelectric alternatives to fossil fuels
- Tell me about workshop safety but in the form of Queen’s song Bohemian Rhapsody
- Write a poem about crickets in Argentina
- Write a promotional piece about our aluminum eavestroughs
These “prompts” will generate quite long responses that include relevant items that were NOT specified in the prompt, yet they often fit perfectly.
Does ChatGPT Understand 3D Printing?
Here’s an example from our world. I requested “explain the difference between SLA and FFF 3D printers”, and received this instant response:
“SLA (stereolithography) and FFF (fused filament fabrication) are two different technologies used in 3D printing. SLA printers use a laser to cure a liquid resin, layer by layer, to create a 3D object. FFF printers, on the other hand, use a filament of plastic, which is heated and extruded through a nozzle to build up an object layer by layer.”
Here’s the response to “which is better, sls or sla 3D printing?” :
“It’s difficult to say which technology is better for 3D printing, as it really depends on your specific needs and preferences. Both SLA (stereolithography) and SLS (selective laser sintering) are popular technologies used in 3D printing, and each has its own unique strengths and weaknesses.
SLA printing is generally considered to be a more precise and accurate technology, as it can produce very fine details and smooth surfaces. However, it is typically limited to printing with photopolymer resins, which can be more expensive and have less strength and durability than other materials.
SLS printing, on the other hand, uses a laser to sinter (or fuse) powdered materials, such as nylon or polystyrene, to create a 3D object. This allows for the use of a wider range of materials, and SLS printing is generally more durable and strong than SLA printing. However, the surfaces of SLS-printed objects are often rougher and less refined than those printed with SLA.
In summary, both SLA and SLS are effective technologies for 3D printing, and which one is better for you will depend on your specific needs and requirements. It’s worth doing some research and experimentation to see which technology works best for your particular application.”
And one more, my request was a bit more complex: “I need to 3D print some strong parts that will be used outdoors. Which 3D printing process would be best for me?” The result:
“For 3D printing strong parts that will be used outdoors, you may want to consider using a technology that can print with durable, weather-resistant materials. One such technology is selective laser sintering (SLS), which uses a laser to fuse powdered materials, such as nylon or polystyrene, to create a 3D object. SLS-printed objects are typically strong and durable, making them well-suited for outdoor use.
Another option to consider is metal 3D printing, which uses lasers or electron beams to melt and fuse metal powders into a 3D object. Metal 3D printing is capable of producing strong, high-density parts with excellent mechanical properties, and the finished parts can be heat-treated for even greater strength and durability.
It’s worth noting that the type of material you use will also play a big role in the strength and durability of your 3D-printed parts. For outdoor use, you may want to consider using a strong, weather-resistant material such as nylon or polystyrene for SLS printing, or a metal such as stainless steel or aluminum for metal 3D printing. It’s always a good idea to do some research and experimentation to find the right material for your specific application.”
For widely understood concepts, it “knows” the answer. That’s breathtaking.
3D Printing Background
So what does all this have to do with 3D printing?
Some background first: 3D printers were invented and initially commercialized in the 1980s under protective patents. When those patents expired in the 2008 era, an explosion of inexpensive desktop devices quickly occurred, mostly from Western entrepreneurs looking for the “next big thing”.
Some of those companies survived the consumer crash of 2014, but many did not.
Some of these companies didn’t survive because their open source designs were copied and reproduced at far lower price by Asian manufacturers. Sometimes these “clones” were of lower quality than the original, mainly due to the use of cheaper components to keep the price down.
That set a bit of a reputation for the Asian manufacturers, which undeservedly still exists today. In the meantime I’ve seen the Asian systems evolve from mere clones to full-fledged innovative devices that now in some cases far exceed the capabilities of the designs of the past. These are really good machines that can provide very good quality parts, and the machines are still at rock-bottom pricing.
The question is, why haven’t these machines truly taken off in the market? They have grown significantly, but my feeling is that they should have had far higher growth.
What’s Holding Back Asian 3D Printer Manufacturers
My theory is that while the hardware is now quite good, there is a big gap in communication.
I constantly see poor-quality documentation, instruction manuals, software menus and web content. Flashy, yes, but the messages are often very strange and feel odd to those in the West. It’s like there’s near-constant translation errors taking place. Marketing slogans in particular often don’t feel right. Because of these issues, obtaining support is also similarly difficult for Westerners.
This phenomenon is so widespread that I feel it creates a kind of Western “blindness” to the terrific hardware from the East.
In the past I’ve advised Asian manufacturers to consider hiring people from the West that actually understand these things and can take appropriate action. However, that never seems to happen, probably because the cost of doing so would impact the product pricing, which is still thought of as the key advantage.
ChatGPT and 3D Printing
Enter advanced AI tools.
I am positive that tools like ChatGPT could easily create far better documentation, software interfaces and marketing campaigns than is done today.
Imagine you’re working for one of these Asian companies and want to spruce up the web page content. You could, in less than a day, dramatically fix almost all the weird content. In fact, the replacement text might perform far better in both SEO and marketing attractiveness.
Another aspect that is frequently mentioned is that Western companies provide better support to customers, and that’s quite true. However, what happens when the support is powered by AI? An interactive system trained on a series of common problems could very likely resolve plenty of issues without human intervention, and quickly.
You can’t really try that with ChatGPT because it is currently trained on other matters, but in theory you can train these models on any domain with sufficient input data.
If Asian companies turn to these tools, we could very quickly see their visibility rise in the West as the interface to them would become more familiar and friendly. That could put extreme pressure on some Western producers, which may have to resort to similar AI tactics, or shift markets.
You may be skeptical of these concepts, but be assured they are coming, and coming very fast. It’s possible for you to try out ChatGPT yourself at no charge to explore what is rapidly becoming possible.
Things will change, and quickly, everywhere.