The Marker is the result of setting a simple goal for 3D printing technology in being able to print any existing thing in a single pass. Basically you want to be able to download a digital model, hit print and have a working object shoot out of a printer (cell phone, camera, headphones, clothing, a car, whatever).
This is easy to say but tricky to do with the state of the industry today. As a matter of fact, it is completely impossible to do any of that right now.
Now trying to do something that is totally impossible usually isn’t that entertaining. On the other hand, trying to do something that is “kinda not really done right now” is where the fun is. The way I figure it, the trick is just linking enough of those not-done things together to end up with the impossible.
The Marker is made to link those “not really done” moves into a sequential series of goals. Each level or stage in the device is progressively more difficult to do from a technology/process point of view. The 6th stage is completely impossible at the moment but level one can be printed right now on commercial (SLS) machines and we are on the cusp of being able to pull off level 2 (on FDM machines).
Precision mechanics. When you rotate the handle clockwise the first blade set spins clockwise, second spins counter clockwise, and the third set goes clockwise.
This is possible because the resolution in SLS 3D printers is high enough to allow interlocking movable parts. On the marker there is a tolerance or gap of around 0.3mm around most of the moving mechanical elements. Even though this is relatively close, current SLS printers have high enough precision to print these moving parts without binding them together.
Unfortunately this model is not, at least that I know of, printable on an FDM or home printer which is why this stage is “mostly” done.
Usually when you are making a product by traditional methods (injection molded plastic parts and the like) you want to keep the finished design as simple as possible. The more complex the shape, and the more moving parts you have the greater the cost for manufacturing which creates a downward pressure to make forms that are simple with as few moving elements as possible.
3D printed parts are different. The complexity of the shape and number of moving parts doesn’t affect the cost of printing; only the volume of the part influences the cost.
This means you can make a shape as complex as you like with mechanics as complicated as necessary to get the job done. 3D printing basically has the potential to not only make creating new things much more accessible but also to increase the freedom of what can be made.
Multiple material parts. Each blade set (and samples on the level) would be made from a different material with at least one being transparent.
Right now there are multi-material printers in Fused Deposition Modeling machines (mostly home brew FDM’s such as MakerBot printers) but these do not have the resolution to print the tolerances needed to make stage 1 work. The tolerances needed for the gearing can be printed on Selective Laser Sintering machines but SLS and SLA are not well suited for multiple materials.
Once you get high resolution with multiple materials you can make basic low margin products that we have now (think cell phone cases, cord organizers and the like). With the addition of high res transparent parts you could also start doing enclosures for things with displays and limited optical loss coverings.
This would be an early step into on-demand product creation which reduces waste, would be great for the environment and has a large list of collateral benefits for us in general.
Conductors and insulators. The forward blade and circuit path are conductive, the rest of the device is not. When you rotate the handle a circuit is completed forming a rudimentary electronics switch.
Thermal differential and inability to print multiple materials. So, you can print conductive materials in Selective Laser Sintering such as steel, titanium and gold right now but these materials require a really high melting temperature. You can also SLS print non-conductive (insulator) materials in thermoplastics such as polyurethane but these have very low melting temperatures.
If you try and print these next to each other to make something like insulated wiring you will end up with either a metal sand mixed in with an insulator or a conductive material that is on fire during the building process...
With this one you get the ability to make basic circuits and enclosures at production ready tolerances. I would also guess that this would be the moment that 3D printing goes from being an interesting alternative manufacturing technique to a more cost effective way to manufacture components. Essentially the transition point from an exotic process to standard one.
Controlled electrical resistance. This would include everything in previous steps but also have a set of 100 ohm, 150 ohm and 220 ohm at E24 (5%) tolerance or better resistors built into the level.
After stage 3 is completed this would be the next step in increased tolerance control within a 3D printed part. The jump from a conductor/insulator to controlled resistance is a pretty huge leap though. You would need incredibly precise control of materials for circuits and controlled doping abilities integrated in the print.
With this one you get the first step from integrated basic electrical circuits to multiple functional electrical components. It would kinda be a move from add-on electronic components to built in components or from using 3D printing primarily for enclosures to integrating electronic components directly into the printing process.
Controlled capacitor set.
At this possible future point we have multiple materials, conductors, circuits and circuit resistance all in hand. The addition of capacitors would mean that the tolerances and accuracy of these techniques would be at an extremely high level.
The main importance found in this step would be a high level of refined control of the 3D printing process at a currently unimaginable scale. This would also require a further push with the material sciences aspect of 3D printing. As a direct result of printable capacitors you would also be able to output more complex circuits within the printing process.
Essentially there are work around for making semi functional resistors and capacitors that do not require crystalline based materials or vacuums which (in my estimation) makes them easier to 3D print in at least a basic opacity. The same can not be said for transistors.
Unfortunately a transistors material dependence on high purity silicone would make them extremely difficult to 3D print simultaneously with other materials.
Once resistors, capacitors and transistors are able to be 3D printed this would mean we would be able to print a fully functioning integrated circuit board. At this point we would, essentially, be able to 3D print any device that currently exists in a single operation which would be pretty staggering. This would fundamentally change not only how we make products but our very understanding and impression of what a product or tool is.
Most of the "stages" were broken up by printing abilities need to create electronics components because this seemed like the easiest way to do it.
However, there are a bunch of other things I didn't include because they are much more difficult to make a theoretical future sequential guess at.
Somewhere around or after Stage 4 we should be able to 3D print fully working non-rare earth magnet electric motors, which would be kinda neat.
I put a place holder for one of those on the far side of S4, just in case.
Another not mentioned thing in all this is lighting. This is kinda important as isolated lights and displays become necessary at a certain point.
Unfortunately Light Emitting Diodes and electroluminescent would present quite a few special challenges for printing. I left a mystery block at the bottom level for that one.
Batteries are another good thing to have handy. Being able to print a galvanic cell will become necessary at some point but where that would fit into any sort of future time lines for 3D printing is pretty tough to call.
I did leave a fairly large cavity to be filled in for this through levels 3-6 just in case though!