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Book Review of: Fabricated

The New World of 3D Printing

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Review of Fabricated, by Hod Lipson and Melba Kurman (Softcover, 2013)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


This book was a pleasure to read. It's informative on several levels, but also ignites the imagination.

Over the past many years, various professional magazines have featured articles on what is popularly referred to as 3D printing. Over the past few years, various consumer publications have featured articles on it. The Mindconnection eNewsletter has mentioned it in the Good News column as a counterforce to the economically devastating misconduct of our misrepresentatives in CONgress. And let's not forget how the movie industry used the concept in such hits as the Terminator series.

I've read a wide range of facts and opinions on this manufacturing method, but until this book those have been in article format. Articles are great, and they constitute the vast majority of my reading. But they are necessarily much more limited in scope than books are; you can cover quite a bit more in 60,000 words than in 1,500 (unless you're the typical politician, in which case you essentially say nothing but spew thousands of words).

This book has two authors, and I suppose both are knowledgeable. As the Preface said, there wasn't any delineation as to who wrote what. However, it seems to read with one voice. It's clear that the authors communicated and that a good editor was involved in this book project (though some copyediting errors did crop up).

It's also clear that a whole lotta fact checkin' was goin' on. I didn't find any errors of fact, and for a review of mine that is really saying something. The references are extensive, and most of those look like interesting reading.

I was pleased to see two intelligently written reviews posted prior to mine. My thanks go out to Paul Tognetti for his thoughtful, accurate review and the Library Picks Staff for theirs.

Not the case here, but I often wonder if some reviewers are actually talking about the same book. In anticipation of those who inevitably add dross to the review section, a few comments:

  • As you read along, it seems the authors are hyping up the technology. It's not hype. The technology really is a game-changer. If you read the whole text (and generally, the whole context of the "hype" passage), you will see the authors balance out the positive attributes with cautions, notes on limitations, and "now here's the downside" sorts of commentary.
  • If you have been reading any of the technical journals, for example, IEEE Spectrum, the subject won't be new to you. That does not make this a retread (and anyone who claims so probably is borrowing someone else's journals due to being too brain-challenged to be a subscriber). You may have heard things discussed or read a puff piece in a consumer mag, and so reach the same conclusion. What's different here is the richness of the coverage.
  • The book contains many black and white photos, most of which are of marginal production quality. That does not mean the book is low value. It means the book is affordable. Big glossy photo prints are not cheap. That's why there's a smallish section of these in the middle rather than a whole bunch spread through out. The authors merely chose to focus their limited resources on substance rather than form. Dr. Lipson and Ms. Kurman could have published a similar book as a college text at a price of $75 to $100 (check out the publications and prices). But this lists for $27.95.
  • Oh, gee, it's nearly 300 pages. This does not indicate verbosity. The writing quality indicates judicious use of words, most likely through serious editing. The amount of filler isn't enough to even try to measure.

The goal of this book, IMO, is to help the reader understand four things:

  1. What 3D printing is. It isn't really printing, but that label helps us relate to the idea of using software to instruct hardware how apply one material to another. Rather than applying ink to paper, these systems can apply particles of plastic (or other materials) to each other and they can do that in three dimensions.
  2. How the technology is presently used. As with personal computers in the mid-1980s, there's a small userbase and much of the usage falls under "novelty."
  3. Costs and benefits. Like any technology, it has its tradeoffs. The authors present a full and accurate picture of what these are. It is clear they were trying to describe 3D printing, rather than "sell" it to the reader.
  4. How the technology is likely to be used in the future, and how it may be used further on. We tend to describe the future as an extension of what is now (as the authors caution us). Thus, these predictions understate the potential.

The authors are certainly capable of delving into arcane explanations of this technology and running us through the mathematical equations. But that is not the path they chose. They chose the more difficult path of relating the concepts to a lay audience. They did this in a way that makes the concepts not just accessible and understandable, but exciting. So it was a good read and an informative one. I think anyone who wants to understand a paradigm-shifting, game-changing, economy-saving technology would benefit from reading this book.

Understanding what this technology is and where it's headed can help you be prepared for the massive changes it will make in the very, uh, fabric of society. It's not often a technology like this comes along, and we are barely scratching the surface of the benefits 3D printing can provide can provide. Nor is it often a book like this comes along, but we have the benefit of being able to read it now.

Fabricated consists of fourteen chapters in 281 expertly written pages. Not included in the page count is the center section of color photos (most of these also appear in the text).


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