As someone who used to sell & fix 3d printers (Stratasys), laser-cutters (Universal) and small CNC machines (Roland, most notably, but also others), along with other fun industrial toys, I’m with @Justin_Small on this.
The motion systems are not suited to the kinds of motion involved—and in the era of seeking ever more efficient ways to use the energy we have and source more and more of it from renewable sources—driving those tons of metal around to 3d print isn’t the best use for them. Especially considering much of the tired industrial stock you’re talking about have sub-optimal (read: sometimes pathetically awful) control interfaces that may not even have enough memory to handle the sheer quantity of moves 3d printers make in a typical job. You’d need to retrofit the machines with tons of electronics upgrades, which would differ depending on the drives and interfaces in question… so it’d be a logistical nightmare to support all the different motion system specifications, each with their own hysteresis curves, inertia per-axis, etc… to account for…
I’m with you about ‘reduce, reuse, recycle,’ but I’d rather see all of those older machines recycled into raw materials and systems components for new machines around new electronics and more efficient machine designs that make the best use of energy for their application.
While probably similarly idealistic and naive a suggestion, I would argue that we should replace a fair portion of our raw-materials discovery and exploitation activity, where we literally move mountains to extract fractional portions of raw materials we want, with efforts to “re-mine” our waste streams where the proportion of useful material will be MUCH higher than what we pull from the ground. This has the added advantage of the materials already having the bulk of the undesirable elements removed (arsenic, lead, etc… from mining efforts are a huge problem, as are cadmium and many other heavy metals).
The challenge worth solving would be to come up with effective and efficient smaller-scale, widely distributed material processing efforts, whereas most materials processing is highly centralized and depends on extremely extensive distribution networks which were built on the assumption that it’s cheaper to move things than to replicate processing capacity—as cheap energy gets harder to come by transporting trash in bulk to centralized facilities is not a realistic or desirable option, so it’s more helpful to bring processing to the places where all the waste has already accumulated.
Therefore I would suggest a more appropriate battle-cry for what to do with all those machines would be “clear the shop floor and send them on to a future life as something else”.
Warren, if you’re looking to be directed to some people for investment or contribution purposes, I would recommend looking into groups working on closing the waste-loop if your focus in on resolving wasteful under-utilization of resources, or you could always focus on supporting the designers of objects made by the new methods and machines, to support their continued improvement and adoption.
I’d be happy to CNC-cut or 3d-print something cool for you any time!