3D printing – a brave new world or a geeky fad?

Picture this:
Your car breaks down outside a one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. Instead of waiting a week for your car to be fixed you are on your way again in a matter of hours. Why? Thanks to 3D printing, the local mechanic can simply download a plan of your faulty part, “print” it off and bob’s your uncle!

Ok, so we’re not quite there yet, but we are getting pretty close..

What is 3D printing?
It’s exactly what you think it means – printing a object, like a car part, in it’s full 3D form. Instead of ink the printer uses cartridges containing the raw material needed, such as plastic or metal, to build up the object layer by layer according to the given design. It sounds like sci-fi but it really does exist!

3D printing has been around for a few years in various forms (this is a good introductory article on what 3D printing is) but it’s hit the headlines lately because prices of printers have been dropping fast and soon the average person will be able to afford one. This will be very interesting! Some of the most popular 3D printers are open source – which means there may be no big corporations reaping huge profits off their backs. How refreshing would that be?

What will happen to copyright and patents?

Who knows! This article on 3d-printing-the-new-frontier-of-piracy is about a guy 3D printing his own warhammer figures (an online gaming thing) and being sued by the games creators. However, if in the future everyone has their own 3D printer and you have millions of people printing spare parts for their various electronic devices instead of paying to have them fixed, how would that possibly be regulated?

Will they be used for good or evil?

As with everything else, probably both. 3D printers will soon be used to fix medical machines and save lives in remote areas and the third world and to create life-saving drugs on demand even tailored to an individuals biochemistry (see printing-technology-could-let-you-print-your-pharmaceuticals-at-home for more on this topic). On the same note they will also be used to create street drugs, guns, chemical weapons or even a copy of your car key. See criminals_find_new_uses_for_3d_printing for a good article on the dangers of 3D printing.

Will it be like living on Star Trek?

Will we all be printing our own food and supplies a few years from now? Maybe… but while the printers may come down in price, the reduction in price is also likely to result in a reduction in quality and accuracy. Those looking forward to Star Trek type food replicators will probably have to wait a bit longer.

One for the trekkies – pan fried catfish anyone?

Hard core techies and hobbyists are already tinkering with 3D printing of everyday products and devices but for the average person it’s still too time consuming and complex, much easier to go shopping.

Glass Skyscraper Project Mies Van Der Rohe 1922. Photo via The Lying Truth and http://www.ArchDaily.com

Future potential or fad?
The worlds experts seem to agree that 3D printing has the potential to radically change the medical, dental, construction, pharmaceutical and engineering industries and that’s just for starters. The biggest losers might well be corporations, as they could lose a level of control over patents, copyrights and pricing. The winners will be those who control the raw materials (the material in the cartridges that the printers use), and pretty much everyone who can benefit from the¬†¬†freer distribution of technology.

What do you think? Will 3D printing be a game changer?

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3 responses to “3D printing – a brave new world or a geeky fad?

  1. Yep, definitely a game changer! My husband’s company does a lot of research and design of these sorts of things for the medical industry – it is so exciting, but a bit freaky too!!

  2. I think it will be a game changer. I’m a spatial idiot – extra dimensional help is always welcome! Thanks for linking up for Flash Blog Friday :-)

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