The disruptive power of 3D printing

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Advocates of 3D printing say that small, in-home machines will allow tinkerers and makers to unleash a wave of creative energy, constructing whatever they can imagine, whether replacement shower curtain rings, works of art or even cars.

"The technology has not yet evolved to replace full manufacturing processes, but in its current nascent form it does cut down on prototyping, waste and transportation emissions – opening the door for more sustainable business practices across a range of industries,"writes Chat Reynders of Reynders, McVeigh Capital Management for the Guardian's website.

Reason magazine's Greg Beato says the focus on the myriad uses of the technology, from the artistic to the mundane, ignores the larger picture: 3D printing has the potential to be a disruptive, possibly revolutionary invention.

What will happen, he writes, once millions of people are able "to make, copy, swap, barter, buy, and sell all the quotidian stuff with which they furnish their lives"?

It's the end of big-box stores – Bed, Bath & Beyond, for one. But more than that, it could also strike a blow to the heart of government (music to Beato's libertarian ears).

He explains how:

Once the retail and manufacturing carnage starts to scale, the government carnage will soon follow. How can it not, when only old people pay sales tax, fewer citizens obtain their incomes from traditional easy-to-tax jobs, and large corporate taxpayers start folding like daily newspapers? Without big business, big government can't function.

Beato contends that recent history shows that government will fight back. Just ask the online car-for-hire company Uber, which has struggled with taxi unions and local government approval in cities like Dallas and Seattle.

Written By: Anthony Zurcher
continue to source article at bbc.com

40 COMMENTS

  1. This should actually improve world wide trade. Spares, components, and up-graded parts for various devices, should become available from on-line digital templates, and so make it much easier to maintain and recycle equipment, without encountering difficulties getting parts, or transporting them across the world (or across space?).

    Wasteful industries will become obsolete, but this will free up resources and reduce energy demands for the benefit of communities and the planet.

    Yes! It could be a new kind of industrial revolution – just as the internet has been!

    • In reply to #1 by Alan4discussion:

      This should actually improve world wide trade. Spares, components, and up-graded parts for various devices, should become available from on-line digital templates, and so make it much easier to maintain and recycle equipment, without encountering difficulties getting parts, or transporting them acr…

      How advanced are cutting edge 3D printers? I have seen printers making plastic cups or other simple objects. But, what materials can be used as printing material? Can you use several different materials at the same time? How precise are they? They talk about printing entire cars. Of course that would most likely not be a printer most people could afford or benefit from. But, what about a 3D printer that could print everyday gadgets like computer, mobile phones, electric razors or other things you find in your local supermarket. That would be an immensely complicated machine. Just imagine all the different materials it had to contain, and the quantities of these materials.

      Perhaps this could be solved by buying “kits” that would be used to print certain objects. Instead of buying ink we would buy the raw materials for whatever we like to print. But, we would still be dealing with physical kits that has to be shipped and transported around the globe. I can imagine sometime in the distant future that we could build advanced machines that can make anything from scratch by being able to rearrange fundamental particles into whatever atoms and molecules we like. This would of course be fascinating since we could print food, water or any substance we like (perhaps even copies of ourselves?) wherever we are. That would indeed change the world more than I can imagine, but that is pure science fiction. Hence, I don’t really understand why people are so fascinated by 3D printers?

      Yes, instead of shipping large objects it’s possible to just ship the raw materials and print objects at home. But, since most modern gadgets are made up of a very large number of materials (in various different quantities and with very different properties) I find it very hard to believe that we could actually produce a generic 3D printers that is able to print a wide range of different objects. Anytime soon, that is. At least not without using very specific kits. But as said, then we have not really solved the issues with transportation and manufacturing. These kits have to be made by someone somewhere. I’m quite sure they will not be produced in USA or Europe, but in cheap countries. So will anything really change in the end?

      • In reply to #4 by Nunbeliever:

        In reply to #1 by Alan4discussion:

        How advanced are cutting edge 3D printers? I have seen printers making plastic cups or other simple objects.

        The technology seems quite flexible, but I think at least some printers would have to be material specific. Living material or hot metals would need special system requirements.

        But, what materials can be used as printing material? Can you use several different materials at the same time? How precise are they? They talk about printing entire cars.

        I think a car would have to be produced one component at a time as is being done with rocket injectors:

        http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/3dprinting.html#.Uzr0IaIsFEc

        NASA engineers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., not only put rocket engine parts to the test but also were able to compare their performance to parts made the old-fashioned way with welds and multiple parts during planned subscale acoustic tests for the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket. In little more than a month, Marshall engineers built two subscale injectors with a specialized 3-D printing machine and completed 11 mainstage hot-fire tests, accumulating 46 seconds of total firing time at temperatures nearing 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit while burning liquid oxygen and gaseous hydrogen.

        “We saw no difference in performance of the 3-D printed injectors compared to the traditionally manufactured injectors,” said Sandra Elam Greene, the propulsion engineer who oversaw the tests and inspected the components afterward. “Two separate 3-D printed injectors operated beautifully during all hot-fire tests.”

        Post-test inspections showed the injectors remained in such excellent condition and performed so well the team will continue to put them directly in the line of fire. In addition to the SLS acoustic tests, Greene and her team tested a more complex assembly of a 3-D printed injector and thrust chamber liner made by Directed Manufacturing, Inc., of Austin, Texas. Marshall engineers transferred a second 3-D printed injector to NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, where it will continue to accumulate hot-fire time to test its durability.

        “Rocket engines are complex, with hundreds of individual components that many suppliers typically build and assemble, so testing an engine component built with a new process helps verify that it might be an affordable way to make future rockets,” said Chris Singer, director of the Marshall Center’s Engineering Directorate. “The additive manufacturing process has the potential to reduce the time and cost associated with making complex parts by an order of magnitude.”

        Traditional subscale rocket injectors for early SLS acoustic tests took six months to fabricate, had four parts, five welds and detailed machining and cost more than $10,000 each. Marshall materials engineers built the same injector in one piece by sintering Inconel steel powder with a state-of-the-art 3-D printer. After minimal machining and inspection with computer scanning, it took just three weeks for the part to reach the test stand and cost less than $5,000 to manufacture.

        “It took about 40 hours from start to finish to make each injector using a 3-D printing process called selective laser melting, and another couple of weeks to polish and inspect the parts,” explained Ken Cooper, a Marshall materials engineer whose team made the part. “This allowed the propulsion engineers to take advantage of an existing SLS test series to examine how 3-D printed parts performed compared to traditional parts with a similar design.”

        These ones also require specialist technology:-
        http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/03/big-idea/organ-regeneration-text

        Solid organs with lots of blood vessels, such as kidneys or livers, are harder to grow than hollow ones like bladders. But Atala’s group—which is working on 22 organs and tissues, including ears—recently made a functioning piece of human liver. One tool they use is similar to an ink-jet printer; it “prints” different types of cells and the organ scaffold one layer at a time.

        How NASA Will Use 3D Printers in Space (Video)

        Starting next fall, astronauts on the International Space Station won’t have to wait months for replacement parts to be launched from Earth. Instead, they can use a newly arrived 3D printer to fabricate the tools and materials they need.

        • In reply to #10 by Alan4discussion:

          Thank you :) That was what I expected. Of course there are huge benefits to manufacturing goods this way instead of having to build for example complicated molds and large production lines. It’s of course also interesting that some objects can be made at home. Still, I fail to see how these printers will have a revolutionary impact? In the article they talk about pretty much the end of western civilization as we know it :D I guess we just have to wait and see. I don’t doubt that 3D printers will revolutionize the world in the future, but I don’t think we are even close to that future yet. But, maybe I’m wrong.

        • In reply to #10 by Alan4discussion:

          Starting next fall, astronauts on the International Space Station won’t have to wait months for replacement parts to be launched from Earth. Instead, they can use a newly arrived 3D printer to fabricate the tools and materials they need.

          Asteroids come in three basic types; about 75% Cabonaceous ones, Silicatious stony ones, and Metallic asteroids made of nickel and iron. (Some asteroids are “rubble-pile” combinations of these.)

          Asteroid mining refers to the possibility of exploiting raw materials from asteroids and other minor planets, including near-Earth objects.[1] Minerals and volatiles could be mined from an asteroid or spent comet then taken back to Earth or used in space for construction materials. Materials that could be mined or extracted include iron, nickel, titanium for construction, water and oxygen to sustain the lives of prospector-astronauts on site, as well as hydrogen and oxygen for use as rocket fuel. In space exploration, using resources gathered while on a journey is referred to as in-situ resource utilization. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asteroid-mining

          A robot mining operation, combined with a 3D printing manufacturing operation, attached to a nickel iron asteroid, could make extensive structures and artefacts in space using powdered-metal-laser printing techniques powered by solar energy.

          • In reply to #37 by Alan4discussion:

            Hi Alan…. 8-)

            Since the Asteroid Belt is at ~3 a.u. from the sun, is there enough solar energy available to run high power processes like mining, smelting, grinding metals to sinterable powder & laser sintering as would be done in 3D part printing? Mac.

          • In reply to #38 by CdnMacAtheist:

            In reply to #37 by Alan4discussion:

            Since the Asteroid Belt is at ~3 a.u. from the sun, is there enough solar energy available to run high power processes like mining, smelting, grinding metals to sinterable powder & laser sintering as would be done in 3D part printing? Mac.

            The sunlight is very weak at the asteroid belt and is probably inadequate to power industries.

            That is why asteroid mining plans are to use asteroids which come into the inner system crossing the orbits of Earth and Mars.
            There are also plans to capture asteroids and tow them or propel them to orbits of the Earth or the Moon for processing.

            http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/03/nasa-asteroid-capture-mission-definitions/
            NASA has begun to define the approach towards capturing a space rock that will be investigated during the Exploration Mission -2 (EM-2). The Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) will involve a robotic spacecraft sent out to hunt and capture the small asteroid, ahead of being towed to a Lunar Orbit for astronauts to investigate during the first crewed Orion mission.

            NASA has made the Asteroid Redirect Robotic Mission (ARRM) a high priority since it was first proposed in early 2013. A NASA internal study was kicked off in July 2013 to determine the feasibility of the ARRM.

            A Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) was released on March 21, 2014 to study the potential mission and the associated costs with awards to be announced no earlier than July 1.

            On March 26, NASA held an Asteroid Initiative Opportunities Forum to discuss the current state of the mission as envisioned by the internal NASA study group.

            As currently envisioned, the ARRM mission consists of either the capture a small asteroid <1000 tonnes or the sampling of a boulder from the surface of a larger asteroid.

  2. Without big business, big government can’t function.

    How ironic that a bunch of libertarians publish a magazine called “Reason”. Do these people even bother to look at other countries? It seems people like Greg Beato does not realize there is a world outside USA. At least a world where people have electricity and live in proper houses. In this world we have big governments who are not particularly corrupt. My country has a very big government compared to the US government but has still several times been considered among the least corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International. Go figure!

  3. Every 3d-printing celebration I come across disturbs me somewhat.

    I think this is due to the willingness of our species to simply click on an (trusted, sureley long-lived) application and wait for the result. Must we forget any 3D shape could be whittled into existence, physically? Blacksmiths, craftspeople, surgeons… It’s well to find a means for their redundancy, but celebrating “almost as good” results from a machine… I can’t do that.

    I’m as interested as any in tech advances, just sometimes feel they deny or neglect to recognise the physical craftspeople whom first completed the results without access to a computer. I’m either getting old, or getting tired of the perception of infinite convenience and separation from the tangible, physical universe. Replacement of skill and purpose is maybe what troubles me, maybe I just don’t like the evolutionary destination. (squiggly armed little dipshits who can only click a mouse and complain if it fails them). Ugh, how unscientific of me. Silly mammal.
    .

    • In reply to #3 by Timothy McNamara:

      Bugger whittling, we can sit and watch a printer whittle for us. The applause directed at the decline of physical input is interesting.
      “Yay our physical species is now even more detached from it’s body.” Let us cheer, for aspects of the animal species we belong to, are being cemented as being a par…

      Well, I don’t really feel detached from my body even though I don’t spend most hours of the day doing hard manual labor in order to survive :D

    • In reply to #3 by Timothy McNamara:

      Every 3d-printing celebration I come across disturbs me somewhat.

      I think this is due to the willingness of our species to simply click on an (trusted, sureley long-lived) application and wait for the result. Must we forget any 3D shape could be whittled into existence, physically? Blacksmiths, cra…

      Hi Tim try designing something that will print successfully. It is not currently even easy to print things you download it is currently far from plug and play in the home. I’m personally glad not to have to bash bits of hot metal with a ruddying great hammer. Many of these physical crafts people are using 3D printer to help them. For example casting with with wax replace method (can’t remember the proper name) people are now printing the casting object in PLA (corn based) which burns away as the metal is poured in. I know a guy who does this to make replacement parts for vintage motorbikes and cars that are impossible to buy. He is a real craftsman and loves 3D printing. It is another tool in the tool chest, it can be used well or badly like every other tool.

  4. Purple Happy Octopus says: My mommy was a Replicator 3D printer, and I think this article is quite the overreaction to technology that has been around for 30 years now. Having said that, In the background is a small 3D printer singing away making me a new test fixture, saving the company thousands of dollars over purchasing one.

  5. I see the Luddites are worried that a useful new technology that could improve billions of lives will create a legal ambiguity that takes 60 seconds to think through. I like that trade-off.

    If a person shoots a gun and harms or kills someone, stabs someone with a 3D printed knife, or breaks their neck while riding on a bike with a 3D printed helmet, who is held accountable? The owner of the printer, the manufacturer of the printer, or the irresponsible person who thought it was a good idea to produce and use an untested product?

    The last time I checked,

    (i) you’re responsible when you shoot someone (unless it’s known you had another target, e.g. game, and the misfiring is attributable to a manufacture error, which in this hypothetical would be traceable to either a blueprint problem or a faulty 3D printer),

    (ii) stabbing someone with a knife is like shooting them with a gun except there’s no way it could be due to a faulty knife, and

    (iii) a bike crash isn’t caused by the helmet, and if the helmet provides sub-par protection the analysis is similar to the faulty-gun case. But it’s silly to expect that, in a world with routine 3D printing of helmets, helmets would be any less reliable.

    My suspicion in any case is that helmet designers won’t voluntarily release their designs to would-be home printers$, so that any unlicensed manufacture would be achieved by pirating a blueprint, in which case the helmet designer cannot be held accountable… unless there’s a blueprint problem, in which case their own manufacturing will typically have that problem. This means they can be held accountable the usual way. ($ An exception holds if the printers sell the blueprint, just as you can buy music on iTunes now. But in that case the fault will be traceable to either their design or how the user subsequently misprints or misuses. A manual will remedy all legal quandaries.)

    • In reply to #6 by Jos Gibbons:

      I see the Luddites are worried that a useful new technology that could improve billions of lives will create a legal ambiguity that takes 60 seconds to think through. I like that trade-off.

      Really? I mean really? :D Of all possible negative consequences this is what they focus on. I mean, issues like property rights and disappearance of jobs is something you can at least have an interesting discussion about. The political and economical implications is another interesting topic. But, no…

  6. Consider me as so far, unimpressed. I have certainly not done any research on the printer, but the key to the whole thing is the raw material(s). What is it ? Some sort of meltable plastic that hardens when it cools, like a glue gun ? Sure you can make the shape of anything. But just because it looks like a widget, doesn’t mean it can perform the functions of a widget. Print me a hammer that will withstand the abuse of building an entire house. How about a snow shovel that will last a lifetime. Better still, call me when it can function like the kitchenette Captain Jean-Luc Picard uses (“Tea, Earl Grey, hot”) which creates something out of thin air.

    • In reply to #9 by rod-the-farmer:

      Consider me as so far, unimpressed. I have certainly not done any research on the printer, but the key to the whole thing is the raw material(s). What is it ? Some sort of meltable plastic that hardens when it cools, like a glue gun ? Sure you can make the shape of anything. But just because i…

      3D printing is a tool, nothing more. It has some fantastic applications, but like always, one must choose the right tool for the right job. Don’t dismiss it because it can’t do everything. Neither can your beloved hammer.

  7. In reply to #9 by rod-the-farmer:

    Consider me as so far, unimpressed.

    It really is getting awesome now. We are on the cusp of many technologies coalescing. Our prototyping costs for moulded and cast parts has tumbled because of it. New functional and engineering materials are being added all the time (I can make good enough lenses for light sources. Look at image making with caustics It’ll get to do this soon.)

    Printing in metal comes on in leaps and bounds, the reduced metal choices often being more than compensated for by using impossible to manufacture structures (metal tube structures made ultra-strong by imitating the interior graded foam structure of bone).

    Once you interleave these techniques with those of printed electronics (using ink jet printing onto impossibly complex printed structures and not just paper as here) then we will approach Arthur C Clarke levels of magic.

    Combine this with 3D bio and stem cell printing to make active implants prosthetics and human upgrades, and we may come to see this as whittling for gods.

    EDIT Printable electronics can also print batteries, but the prosthetics will probably run off blood sugar.

    • In reply to #11 by phil rimmer:

      It really is getting awesome now. We are on the cusp of many technologies coalescing. Our prototyping costs for moulded and cast parts has tumbled because of it. New functional and engineering materials are being added all the t…

      Wow! You have got my attention :)

      • In reply to #14 by Nunbeliever:

        In reply to #11 by phil rimmer:

        It really is getting awesome now. We are on the cusp of many technologies coalescing. Our prototyping costs for moulded and cast parts has tumbled because of it. New functional and engineering materials are being added all the t…

        Wow! You have got my attention :)

        Now that some 3D printers are as cheap as high end laptops and cheap CAD/CAM software is upon us I suspect there will be a new form of mechanical design literacy developed by the young. It will not be cool to have a mere mass produced item. This design ability occupies the same technique space as CGI artists, increasingly catered to by cheap software also. Remember, too, that 3D printed models can be the start of more conventional low to mid volume manufacturing processes, lost wax casting of metals and silicone rubber moulds made for resin casting.

        Printing bureaus with high spec and high res materials are open to all (email the file, get the item in the post a day or so later.) and most interesting are things like Techshops growing out of Maker Culture; whittling re-branded.

        • In reply to #16 by phil rimmer:

          In reply to #14 by Nunbeliever:

          In reply to #11 by phil rimmer:

          Now that some 3D printers are as cheap as high end laptops and cheap CAD/CAM software is upon us I suspect there will be a new form of mechanical design literacy developed by the young.

          Yep, teaching it right now, using Blender 3D open source software.

  8. I suspect the potential for this technology is off the scale for medical processes. Already 3d printers have produced parts smaller than could be accurately created with any other manufacturing technique. Bespoke heart implants, human cells injected into synthetic human tissue and synthetic grafts are already with us and this is only the beginning.
    I honestly think if you are not excited by this technology in terms of health care you don’t understand it.

  9. My dentist has been using a 3D printer for some years. When a tooth has reached the stage that it needs to be completely replaced by a crown, the dentist takes photos of the existing tooth, matches the colour and feeds all the information into a computer. The printer takes a short while make the replacement crown while I relax in the waiting room.

    • In reply to #18 by Nitya:

      My dentist has been using a 3D printer for some years. When a tooth has reached the stage that it needs to be completely replaced by a crown, the dentist takes photos of the existing tooth, matches the colour and feeds all the information into a computer. The printer takes a short while make the rep…

      Really? This is news to me :) What kind of material does this printer use? I had to remove a tooth a year ago. The problem is that it costs a small fortune in my country to get a new one. Do they keep the root of the tooth and just add the crown or how is this procedure done?

      • In reply to #19 by Nunbeliever:

        . Do they keep the root of the tooth and just add the crown or how is this procedure done?

        The root is kept and the new crown is glued to the root or the part of the tooth that has been kept. It’s much cheaper than the old, porcelain, metal-lined crowns. ( I have one of those as well.) I also have a dental implant that did cost the earth but I have no desire to wear a partial denture. These procedures are common with my generation as we are of the pre-fluoridation era. My kids’ teeth are in wonderful condition. Only one filling between the two of them.

        I think the oldest of my 3D crowns would be about 10 years, so I count myself lucky.

    • I repeat….what is the raw material ? How many of these can switch raw materials at the molecular layer level ? I agree this is a cool idea, but if there IS such a printer that can switch raw material mid-build, how mucha dis cost ?

      • In reply to #24 by rod-the-farmer:

        I repeat….what is the raw material ? How many of these can switch raw materials at the molecular layer level ? I agree this is a cool idea, but if there IS such a printer that can switch raw material mid-build, how mucha dis cost ?

        As with ordinary paper printers, there is a range of machines. The desktop printer in a home, is not the same as a printer for newspapers, books, or labels on plastic bottles. Toners, inks etc. vary.

        Similarly 3D printers vary from the “home” models to print basic plastic structures, to the industrial machines printing additively with metal powder and lasers, or subtractively with lasers cutting away metal from a block. Some are very specialised such as medical printers, printing cells and shaping grown organs for transplants. (see my links @10)

        how mucha dis cost ?

        My link on rocket engine injectors @10 suggests that production with this technology costs about half of that of conventional methods as it can produce work of a higher standard more quickly in less stages.

        One point is that a bag of metal powder, or plastic feed material, can provide a choice from a whole range components/spare-parts on demand as they are required – even in remote places such as on a space-station or a remote settlement.

      • In reply to #24 by rod-the-farmer:

        I repeat….what is the raw material ? How many of these can switch raw materials at the molecular layer level ? I agree this is a cool idea, but if there IS such a printer that can switch raw material mid-build, how mucha dis cost ?

        most desktop 3D printers use PLA (corn based plastic – biodegradable) or ABS plastic (like lego bricks), however you can get wood (basically powdered wood embedded in pla) and other experimental materials. Most desktop printers print to about 10 microns some down to about 100 micron thick layers. Some desktop printers have two printer heads with either two different colours or even different materials for example one uses pva based filament in one head and pla or abs in the other so if you were to make bearings or intricate gears and you have a two head printer then you can print the support material in soluble filament otherwise the slicing software makes tear away supports for overhanging parts. The powered based printers that cover a small layer of powdered plastic or metal then melt the layer with a laser some use bubble jets to print coloured ink and a setting agent onto the power I think are superior due to the fact that they support the parts as they are being made you blow the excess off and reuse. Particularly for car parts manufacturing and even aircraft parts are being made in titanium (or any other metal) now using this method. However you won’t see these selling cheaply anytime soon (I think) however there is a nice and very clever little start up called the peachy printer that is I think a beautiful and elegant solution for the first below $100 printer.

        here

        This approach is very promising also.

  10. I was a Scientific Instrument Maker in Glasgow from 1966-71, making submarine periscopes, infra-red binoculars & missile guidance systems & developing fiber optics bundled into cables so that armaments officers could remotely see a ‘live image’ from a periscope.

    In machining I used paper, tables & slide rule, no digital readout, so things took a long time using many set-ups & fixtures. In ’68 their first numerically controlled 2 axis milling machine took a year to get working properly.

    In Canada in ’74 standard peg board & punched paper tape NC machines & digital readouts were in use, then came mini-computers & full CNC controls. The computer revolution changed everything, with aerospace & nuclear parts that took weeks being made on 3-5 axis mills in hours. Nowadays mill-turn machines with 10-12 axis movements can make parts in minutes, even cutting very difficult metals & fibers.

    I first heard of 3D printed moulds & parts in F1 racing 20+ years ago, but I didn’t expect such amazing progress since then. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing

    There are still limitations to the processes, especially in mass production, but the future looks very interesting for intricate, uncastable or unmachinable parts, especially in new plastics, metal mixtures & biomaterials. I never imagined I’d see such changes in 50 yrs, despite my 30 yrs in eng & tech sales of cutting-edge tools & instruments to exotic industries.

    Who knows where this revolution will end up, although some predictions are a bit unrealistic & cost-prohibitive…. Mac.

  11. As soon as a 3-d printer can print another 3-d printer, that’s the end. That’s the material revolution.

    To build on Alan’s point, right now engineers connect through 3d interfaces like CAVEs using haptic gloves. The first use of this was back in the 90′s, engineers around the world built a tractor together. 3d printers can provide even better collaborative experiences for engineers working around the world. Nerdy kids will be able to build things together… like all the rocket enthusiasts. It will be an education revolution as well.

    I’d like to point out this falls into the territory of where Marx was 100% right, and this will be the hugest influence on our species since the steam engine.

  12. If a person shoots a gun and harms or kills someone, stabs someone with a 3D printed knife, or breaks their neck while riding on a bike with a 3D printed helmet, who is held accountable? The owner of the printer, the manufacturer of the printer, or the irresponsible person who thought it was a good idea to produce and use an untested product?

    oh i dunno… how about the coder? For that matter, can 3M or Bic be sued for all the prison shankings? How will our precious litigious system endure? Someone, think of the lawyers!

  13. There’s a “dark side” to 3D printing, writes Lyndsey Gilpen of TechRepublic, and it’s not just because the machines are “energy hogs” and possible sources of pollution.

    Rubbish, printing the product in your own home where you are going to use it is much more efficient than printing it in China and sticking it on a plane or boat and flying it to me. Not to mention packaging and so forth. Or that additive processing only uses the materials used in manufacture there is a saving of energy because you are not machining 90% away.

    There’s a reason government has stepped in to regulate factories, after all. Unfettered manufacturing could have harmful consequences:

    As opposed to buying things from countries that currently have unfettered manufacturing? Was it not Chinese factories that were putting poison in formula? Why were a kids toy of bead making being made with beads that where hallucinogenic? How many examples could you find with a one minute google search?

    Weapons can be 3D printed. So can safety equipment such as helmets, wheels for bikes, and toys for small children.

    Yes and I can make a gun if I own a lathe. Or a knife with tin snips and metal. Go look in a crime museum and have a look at how many weapons are possible inside a prison from scrap. Without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars you can not print a barrel that will fire more than one shot (rather you than me I’ve had too many weak and failed prints to trust a gun I could print out of PLA). What you can print is a magazine or a gun handle and some of the mechanisms, any of which are possible now. Any gun I could print and fire safely would require much more money to buy a suitable printer than just spending a $1000 to buy a decent lathe. How many people are really dumb enough to fire a gun made of plastic? No?

    Of course there is the issue of intellectual property and trademark, but the larger issue involves responsibility.

    Yep, and when copyright law is sensibly enacted and not enforced upon the world by America through threat of removal of free trade agreement and driven by powerful lobbies attempting to have unlimited intellectual rights, then I might have some sympathy.

    If a person shoots a gun and harms or kills someone, stabs someone with a 3D printed knife, or breaks their neck while riding on a bike with a 3D printed helmet, who is held accountable? The owner of the printer, the manufacturer of the printer, or the irresponsible person who thought it was a good idea to produce and use an untested product?

    I believe current laws already cover this. No-one is forcing anyone to print anything. If you sell it to anyone you become responsible. If you design it and sell it to someone then you are responsible if your design is flawed. For anyone who cares to look the specifications of the different materials are all present. Again I could make any of these things in my shed now. I could buy a hammer and bludgeon someone to death, do we have a moral crisis over hammers?

    The rational way to look at this technology is like any other, it has strengths and weaknesses. No-one anytime soon will be making TV’s at home on a 3D printer or anything but simple mechanical devices at home. These will still be done by manufacturers who will be subject to the usual regulations. New economic opportunities will open up, who would have predicted the explosion of Apps and App stores before the Ipad? So let’s take a chill pill and not over-react eh?

  14. I for one look forward to the day when instead of responding to a reactionary comment online, escalating into threats and accusations of being hitler, I can simply print off a model of the user’s avatar, punch it, and continue chatting in good humour

  15. Of course we are seeing a similar revolution in other areas, high street music shops are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, likewise book shops are closing down too as electronic books take over. I don’t see that 3D printing is quite up there yet but sure I can imagine a day when the only shop in town is the one selling you printers and toners and even they are likely to be on-line shops. I suspect the first stage will be high street printers for those of us who do not yet have the means to buy our own 3D printer.

    There is an argument that I initially reacted badly to, that we should not be taxing business but taxing the customers. This, it is argued, would immediately prevent the likes of Starbucks from off shoring all their tax responsibilities to tax havens. Even in the future when everyone has a 3D printer they are still going to need to purchase the raw materials, and let’s not forget that we will still all need to eat in this future that is being dreamt up.

    • In reply to #31 by naskew:

      There is an argument that I initially reacted badly to, that we should not be taxing business but taxing the customers.

      Isn’t that what a sales tax is? Why is that inherently better or worse than other kinds of tax? I think the Libertarian (actually what I consider faux libertarians, those more concerned with freedom of corporations than people) arguments against taxing business are mostly ridiculous. Business rely on roads, the power grid, the phone system, the Internet, the police, etc. It’s completely rational to tax them for it.

      • In reply to #32 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #31 by naskew:

        Isn’t that what a sales tax is? Why is that inherently better or worse than other kinds of tax?

        Yes of course that’s what VAT (or as you call it, sales tax) is. The flaw in your argument is that corporations are not being taxed. They are shifting all their profits offshore and being taxed elsewhere. So what then happens is that it is entirely the consumer and local small businesses that have to subsidise all those roads and services.

        The extreme argument of not taxing business says that if we hike up VAT and stop taxing businesses then they will still end up paying tax only now it will be unavoidable. Of course it may be considered unclear where the purchase was made if all you are buying is a 3D document over the internet that you plan to send to your home 3D printer.

  16. Wow, what an unnecessarily shrill and alarmist tone this article sends! 3D printing has the potential to create vast new industries and open doors to creative expression into areas that are now occupied by the status quo of major manufacturers.

    For one thing, the technology itself has the ability to create nearly flawless and seamless machine parts for applications where long term high stress integrity are required, like airplane parts, for example. But the teenage kid down the street isn’t the one who will be making those parts. It will be new corporations that specialize in those kinds of products.

    Another useful application; There will be no need to waste material, energy, and storage space to stock large numbers of rarely needed machine parts. They could now be made as needed.

    Also, think of all the new “boutique” home manufacturing businesses that will spring up. People will be able to design their own limited edition widgets and therefore bring a stunning new variety of possibilities to the public. No longer will everyone have identical copies of the same stuff.

    And as for the government, it’s always been quite good at figuring out ways to tax and regulate. I’m sure that in time through trial and error a balance will be struck and 3D printing will be usefully integrated into our lives.

  17. 3D Printers or sculptors – in future should be able to adapt from coloured plastic to metals and other materials – that would bring a whole new level of industry to home manufacturing….It would unleash more creativity than even Lego did…..people printing knives or guns ? well maybe some people are good designers….but you can get weapons anywhere !…I think I may invest in these new Printers….

  18. I hope 3D printing will bring the end of the world as we know it and the same to the next great invention. 3D printing is already an important part of manufacturing.
    A few people will have lesser printers in their homes while the most impressive 3D printers will be a part of every community owned by wealthy businessmen and investors. Raw materials and blueprints will be at the forefront of sales. One or a few printers will print almost anything you can imagine: eliminating the need for much of the transportation industry. Raw materials will be shipped directly to the community cutting out the middle man who is usually 1000′s of miles away. China is usually that middle man who is shipped our raw materials, given the blueprints and ordered to manufacture cheap garbage by us; which they are due to ship back to us for our use. These products cost an enormous amount to transport through ships, trucks, airplanes, but the main issue is time. Many people will lose their jobs: this is great. They will now be free to spend their time doing more productive things; or perhaps do nothing at all because they won’t need to. Cutting out China and transport will cause the price of things to plummet, and therefore so does the cost of living. Right now 3D printers can handle replicating the junk China produces; imagine what the future will bring.
    All we need now is to use water as fuel. Unlimited free fuel to power the 3D printers. We then could use all the oil to create products instead of burning it for energy. Everyone’s energy needs will be fulfilled and many of us would not need these senseless jobs. We would all be free to spend our time building a spaceship to explore the cosmos.

  19. I always thought that this would just mean that people buy resources, raw ingredients, not completely assembled products. Then, people can design and tinker, then they can sell their product. Or, they can barter or trade their ideas for more raw ingredients, etc. I think that the idea of products is so ingrained in us, it is hard to know what it looks like outside of that paradigm. So, perhaps we need to start having big thinkers actually doing proofs-of-concepts, think tanks, etc., to understand how to transition (rather than just banning it).

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