3D printers have been called a “disruptive technology”, and I’m not the only one who thinks they’ll change the world. So this post is a collection of related articles that I’ve found over the last 6 months or so. Before you read further, however, check out this Dilbert cartoon about 3D printers.
For all the copyright problems with digital music, videos, and books, 3D printing is going to be even worse. Say you need a new part for your car. Do you buy it from an auto parts store, or do you print it yourself at home? Or will the mechanic print it out at the garage? Will we have a reasonable system where we pay to download original designs to our printer, or will there be rampant piracy like we have now with digital entertainment? I hope lawmakers will be proactive in this area, rather than reactive.
3D printing will make some existing laws unenforceable, much like what the Internet has done to anti-pornography laws. Michael Guslick, an amateur gunsmith, created the lower receiver of an AR-15 assault rifle with a 3D printer. He used a non-printed “upper”, barrel, etc., all legally available for purchase, and made a working .22 rifle. How effective will gun laws be when you can print one at home, especially once we get the ability to easily print the metal parts?
With recent news about creating drugs with 3D printers, I suspect it won’t be long before we can use a printer to dial up some cocaine. All that crime associated with drug creation and distribution… gone.
And what about the manufacturing sector? My uncle owns a steel fabrication company. Right now that means lots of cutting, welding, and machining. Much of the operation is computerized, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see 3D printers take over a big part of what they do. One article goes even further, speculating on the engineering possibilities now that 3D printers can print using both biological and traditional (metal, ceramic, plastic) materials.
Think about logistics. Many businesses have gone to a “just in time” supply model where they keep a minimal supply of parts on hand and order them right before they need them. With 3D printing, they could go to an “exactly when needed” model. Military operations wouldn’t need to be so heavy on logistics either—front line troops could print what they need, provided the printers and raw materials were supplied via conventional means.
3D printers have come down in price to where the average person can afford them (I have a coworker who owns one). And they’re also getting smaller. Will we soon see the day where there’s one in every home? I believe so.
Update (1/12/2013): Did I call it or what?