In the recent years, we’ve seen a growing trend about the possibilities of 3D printing. It sure is intriguing to imagine how technology can produce the desired products and even its raw materials. This has garnered much attention and enthusiasm from scientists and common people alike. But what makes 3D printing such an exciting venture? How will it add value to the existing market? What can we expect from such a revolution? These are but a few questions that come to mind when we hear about 3D printing.
An Era of Possibilities
The existence, survival and evolution of technology depends on the value it adds to the existing system and how it improves it. When 3D printing came along, it opened a plethora of opportunities and possible implementations in various fields and sectors unlike any other. The production was usually done by printing layer upon layer of a material, usually plastic, to make an object out of a 3D digital drawing. This provided endless opportunities to experiment with and explore its implementation by empowering the manufacturer and reducing the cost of the overall production process. This particularly empowered visionaries, enabling them to build, test and improve upon the existing tools, to make way for newer and more efficient ones.
Some of such implementations include improved prosthetic limbs, organ bio-printing, low-income housing, manufacturing of low volume, non-viable products and prototypes, outer space deployments on space missions, stronger, safer vehicles etc. These implementations will reduce the cost, propagate faster design and innovation, reduce pollution due to less shipping and in-house production, lead to better and cleaner factories, creation of sturdy materials and, of course, faster production.
3D printing can also have a very positive effect on the environment. It will help in protecting ocean’s ecosystem by creating coral reefs, production of fresh cooking materials, protecting endangered species by creating animal parts to reduce poaching, reducing pollution, exploitation and wastage etc.
The first thing we associate with 3D printing is creation and reproduction. When we take this usability to the market, it’s capability to curb costs by producing the raw material and the required resources becomes the main focus of its very existence.
In recent years, there has been a huge surge in inculcating 3D printing practices in various fields. Automobile designers are now working on 3D printed cars, in China and Holland, 3D printers are being used to build entire houses, airline companies are manufacturing state-of-the-art aerospace equipment with the new technology, artificial steak had been made by the food scientists, bio-printed organs for implants have already saved countless lives.
Furthermore, 3D printing is saving a lot of resources by restricting wastage, increasing durability, reduced manpower, time and money. The future of the manufacturing sector relies heavily on its efficient adaptation of 3D printing technology to their production units.
Research and Adaptability
Although, 3D printing comes with a lot possibilities, it is equally important to see where its production finds a place amongst the existing commodities. It is one thing to conceive an idea about the replacement of a present article by 3D printing, but it’s an entirely different matter to see if it will do just as well the previous one.
For instance, the food industry will be thrilled to have 3D printed substitutes to its raw materials. But will the produced alternative be just as rich in the nutritional value as of the original? Will it taste the same and retain the composition? Would it be easily consumed and digested by the consumers?
As Sarah Boisvert, chief 3D printing officer at Potomac Photonics and a technology consultant at MIT states, “I’m so sick of reading the hype,” she admits. “Like, ‘we can press a button and make anything.’ Yes, that is the future and it’s coming, but right now it’s complicated. Not every 3D printer can generate every material. Some guy in his garage is not going to be able to print Titanium.”
It is important to study these implementations and possible substitutions at the micro-level and research deeply into the possibilities before the introduction of such elements in the existing market.
The Hype and Reality of Future Outcomes
The possibility of 3D printing gives the creator independence and flexibility to create their own product with reduced costs and materials. But these are the exact same things that raise the issue of legality and ethical ramifications of its widespread public use. Since, its still in the development phase, there are not strict laws yet to govern its possibilities.
This technology can be used destructively if in the wrong hands. One of these threats is the production of undetectable 3D printed weapons. Earlier this year, Defense Distributed’s Cody Wilson tried to get his hands on a printer called the Mark One, capable of printing objects using strands of carbon fiber, fiberglass and even Kevlar. Last year, blueprints for a 3D-printable gun, The Liberator, were posted online and downloaded some 100,000 times before the State Department ordered them taken down.
The use of 3D Printed Drugs is a huge threat possibility in the future, probably a decade or so down the line. Corporate espionage and the theft of intellectual property (IP) is another of such looming dangers. As more and more companies begin selling 3D models of their products online, an entire underground market for these files will certainly emerge.
Despite of all these threats, 3D printing is undoubtedly the biggest technological reform that is capable of revolutionizing every sector. It is the prime example of one of the best engineering feats that has the potential to change the world, its people, its ecosystem and would go a long way in limiting the resource exploitation of the planet. It will be no less less than a man-made wonder, when implemented correctly and would greatly change the way we do things today with endless opportunities and unlimited creativity of what would be the dawn of a very interesting future full of possibilities.