Once in a while, a piece of technology comes along that is so revolutionary it makes you stop in your tracks. Over the last six months, there has been one piece that has set the hearts of technologists fluttering – the 3D printer. This technological marvel allows the user to design and print 3D objects to their own specification…shall we just let that idea sink in a moment?
A printer in your home that allows you to create objects to your own design… no need for third party interference, no need to leave your house (or even your chair), no need to compromise because the design “wasn’t perfect but was the only one they had”.
The printer allows the user to either scan in an already existing object for replication, or to use a CAD design to then print the item in plastic. As baffling as this technology is, the headlines have recently been filled by an American man who used his 3D printer to make a part functioning gun (firing pin not printable). He then used a regular (non 3D printed) bullet to fire out of the gun. Those who witnessed this spectacle say that the bullet travelled at a reduced speed compared to that of a normal gun, but could still do harm. The maker then published his blueprints online – where they were subsequently downloaded all over the world. It was at this point that the US Government decided to wake up. They instructed the maker to remove his blueprints from the internet, which at this stage they had already had over 100,000 downloads. They did not, however, object on the grounds of what the machine was producing, but the export laws that it was breaching.
Despite the initial bad press, this technology is groundbreaking. The “ink” is plastic at this stage and is recyclable. It can be used within the medical sector to re-create bones, for jewellery, for engineers needing a cheap prototype, and some owners have even made a pair of shoes using their 3D printer. This is big stuff. It will only be a matter of time before we see other materials being used as well.
Under every article online is a heated discussion about the pros and cons of 3D printers. Some are singing its praises as the next best thing, whilst others are fearful of a machine that has the potential to end a manufacturing system and leave human intervention redundant. A shop has already opened in London not only selling the printers themselves, but also allowing users to print their own files produced at home – for a small fee of course.
At the moment though, people may just use it as a novelty. Small trinkets and children’s toys are the best use of them for the time being, but it isn’t unrealistic to imagine that we may see a day when these printers can scan, replicate and print houses.