Science fiction has always been an open canvas for the writers and designers to imagine and create ‘space-age’ technology. From light speed and underwater breathers to medical tricoders and phasers. It seems as though the future has finally come. With the new outburst of 3D printing almost anyone with enough money to spend can own their own space-age replicator. This new-age toy has everyone including hobbyist, designers, scientists, and pretty much any other type of person (including you, I guarantee it) wanting to be a part of this new and exciting frontier. It seems as though computers have finally caught up to our imagination. Literally if you can design it, it can be printed. Even if you have an idea in your head and don’t quite have the skills to draw it in a 3D CAD program, I guarantee you could probably find designs for it online. If all else fails, new 3D printing shops are opening every day to the public so they can do it for you! The machine is more than a printer, or even a computer really. This new machine is an integration of human innovation and computer precision. A blend of science and art, with a twist of ingenuity. This new field is expanding quicker and quicker and it seems that every occupation imaginable is thinking up new ways for 3D printers to make life easier.
3d printers, just like any other printer need a material for the final product to be outputted on/as. In the beginning 3D printers were fed with a PVC line (plastic) and this was pretty much the only material that would work with the printer’s conditions. Unfortunately the plastic’s abilities were limited and at first these printers were nothing more than an expensive toy maker. Through research, scientists and developers have actually been able to start using a whole ton of different types of materials to encompass an array of processes. Now you can choose from different gauges of plastic, types of wood thread, beeswax, grapheme and food grade bio-plastics. Hell, even things like seaweed and recycled plastics are being fitted, you name it and I promise someone has tried running it through one of these printers.
–Why do you care?–
These new materials have sparked ideas about the use of 3D printers in the health sector. Not only are we able to design our own prosthetics, but what if we could hypothetically build bones (or close material simulations), muscle tissue or even new organs? If we fed the machine the right ingredients it could most certainly build what we’d like. It’s a test of our intelligence, not the capacity of the computer’s ability. If we could in fact do it, what are the principles of such a new practice? Serious ethical questions have already started being asked.
“3D bioprinting facilities with the ability to print human organs and tissue will advance far faster than general understanding and acceptance of the ramifications of this technology. These initiatives are well-intentioned, but raise a number of questions that remain unanswered. What happens when complex ‘enhanced’ organs involving nonhuman cells are made? Who will control the ability to produce them? Who will ensure the quality of the resulting organs?”—Pete Basiliere, research director at Gartner.
Personally I feel if the designer can create an organ at all it’s a gift of science. Whether or not these hypothesized “complex ‘enhanced organs” ever exist, I truly believe this computing technology would be a huge step in the futuristic direction. From a deeper personal standpoint, I think of those people waiting on that long list for an organ. If you had access to an organ built for you, and you alone.. wouldn’t you say “yes?”. Whether or not this ever happens, I still think it’s pretty sweet a highschool student can build a functioning prosthetic for a younger friend.
–From an intrigued fan’s standpoint–
One of the more exciting things I’ve found about 3D printing is the accessibility. Of course anyone can go and drop a few grand (well maybe not anyone) on a factory-made 3D printer but where’s the fun in that? Online there are countless instructables giving step by step tutorials on how to design and build your very own 3D printer (for a mere fraction of the cheapest market price). Not only that, but these tutorials are laid out in a way where little specialized knowledge is actually needed. I find it amazing how easy it really is to build such a futuristic machine. This is great for aspiring hobbyists, engineers, designers or even the amateur inventor. With the use of open-source files found throughout the internet, one’s design/invention can be easily shared across the world. Furthermore, these designs can now be utilized, critiqued and updated. Just think, you need a specialized wrench/tool that’s overpriced on the internet with absolute ridiculous shipping rates from god knows where. Skip that step, welcome to the future. Find the designs online and make your own! A large cruise ship overpowers the engine during a mild storm and breaks shears a piece of the engine. Soon enough the captain can literally look a few feet from his navigational system and program the computer to replace the part. Maybe not really soon, but hopefully somewhere in our lifetime.
–The Macro.. You know, the bigger picture–
Now with this great power comes great responsibility. On Wall Street and throughout the industrial sector, there has obviously been a huge amount of talk over these new devices and the 750 million dollar industry. Corporations have already begun to discuss the implications of 3D printing in industry. Major 3D printing corporations such as Gartner have been signed to contracts that license them in making copyrighted toys and figures.
Now as useless as this information sounds it brings about a whole new aspect to the industry. The protection of intellectual property and licensing would essentially become one of the most legally protected entities. If more industries begin to sign with these printing companies (which are expected to happen) piracy and security then becomes a new and terrifying issue. It’d be like downloading movies, except your movie is in fact a physical marketable design. Why go and buy a new watch when you can download one off the internet? It’s a new age of piracy and protection. Now I’m not saying I’d ever download illegally because that’d be preposterous, but I know friends who do and they say it’s really ridiculously easy.
Imagine being able to download the design for the cd case, the album artwork and the album itself.
Eyes began to open when the first 3D printed gun was built and uploaded to the internet. The .38 caliber, 16 piece gun can be built entirely from a 3D printer minus the firing pin. The gun shot roughly 15 shots before breaking which was enough for the US government to step in and control the designs (which can still be easily downloaded online). The idea that industrial designs can be readily created at any home with a 3D printer can be a scary thought. The world has been ushered into a whole new era of illegal downloading and soon enough it needs to respond back, the question is how.
3D printing is changing the way the world works, where cars and bikes and all sorts of vehicles have just begun to being printed. It’s an era where possibilities are literally endless-well I guess as far as your imagination can stretch. To even think I can literally code my computer to save my favorite mug on file is incredible. Personally I’m excited to see how the world responds over the next few years. What will we design next? There’re enough people out there who want to change the world for the better.
I believe the 3D printer is the tool that will build the world of tomorrow.
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Prints Prosthetic Hand for Adorable 3rd Grader in Need.”Gizmodo. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2014.Walton, Zach. “3D Printed
Organs May Cause Moral Quandaries In The Future.”WebProNews. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2014.
Patnaik, Sampad. “3D Systems Profit Warning Rekindles 3D Printer Bubble Fears.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 05 Feb. 2014. Web. 05 Feb. 2014.