Imagine that you can produce anything you want in the comfort of your home, from a bike to chicken dinner to daily medicine. This perfect manufacturing experience becomes more of a reality everyday, as 3D printers continue to be developed. So, how do they work?
3D printing (also known as additive processing) is like “baking a sliced loaf of bread backwards.” The printers read a digital file, which breaks up an object into thousands of tiny layers. The printer produces each layer from the bottom-up and sticks them together. One machine can produce many different kinds of objects with different materials. The 3D printer will transform manufacturing like the inkjet printer did for the printing industry. Here’s a short clip of how a basic 3D printer works:
Some of the greatest benefits of 3D printing include personalization and high productivity; there is minimal need to go buy something at a store. Some day, 3D printers will be able to create bones and organs to treat injuries. However, the hype around 3D printing is still “a few years ahead of the consumer reality”. Sophisticated printers, which range from $100,000 to $500,000, are only available to people working in select industries. However, some basic printers, like the Tronxy 3D printer kit, go for around $100 to $200, and are found in more than 5,000 schools across the US, including Newton North High School.
3D Printing will disrupt all major industries with time because it allows anyone to become a manufacturer. Three of the industries that I will highlight are construction, firearms, and defense.
Dubai wants to be the world’s “3D-printing hub” by 2030, and they are certainly on track. In fact, the city-state announced that 25% of its new buildings will be made using 3D printers by 2025. The UAE prime minister established a 3D-printing initiative in 2016, seeking to reduce labor by 70% and costs by 90% across different sectors. Dubai tested its 3D technology by creating the Office of the Future, pictured below. The office only took seventeen days to print, and involved eighteen people, including one technician to monitor the printer, ten electricians for the engineering and seven people to install the building on site.
The ability to print firearms has sparked great controversy in DC this summer. Startup Defense Distributed created digital blueprints for 3D-printed guns, which the State Department shut down. However, the company sued the government for violating freedom of speech and gun rights. The company settled with the Department of Justice, allowing the blueprints to be released. However, several states sued and a federal judge put a temporary restraining order on this settlement. If these blueprints are made available to the public, people like terrorists, domestic abusers and felons could have easier access to guns. No serial numbers and the plastic material going undetected in a metal detector are other potential issues. Like with many other emerging technologies, lawmakers will be forced to speedily pass legislation on 3D-printing.
Countries with superior 3D printing capabilities will be able to produce weapons and tools with greater speed and efficiency. Recognizing the rising importance of 3D printing, the US Department of Defense included funding for 3D printing technology in the 2018 military budget. The US Navy has been in process of testing 3D printers on ships since 2014, when one was installed on USS Essex. An onboard printer makes a ship “more self-reliant, with less need to carry spare parts and materials, especially during wartime.” Not only is a printer beneficial for repairing items, it is also useful for building them. For example, a standard Boeing Dreamliner commercial plane is comprised of 2.3 million parts. Military planes can be extremely more complex. A 3D printer will dramatically expedite the process of building and assembling military planes, as well as decrease costs and excess materials.
Overall, the impact of 3D printing on society seem to be endless at this point. As the costs of high-end printers fall, the prices will too, leading to greater societal demand for the emerging technology. 3D printers bring incredible benefits, including mass personalization, rapid prototyping, resource efficiency and higher productivity. This technology will be extremely beneficial for the economy, but will need time before it can take off. I am looking forward to seeing this industry expand over the next few years and the incredible creations as its result!