The Future of 3D Printing

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:

3D Printer Demonstration

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.

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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.

Construction

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.

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Firearms

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.

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Defense

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.

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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! 

7 thoughts on “The Future of 3D Printing

  1. Hey Kerri,

    3D Printing is such an interesting issue in today’s world. On one hand, the technology is so beneficial for our society. In my Operations Management class, my professor spoke about how astronauts can use 3D Printers on their rocket so that they don’t have to bear the physical weight of spare tools and parts they may need for their journey. Instead, space engineers can simply bring a 3D Printer aboard and have access to any part or tool they may need, without having to worry about the spacecraft being too heavy. On the other hand, as you mentioned, issues such as gun control will need to be addressed. It is scary to think about how people can abuse technology, which is an increasingly relevant discussion in today’s world as innovators are constantly rolling out new tech, AI included. I wonder where these topics will lead in the future, and how governments must impose regulations on technology as seemingly-simple as printing.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this with us, Kerri! I remember hearing about 3-D Printers when I was in high school and thinking that it was an unaffordable item. I had no idea that anyone can purchase a 3-D printer kit for $100-$200! I also never thought about the negative aspect of having a printer that can print physical items. As Allison mentioned above, it’s scary to know that if the wrong person gets a hold of this, then this new technology would become a source of destruction. Our world is changing as constant technological advancements are made, so I’m also curious to see how government regulations can adapt to the changes but also keep the people safe without interfering with basic rights.

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  3. Kerri, what an excellent introduction to 3-D printers. I still remember the time I played with 3-D printers in my high school. There is no denial that 3-D printers are the milestone in the technology world. In my high school, 3-D printers help teachers demonstrate chemistry models in a much easier way in AP chem class, and I know some students fall in love with the design because of the 3-D printer. However, I found it’s not convenient to use 3-D printers nowadays. Also, the producing speed of 3-D printers is kind of slow. Hope people can solve those problems and bring 3-D printers to daily lives.

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  4. Kerri, this was a fascinating read! I remember first hearing about 3-D printing back when I was an underclassman in high school. We eventually got a 3-D printer for our school, but it was a very basic version of what we are seeing develop now. I’m really glad you addressed the gun debate because that was an issue in the news recently, and not something that can be ignored. It’s a tough debate, especially with the type of politically hostile situations our country has been facing recently on gun rights, but I wholeheartedly agree with your point that it is dangerous and should will need to be seriously regulated. Thank you for teaching all of us about the benefits it has for defense as well–that is not a sector I ever really consider in my everyday life, but it’s a very valuable subject of discussion.

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  5. Thank you for sharing, Kerri! I agree with Allison when she says it is definitely scary to think about how people will abuse this technology. A lot of the talk around 3D printers revolves around violence, whether that is for making firearms or with national defense. It would be more comforting, I think, if 3D printing went more in the direction of creating benefits for healthcare topics. Whether its with organ transplants or prosthetics, 3D printing has the potential to really help healthcare. If more research, time, and capital is allocated towards this industry, I think 3D printing will truly change the world for the better, rather than promote violence. Thank you for your post, I really enjoyed it!

    – Nick

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  6. I agree. I really believe in the future of 3-d printing. Once it becomes mainstream, it could fundamentally reshape wide swaths of the economy. I’m just not sure how long it will take to go mainstream.

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  7. Awesome post! I have always been intrigued by 3D printing but have remained relatively clueless until now. One of the most compelling applications I’ve seen has been 3D-printed, affordable housing units in areas that otherwise would not have shelter. Also it’s very cool that Newton North has a printer for students to develop their passion on!

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