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It’s a brave new world with 3D printing

Brandy Andrew
Head Copy Editor

By now, I’m sure everyone is at least vaguely familiar with the concept of 3D printing. But what this technology can do, and how this technology can affect our lives, may not be so well known.
MSN.com recently reported what that would have been at least a $20,000 investment for the McCarthy family turned out to cost them just over $2,000. Paul McCarthy’s son was born without fingers on his left hand. McCarthy bought a 3D printer for $2,000 and the materials for about $10 and made his son his own prosthetic hand. This is only one example of the wonderful things 3D printing can do. However, with every new technology there are benefits, and there are drawbacks.
If the 3D printer becomes widely used, which it is predicted to do, there will be implications in every facet of our lives. This goes from printing “a meal comprising of pizza, an eggplant dish, corn pasta, and panna cotta,” such as was “recently 3D printed for The New York Times” to printing automobiles, weapons, and medical implants.
As Forbes recently reported, “Anything that can exist in liquid or powder form–in other words, ingredients that can then be extruded through a nozzle or syringe–can be printed.” They also added:
3dprinter“Any simple soft-tissue organ such as an ear, finger, or kidney can be 3D produced and will soon be widely used. Metal hip implants, skull implants, orthopedic insoles, body braces, and jaw transplants have already been manufactured on 3D printers.”
These products have the capability of benefiting millions of lives. Sending 3D printers to impoverished nations will allow them to create medical implants for much cheaper than previously possible. They can even feed more citizens with printed food.
Forbes reported that the future of toys is even likely to change, stating, “Children will download 3D design files for the toys they want, modify and customize them as they wish, and then 3D manufacture them in their homes.” To me, that sounds like infinite Christmas. But, the printer has some very negative possible consequences.
What I’m thinking of is gun control. The world’s first 3D rifle successfully fired fourteen shots in August of this year. If keeping the guns out of the wrong hands wasn’t hard enough as it is, imagine if a person who feels like going on a murderous rampage just has to download a model of a 3D gun and print it out?
Knowing the world of hackers in which we live, even if it were possible to control the models you obtain in the first place, there will definitely be ways of illegally obtaining a model of a 3D gun.
This is the kind of possibility that the printers hold that keep a check on all of its possible benefits. But on top of these larger drawbacks, there are other complicating situations.
For example, the Wall Street Journal reported that “[m]aking a complex item in a professional-grade 3D printer (which could cost anywhere from about $10,000 to several hundred thousand dollars) takes hours or even days.” And even then you may not be finished waiting as “[t]hings aren’t necessarily ready to use when they come out of the printer.” Small parts may need to be bonded outside the machine, or the product may need sanded or coated.
As this product becomes more and more affordable for the average consumer, these are the considerations we must keep in mind as we use more and more printed products. The possibilities seem endless, and that covers a wide spectrum. However, I believe that the good this technology can bring to the world will outweigh the bad.
It has always been difficult to control guns. It doesn’t seem as though that is going to change anytime soon (in this country), and it seems like any murderous person who wants a gun can find one easily enough already.
However, helping impoverished nations back up on their feet is a problem that doesn’t have a viable, long-term solution still, and this may provide that solution. Giving people with a tight budget affordable health care is a problem that doesn’t have a solution (in this country), and this may provide that solution. This is why, though there are always problems, I am excited for the future of 3D printing.