3D Printing: An Opportunity Worth Taking

Three dimensional printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of using filament to form a solid 3D object from a digital model. Since the introduction of this new technology, 3D printing has become a major influence in today’s market being distributed and manufactured for uses and application from engineering to our military.Even in the fashion world, 3D printing is being used to mass create new designs in eyewear and footwear. Most recently however, scientists have made a huge breakthrough, having worked on developing prototypes for a working human heart produced by a 3D printer. Though many have embraced the new technology as a much needed resource in our growing society, some have expressed concerns over its uses, and worry that if we are able to 3D print organs, what kind of dangerous objects might be printed next. Most notably, there has been backlash towards the idea of using 3D printing for weaponry, saying that gaining access to a 3D printer is like gaining access to your own personal arsenal. As of May 3rd of last year, fully working high tech guns have been manufactured from 3D printing, the first of which has been hauntingly titled the “Liberator.” Though, these dangers do exist, these advancements have already been introduced to us as a society and we cannot simply put a halt on technological advancement. Just because weaponry is an option of 3D printing, we can continue to excel to make laptops, human organs and limbs, desks and furniture, and many other useful and much needed objects in today’s world. Despite safety concerns, it is clear that 3D printing should continue to be developed and manufactured in order to advance as a society overall and create valuable resources for a number of consumers and demographics.

Layer by layer, 3D printers create objects out of sheets of gooey plastic. Made from filament. The plastic used is typically either polylactic acid or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, the latter of which is the same material used to make Lego blocks. Then, after being pulled through a heated tube, the filament is dispensed through a nozzle in ultra-fine lines of plastic with quickly solidify and seal together. This process is repeated layer by layer hundreds to thousands of times slowly forming the shape of its product, which is constructed via specific digital rendering software on a computer.

The earliest uses of additive manufacturing was during the late 1980s and 90s, the first published account of which made by Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute in 1982. It wasn’t until 1984 however that Charles W. Hull of 3D Systems Cooperation was able to build a working 3D printer capable of producing a physical product from digital construction. With its introduction into the market, 3D printer’s need and growth as a product is clearly shown through its dramatic change in cost over the years. While in 2010 printers generally sold for around $20,000 there are ones sold now for less than $1,000 with some even being developed for $500 to meet the demand. In addition to production and manufacturing, the range of practical application for 3D printing has also rapidly expanded. What started out as a product to produce random shapes, has evolved into a product that can make anything form jewelry to guns. It seems to be that very sense of “anything can happen” that frightens some hesitant customers from seeing the need of these machines in society today.

These worries, however extreme, are valid and there does exists the chance of misuse of the product. It has been said that besides safety concerns, 3D printing could also allow for the reproduction of copywrited designs, meaning an entire revamp of all brand anti-infringement policies. There are also liability issues that come with owning one’s own 3D printer. Should the products of said printer be covered by some kind of printer warranty? Or under whose fault does it lie should a 3D printer product harm someone or its user? Though these are all valid questions which all need to be addressed, it is without a doubt that such a product would be so openly put on the market without these things being considered.  Most worrisome, as mentioned before, is the use of 3D printing to create weaponry per owner. For one to own one of these products would prompt an extensive policy agreement or some sort of licensure to regulate such behavior. Even so, who’s to really stop anyone from using 3D printing “illegally” without being regularly monitored? Furthermore, in order to use a 3D printer, one must already have the digital rendering skill and experience with the printer itself to be able to fully operate it to their will. Making 3D printers more available, would not mean them being used by everyone simply because there are only a handful of trusted and skilled people around who are qualified to operate them. However booming, the market for 3D printers runs high risks if they continue to escalate at the pace they have been. Many argue that despite the market for 3D printers growing so fast it is, at the moment, still a very small market which may valid a halt on the manufacturing and selling until we are able to properly address the prominent concerns that have been voiced.

Despite these concerns however, we cannot simply put a stop to technological advancement. 3D printing is a major discovery which will escalate and change many aspects of our future manufacturing and design. Though scientists claim it will be decades from now before it becomes a realistic option, research is being put into finding a way to 3D print working human organs including a current focus task, a working human heart. Scientist at the Cardiovascular Innovation Institute claim that in the new technology has caused an explosion of possibilities in their field also including resources for face transplants. This means that those who need organs may no longer need to be put on a waitlist for compatible donors anymore. If one is in need of a new liver, one can be constructed for them, specific to their individual body’s needs. Those who may suffer from physical disability such as paraplegics and burn victims, may now have new limbs constructed for them that function beyond the resources that we now provide, like facial transplants or false arms and legs. Even in our schools, the resource of 3D printing is changing the way we learn and teach. Should this technology become for readily available, teachers would now be provided with the option of 3D visual aids catered to their lessons which will help illustrate concepts being taught. It would also enhance classroom interacting allowing for hands-on learning from studying shapes as an elementary school student, to studying engineering and architecture as a college student.

Though there are major concerns to keep an eye out for, we cannot hesitate to use technology as it develops with us as a society and propels us into the future. Just as the invention of the internet was met with concern, we as people and experimentalists, must continue to push the limits of our resources to allow for more possibilities. Though the risk may be high, the pay off is even greater, and the risks themselves are those of which we are no stranger to. In this sense, we have been given a wonderful opportunity to harness rhetorical agency, influences the masses, and exponentially developed into a higher assembly of people. We should not be hesitant to embrace technological advancement, especially for an opportunity so valuable and needed.

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4 Comments to “3D Printing: An Opportunity Worth Taking”

  1. I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard of guns and human organs being made using 3-D printers. I guess that shows how far technology is coming along. Although, once I thought about it, I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised, after all, we do live in a society with growing technology, it was bound to happen. I’m definitely all for this kind of growing technology, but I can understand where people come from with creating guns with 3D printers. Regardless, I can imagine that you can create a plethora of items that can be used to hurt somebody else, so I believe that producing a gun should be but one of many issues on a concerned person’s mind. I agree with you that the person must also have the necessary skill to create something like a gun. A random person can’t just operate the thing and come out with a gun (or at least, I can’t imagine that being the case). That being said, I definitely feel that it’s a concern, but 3D printing produces thing that help development of different products, like you said, then the world must continue on.

  2. HI there. Your topic about 3D printing is very interesting and new to me. It is still pretty unbelievable and is still a hard concept to wrap my head around. Wow when you got to the price for one I was shocked at how much it was at first. $20,000 is a lot of money in the past and it is good to know that technology is improving it to make it less expensive to get one.
    I do agree with you that we are advancing in technology but we should still be careful on how and who the 3D printer is being sold to. There are many concern like the ones you mentioned about homemade printing of weapons. I think that these printers should only be used in companies like the hospitals, businesses that need to manufacture something and government agencies. Since it takes certain skills to fully operate it, it still should be limited agencies because of risk of corruption.
    Overall, we should embrace the technology advancement but just limit the technology for the agencies and health agencies. Until we can get a better understanding of the technology and how it works and figure out how to regulate it so illegal things can’t be produce, then it should be limited to the public.

  3. Thanks for this informative article about 3D printing! I’ve always wanted to know the 411 about 3D printing, but I never did have the time to search it up myself and read up about it. This is fairly interesting how it’s made – almost like legos, huh? What you’ve mentioned about 3D printing human organs is interesting! I’ve always seen blogs with people printing 3D objects, like little figurines, but as Anon mentions, this is all quite new to me, but again, expected because technology is constantly evolving. As the saying goes, with great knowledge comes great responsibility. Overall, I feel that with 3D printing, we can open up a plethora of doors where one day, we could create 3D working organs and as you’ve mentioned in your article, allow the creation of these organs that could potentially eliminate the wait list for a compatible donor.

  4. Misuse will always be a problem with advanced technologies and it’s more so a matter of the precautions we take to prevent these devices from getting into the wrong hands. As such, I couldn’t agree with you more — possibility of bad intentions shouldn’t stop us form improving such technologies.

    We actually have a 3D printer in one of the engineering labs at UH. It’s mindblowing to know this was even possible, considering back in the 90’s, I remember printers taking forever to spit out one sheet of simple black-and-white text. While the printer itself is great, there is certainly room for improvement. The materials for the printed product is limited and preference is typically in plastics; and partly due to the fact that the printer does a layer-by-layer process, it can take an extensive amount of time for a single item. The printer itself is also expensive; that is, as with any product, lowering printer price might sacrifice the quality of the printed item — a trade-off you do not want to make for more advanced applications. As we progressively improve 3D printing over time, I do see these machines becoming more available and accessible to the general public.

    There is great potential for 3D printers for the reasons you’ve mentioned here. However, as far as printed organs go, that’s a bit tricky especially since the human body is extremely picky with what goes in it. Although it’d be a major breakthrough if we could produce a working organ from 3D printers. Surely, the person who finds out how will win a nobel prize!

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