where next for the 3D printing revolution

  Andy-Murray-wins-Wimbledon3 2969921

Wimbledon Championship (BBC, 2013)


With the success of Andy Murray's triumphant win at Wimbledon last weekend, we saw another emergence of a success story taking place behind the scenes. IBM, one of the sponsors of the tournament decided to alter protocol within this year's championship by awarding those who both performed best and gained the most social network popularity with a 3D printed trophy. Although a clever marketing ploy to draw attention to their real-time data capturing capabilities, it highlights the ever evolving movement of 3D printing techniques within society.


The opportunities that have emerged in recent times through the technological capabilities that 3D printing offers has brought much success to many industries, particularly within the medical field. One example is the groundbreaking research being undertaken in medicine manufacture to look at improving the timescales of production and testing. The company Parabon Nanolabs in Virginia, America have been showing signs of success in 'printing' molecule by molecule compounds specific to their medicinal needs. With the fast paced improvements in this field, it could provide much opportunity for localised medicinal production specific to the need of local communities. It does raise some concerns however over the freedoms that exist in using the technology and how it would be monitored in terms of ethics and legality.  


Most recently in America, we witnessed the downside aspects of 3D printing where the domesticated nature of personal manufacture that it offers can lead to worrying developments. The group known as Defense Distributed had spent a year developing blue prints for a printable gun, capable of firing live rounds, of which has shown clear evidence of function. This leads us to question where the future of 3D printing will take us and how it will shape design and manufacture.


bbc 3dprintedgun

3D printed gun (BBC, 2013)


Such advances like this are worrying and highlight the need to build in safety guards to monitor or limit the capabilities of additive manufacture. The US has made some progress in legislating against the creation of weaponry, but it's in its infancy. They have initiated a new patent to develop a new process of using 3D printing equipment to protect privacy by issuing authorisation codes during the data upload stage which would need to be typed into the machine. This is a step in the right direction to authenticate permissions before someone prints out a CAD file, but it faces the same problem which has been seen in the music industry. With open-source sites being set up to hold files which are freely accessible, the ability to control content becomes increasingly difficult. 


As the Senator responsible for pushing this issue through government in the US rightly noted, another issue which must be considered is the inability to monitor dangerous goods produced privately when not purchased, especially so if polymer based. As they are not picked up on metal detectors it raises a number of safety issues, particularly when considering the high degree of concern that exists around airport security. There is a clear need for intervention from government legislators to ensure they keep up with this emerging field, otherwise there is a danger of losing an understanding of its unfortunate negativities.


"You load a file into your printer, then your printer checks to make sure it has the rights to make the object, to make it out of what material, how many times, and so on," says Michael Weinberg, a staff lawyer at the non-profit Public Knowledge, "It's a very broad patent." "This is an attempt to assert ownership over DRM for 3D printing. It's 'Let's use DRM to stop unauthorized copying of things'"

3D printer patent to protect privacy (3ders.org, 2012)


Clearly there are continuing signs of growth within the 3D printing market with the latest Wohlers Report of 2013 reporting an overall increase of 28.6% in 2012 with a total value of $2.204 Billion. There are significant benefits that the technique of manufacture offers to a number of industries and services, along with the image it has of being a novel tool which is available for all to enjoy, not just those with hefty budgets. It has shown promise of opening up the market for those who do not have substantial financial backing to consider forming a business from the advantages that it can offer in being able to develop relatively cost effective goods quickly. With this in mind, it highlights the need of industries operating in design and manufacture to consider what impact this may have in the future in terms of a possible shift by some to begin to operate as a designer and manufacturer themselves from their home, changing the way we see consumerism functioning.


There is likelihood that like many novel and new ideas, 3D printing will witness a dominance but then fall away and lose its limelight, but neglecting it as a fad could have consequences for many and should be seen as a potential gamechanger upon our attitudes toward how we buy and sell goods.  



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