3D printing is not a new concept. Computer aided design and manufacturing has been available as early as the 1970s. With technology becoming cheaper and cheaper, and with more people developing their proficiency with computer design, 3D printing is set to live up to claims that it is the future of manufacturing.
As with most new technological developments, 3D printing has brought about all sorts of legal ramifications (for a recent example, see Bitcoin). There are lots of issues around copyright as it is predicted that eventually people will be able to print their own 3D objects at home. This means that small components or items like toys and ornaments will be able to be reproduced easily and cheaply. If there comes a point where 3D printers are commonplace in the household, then certain manufacturing businesses may be under threat. Why, for example, would parents spend hundreds of pounds at Christmas on plastic toys when they can be replicated at home for a fraction of the cost?
3D printing is still in a very early stage and the days when people will be able to print in their own homes may never come (or at least in the way that it is being imagined at present). This hasn’t stopped worry and speculation over what they could potentially be used for. The City of Philadelphia has pre-emptively banned 3D printed guns after design plans were published online, and the UK Home Office has stated clearly that 3D printed guns are illegal. Perhaps this is an overly cautious measure, however there are numerous videos and pictures online of people firing weapons they made themselves. Needless to say, it is more than a possibility that printed weapons will be home manufactured unless there is some regulation put in place.
There are many less sinister uses for the technology that are being discussed and some that are already being implemented. The first commercially sold 3D printed record will be released soon by ex-Bloc Party member Kele Okereke. The record will be made using UV-cured resin; however it will not be available in stereo, only mono. McDonalds also revealed last month that they were considering how they could utilise 3D printers in their restaurants to print Happy Meal toys to get around upsetting children should they run out of their favourite toy. Youngsters would be able to choose the toy they wanted and have it printed for them right there in the store.
This incredible video shows a different side to 3D printing, and one which highlights the potential that it has for creating unusual and intricate designs. Not that many would print a dress that is presumably made from some sort of plastic, but the video shows the scale and flexibility that can be produced from a relatively small amount of material. Using kinematics the scope for usage is completely opened up. It’s not all guns and Happy Meals; 3D printing offers genuinely exciting prospects for design and manufacturing.
Sources: 3d Printing: Not Yet a New Industrial Revolution, but its Impact will be Huge | The Guardian I 3D Printed an Assault Rifle - And it Shoots Great! | Business Insider UK Home Office Clarifies Rules against 3D Printed Guns | TechCrunch Bloc Party's Kele Okereke to Released 3D Printed Record for Charity | The Guardian McDonalds Ponders In-Store 3D Printing for Happy Meal Toys | The Register Kinematics Lets you Make Flexible, 3D-Printed Objects at Home | The Verge