3D printing is the process of printing 3d objects like a table spoon, belt-buckle, or even a part for a car. Just like the revolution in personal computing which started around thirty years ago, we are on the cusp of a manufacturing boom which will bring personal manufacturing of 3D objects into your home. 3D printers are in fact, available today.
These printers are fairly expensive, but prices are dropping rapidly. Very soon there will be 3D printers for sale in the same shops where you can pick up a pc, laptop, or tablet computer. Imagine being able to use 3D printing to produce a part for your car, or a model you just designed on your computer. This is a very real possibility, and within a decade we could see the mass production of products moving to printed to order. This would eradicate waste, we would only print the number of car parts we need, and not more than we can actually use.
This technology is changing the way which products are being manufactured with companies such as Disney getting on the band wagon pretty quickly with a number of their toy products being manufactured through the 3D printing process. This is a monumental shift in the manufacturing process which could move more manufacturing to the UK and other developed countries. Industrial 3D printing is nothing new but systems which you can use at home to make a number of creations are now starting to emerge. MakerBot and 3D Systems have a number of 3D printers which are available for consumer use.
This provides a dilemma. The idea of being able to design and print anything you have the correct CAD files for means that effectively, any designs you find online could be printed in your home for your own use. One fear which is present with the rise of 3D printing is the ability to manufacture products which are restricted by your respective government. In the US, there are laws governing the sale of guns including that all guns must be registered. If you could print out the lower receiver of an assault rifle, you could effectively create an unmarked and untraceable gun.
Even with these drawbacks, 3D printing is on its way into our homes. The advances in technology which allow us to have such equipment are nothing short of monumental. These printers are self replicating and any parts which are needed can be printed from the printer itself. This self replication process means a 3d printer can essentially make a copy, of itself. How this emerging technology will be regulated will be crucial to their availability and use in the near future with people already pushing the boundaries of what is capable with the current technology, we can’t wait to see what happens.