3D printing is a technology almost 30 years old, but has only recently become cheaply available and widespread. Global sales and services related to 3-D printing reached $2.2 billion in 2012, according to Wohlers Associates Inc., an increase of 28.6 percent over the previous year. The company expects an increasing about $6.5 billion in 2019.
But where do we use 3D printers now? Already, printers are being used to make hearing aids, dental implants and prosthetics. Hospitals are printing precise replicas of patients’ organs to plan surgeries. Researchers are using 3-D printers to arrange human cells to create bone and blood-vessel tissue. The medical uses of 3-D printing are thrilling and terrifying.
Also, during the workshop, one of the local high school teachers produced a valuable part and a teachable moment at the same time.
The teacher needed a snow blower part that would normally cost $200, instead, he made it himself and saved the money, and also he saved the hassle of bringing the machine to the shop to get it fixed. His students in the snow-laden school district clearly got the relevance of that example. They routinely beg to stay after school to make their own creations on the printer. The early feedback from the teachers is that the students are more engaged. They take pride in making these things for themselves, and this could be seen as part of the larger “maker’s movement,” where people are doing their own production processes.
At the moment, 3-D printing is a very small part of the economy. The printers are typically slow, and the material they use is expensive and inconsistent. However, as the industry advances, printing on demand could reduce assembly lines, shorten supply chains and largely erase the need for warehouses for many companies. Reducing shipping and eliminating the waste and pollution of traditional subtractive manufacturing could be an environmental boon.
Of course, in a few decades, things could get really interesting. Engineers should be able to blend raw materials in new ways, endow products with nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, and create objects that interact with their physical environment. Imagine military armor, embedded with sensors that track wear and tear, or a turbine blade that monitors its own temperature.
So far, everything seems to be good. New technology that makes our life easier, prices coming down as more people print their own products, (especially as the price of the printers comes down), pride for making things for ourselves, more money for the companies and thrilling usage for medical purpose.
The question is how this technology may disrupt our lives, for better or for worse? This is for sure, that 3D printers will face plenty of new challenges. Whole categories of products will be newly subject to counterfeiting. Amateur printers are already appropriating pop-culture artifacts to create clever new objects, copyrights be damned. And businesses threatened by this new technology will be tempted to drive newcomers out of existence, through lawsuits and lobbying. Millions of new physical objects might be unleashed on the world (from strollers and action figures to junk food and prosthetics), the quality and safety of which will be highly variable. When those products malfunction or injure someone, possibly in another country, who’s liable?
Also, 3-D printing seems likely to affect manufacturing jobs and potentially throw people out of work, especially in industries that depend on assembly-line labor. Eventually, as with most technological breakthroughs, it will probably create new jobs in new industries. Although the low-wage and low-skill work could be affected, like those products produced in China, other positive changes might occur, some people said. But that transition period will be hazardous, and for displaced workers it will be difficult to navigate it.
In conclusion, this is for sure, that all people need the benefits of a new technology. Let’s just hope that this technology will be used only for good purpose and that eventually will improve our lifes, reduce our working hours, and help our economy. Let’s just be optimistic?
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