Hy from CO writes:
Will 3-D printing, become a common household commodity like the computer?
Not too long ago the concept of 3D printing seemed more science fiction than fact (with images of Captain Picard commanding “Earl Gray tea, hot!” to the wall computer on the Enterprise), but now just a few short years later 3D printing is increasingly being used by businesses and government agencies, with common home use not too far down the road.
The technique managed to make headlines recently when NASA “emailed” a wrench to the International Space Station by sending the astronauts in orbit a schematic to 3D print the tool. By printing a wrench on-site, a necessary tool was created immediately, rather than having to wait for a shuttle to arrive with supplies.
Space is a long way from home though, so what’s available for the average Earth-bound techie? As of this writing, the Makerbot Replicator – meant for both home and office use – will run you a cool $2,899. That’s a large investment to be sure, but its also on par with the cost of home computers and flat screen televisions before their prices began to drop and become more accessible. A mini compact version for very small jobs is also available for $1,375, with other companies selling them as cheaply as $500. The printer itself isn’t the only cost, however, as you’ve got to buy (or make your own) designs for objects, and you have to buy the filament used for the printing.
3D printers in the home have the potential to be the next truly big technological revolution on par with the home computer and the world wide web. Much like how the uses of a home computer weren’t immediately apparent back in the ’80s and early ’90s, now they are indispensable, and it’s easy to think one day kids won’t know what it was like to grow up without a home printer, just as children today can’t recall a time without computers and cell phones.
The big question for the home consumer is of course: what would you even make with one? The answer is: potentially anything! Christmas ornaments, wine bottle holders, screwdrivers, cookie cutters, replacement parts for home furniture, and a hundred other things people haven’t even thought of yet. Some enterprising printers have even managed to make stylish sets of shoes. The latest generation of printers have greatly increased the ability for detail work, creating high quality models rather than just basic tools. The video below for instance shows a sleek gnome figurine that was 3D printed. There are also some interesting (and perhaps even frightening) possibilities – like a 3D printer printing its own replacement parts, leading to a “self-fixing” machine scenario.
Although they seem at the moment to be more for industrial or business use (college libraries are increasingly using them) features are frequently being added to printers specifically for home use, like taking snapshots during the printing process to share on Facebook or email to friends. Newer models can also sync to your phone rather than hooking up to a computer to print a design. Each successive generation of printer is also becoming much more automated and now work essentially like a standard inkjet printer without needing much special training or calibration.
As usual, the laws lag behind the technology, however, and it seems like legislation and regulation will have to be on the horizon, which could potentially impact the widespread adoption of home use. Consider for instance the phenomena of 3D printing hand guns at home (an issue that didn’t exist just a few years ago) – whether or not the person printing the device has the requisite permits or has passed the background checks meant to prevent felons and the mentally ill from owning guns.
Home printed firearms are very much in a legal gray area at the moment, as they seem to break an existing law against manufacturing guns that can’t be detected by metal detectors, but that issue can be circumvented simply by inserting a metal plate into the design. Its not just those with concerns about firearms who have concerns either, as obviously gun manufacturers won’t be pleased with anyone around the world having the ability to cheaply, quickly create their own at home. Other industries could also be affected in a truly massive way. After all, why go out and buy a wrench or screwdriver when you could print one at home cheaply?
Regardless of the existing issues or concerns with 3D printing, the fact of the matter is that the future is now, and much like how drones are becoming commonplace and requiring government agencies to finally formulate plans and take action, 3D printing is here to stay, and it’s going to be a game changer.
~ Ty Arthur