3D printing disruptive technology is more than fun variations on printing or a neat way to showcase new 3D printing systems. Let’s say this: If you find the idea of background checks or licensing for would-be gun owners restrictive, just make your own.
When it comes to disruptive technologies, the next big thing is already here, and it’s coming soon to basements and garages near you. From customized prosthetics to pizzas, blood vessels to space shuttle parts, meat to firearms, 3-D printing disruptive technology represents the future of manufacturing. But given its potential to create, well, almost anything — and in the wake of incidents like the mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown — these new 3D printing systems don’t come without controversy.
Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3-D printers, have actually been around for about two decades, but recent technological advances have led both Forbes and The Economist to describe the game-changing 3D printing disruptive technology as the next great disruption across a range of industries: Food, firearms, medicine and the military are already utilizing the technology.
Here’s why 3-D printers may just be the most important — and controversial — innovation you haven’t heard that much about…yet.
3D Printing Disruptive Technology: The Back Story
3-D printing was born in 1984 when Charles Hull, co-founded of 3D Systems, invented a printing process known as stereolithography which allowed for the creation of tangible objects from digital data. Like an inkjet printer depositing layers of ink on a page, 3-D printers deposit layers of material such as plastic, resin, polymers or metal to create a three-dimensional object.
At first, the 3D printing systems were used primarily to build prototypes and to test designs, but over the next few decades, a range of potential uses began to emerge. In 1999, researchers at Wake Forest University created scaffolding coated with human cells that could be used to ease organ transplants; a few years later, the first working kidney was printed. In 2006, the development of selective laser sintering (SLS) allowed for on-demand manufacturing, while a multi-materials printer came on the market in the same year.
In 2008, the first functioning prosthetic human leg was printed, as was the first self-replicating printer, followed in 2009 by printed blood vessels and cells. 2011 saw the development of the first printed drone aircraft, a printed car, and machines that print in gold and silver. Last year, the first printed plastic gun was created, along with human liver tissue and bone. In 2014, the first metal gun was printed. Artificial skin for burn victims and tiny batteries to power bug-sized nanobots are in the pipeline for future release.
Along the way, prices have dropped considerably; what began as a $1 million machine limited to industry and science has now become a commercially available product that costs about $300. Industry leaders such as Stratasys, 3DSystems and ExOne are steadily making this technology more mainstream, offering products that provide digital manufacturing applications based on imminent materialization, a process that reduces — or even eliminates — the need to store inventory.
However, 3-D printing’s rise hasn’t been without controversy.
The 3-D Revolution: A Controversial Future
Among the most headline-grabbing controversies surrounding 3-D printing: Weapons manufacture. In 2013, University of Texas student Cody Wilson printed the first functioning plastic handgun and called it “the Liberator.” Wilson also released the blueprint for the gun online; the State Department was quick to call for the file’s recall, but not before it had already been downloaded almost half a million times. 3-D printer producer Stratasys seized the printer it had leased to Wilson after news of the gun spread.
Not surprisingly, The Liberator also sparked intense political debate, leading to the federal legislation extending the Undetectable Firearms Act with specific language for 3-D printed weapons. Legislative efforts to further amend the law to eliminate loopholes and require permanent, detectable metal objects in 3-D printed guns are underway, to the chagrin of many Second Amendment enthusiasts who see these attempts at regulation as an assault on personal liberty.
3D printing disruptive technology also has the potential to disrupt a number of industries, especially medicine. The technology will allow for greater customization for individuals in areas such as tissue implants, replacement organs and structural and dental implants. As for the electronics industry, 3-D printing will allow for the development of ever-smaller and more precise parts.
Food isn’t immune, either. Almost any product in powder or liquid form that can be used as “ink” for a printer, such as chocolate, cheese and sauce, can be printed. NASA has reportedly already invested in food printers for astronauts, as well as printers to manufacture parts in space.
And speaking of manufacturing parts, 3d printing disruptive technology will change the entire manufacturing industry, even eliminating the need for inventory. Some estimates place the projected value of the 3-D printing industry to reach $5 billion by 2017, and expand by 300% by 2020.
The 3d printing disruptive technology revolution is already here — and it’s growing ever more affordable. Are you ready?