Printing the Future

There is always talk about what the future will bring and how any technology will impact that same future. I think one technology that gets overlooked is 3D printing.

Frist off I think that that last sentence has to be taken with a slight grain of salt. Yes, I think for the most part this technology is overlooked but not in the sense that it is totally under the radar. 3D printing has been in and out of the news quite a bit, but for the most part has not really become main stream. I would argue that for the most part it is impractical and or the market has not quite figured out how to utilize this technology just yet. But that is not to say that its day is not coming, as the article above states, it will most certainly have its day in the spotlight.

Perhaps the most famous or infamous coverage of 3D printing is the ongoing argument of being able to print a fully functional weapon in your own home. I don’t think I have to explain the utter chaos this could potentially cause. Giving people good or bad the ability to create a weapon in their home just does not seem like a smart or good idea and opens the door for a plethora of legal and moral issues.

So let’s say that in the future this technology takes off as the article states and 3D printers are as common as coffee makers, everyone has at least one in their home. This would give the average person the ability to make practically anything, given that they have the plans and or schematics programmed to build it. This aspect of the technology could be more valuable than the printer itself. Having the printer is nice sure, but what use is it if you don’t have the plans to make a new widget or what have you. Without the plans then all you have is a very expensive paper weight.

My point is that these plans and schematics may become what is purchased instead of goods themselves. Basically information is purchased rather than a new bicycle or the good itself. The plans are purchased from Trek, carbon fiber is loaded into the printer, then the printer takes the plans and prints you a nice new carbon bike frame. I would imagine that this would greatly reduce the cost of goods economically. If I run a business making bikes, really all I have to have is an engineer or two on staff drawing up specs and then a software engineer on had to get the plans online available for sale. This would greatly reduce the cost of overhead as well as benefit cost for employees. Also this would eliminate companies holding large quantiles of product on hand and having to rent large storage spaces to house them, thus I would assume driving down the price of the bike itself.

While this does sounds like a no brainer, I do not think it would work across all sectors. Obviously the service industry would have little to no use for 3D printing. Plus there is a whole other level of liability that goes along with this as well. What happens to a person who is riding a 3D printed bike and the down tube breaks causing the rider to fall and break their arm? Who is responsible for that mess? The rider who assembled the bike or the company who sold him the plans? That is a whole other sticky situation that could deter many manufactures away from this idea. Although, I am sure these companies would hire a very expensive lawyers to type up a multitude of terms that a purchaser must agree to before downloading the plans. Basically once again you would be signing your life away.

Another interesting idea is what could eventually be printed? Is there no limit as to what these machines could eventually create. I know I said that the services industry would have no use for them, but what about visiting a doctor’s office for a cold. They have a 3D printer on site ready to print your medication as it is prescribed. Again I think this could save hundreds if not thousands of dollars on the cost of prescription drugs. Pharmaceutical companies would not have to pay large overhead for manufacturing facilities. Plus I would think that this would be a little safer from someone trying to rob a doctor’s office for drugs it could sell on the street. What would they steal? I suppose they could steal the raw components for making the drug, but without the blueprint of how to actually make it the raw materials would be near worthless. Now there certainly could be a black market for these materials, but I would assume someone would rather buy the pill itself than the stuff to make it.

There are downsides to all technology. The cool thing about this technology is that it is so much more specialized and opens the flood gates for niche markets and devices. It seems like almost daily I read about 3D printed prosthetic joints from people and animals. This is one aspect that I think could greatly utilize this technology. Companies that make these limbs are obviously trying to make money, but that one size fits all arm may not be the best fit for the average person. The company is trying to do its best to make a cost effective product and make a profit. This is where a specialized custom prosthetic limb would benefit all parties involved. I would assume an individual would pay more for this device, although it could very well be cheaper.

The article paints a very rosy picture for the future of 3D printing technology. I am not so certain that it will take off as the article states, at least not any time soon. Large companies are very resistant to change, unless that change is extremely cost effective. Right now manufacturing is relatively cheap, so there is no need to change. Something drastic will have to happen in order to create that shift the article is talking about. But as always, we will see what the future holds.





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