By Emma Brodey
These days, you can go online and buy yourself a 3D printer. It sounds like the premise of a science fiction novel, but it’s true. 3D printers are a new and thriving area of technology. They even function easily, printing out any item you can create on a computer program. The only limits are materials, quality of printer, and your imagination. What’s more, these 3D printers are fairly financially accessible, often sold for less than $2,000. This new area has almost unlimited potential to overturn industry as we know it.
3D printers can be used for a multitude of purposes. At the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston Salem, doctors have found a way to use 3D printers to print out human body parts with actual tissue, such as noses and ears. They have already had some success in this “bioprinting” and are exploring ways to print larger organs. Soon, they believe their technology may be good enough to print a heart, using the patient’s fat cells. This bioprinting discovery could revolutionize medicine.
But as much as it could save lives, 3D printing also has the potential to end them. In Texas, Cody R. Wilson created a design for a 3D printable plastic gun. This design is easy to use and very cheap to make. Wilson made his design public, meaning that the design can be shared across the web, and printed out on any 3D printer. The gun, nicknamed “the liberator” by its maker, is functional and easily lethal. It is also undetectable to metal detectors and many x-ray machines. The use of this design is illegal in many countries including the U.S.
Traditionally, the price of making two or three items for a company has been a much higher price per item than for bulk production. For 3D printers, the price of production of one item is the same price per item as the price of production of 1,000 items. This may allow companies to more freely experiment with designs, as the cost of making an individual item will be relatively cheaper. This will probably also inspire thousands of backyard inventors who will now have an efficient and cheap way to produce and sell their products.
As of now the kind of 3D printer you can buy can only construct things made of a single material, such as plastic. But they have been used to make everything from car parts to iphone cases. Scientists are further developing the technology, and it’s getting better all the time. Soon we may be able to use multiple and more diverse materials. Imagine a world where you can download a design for a clock from the internet, and print it out at home in a few minutes. Soon, this is likely to be a reality.
All of this raises many new questions and concerns. Printing our own products may reduce our dependence on imports from other countries which use cheap labor. But what will happen to jobs here in the US? So far, amazing and frightening things have been accomplished with 3D printers. Who knows: maybe in 2030, you’ll wake up, print out a new outfit for the day, and go downstairs to print your breakfast.
Photos Courtesy of www.kickstarter.com