3D Printing: The Next Big Thing

3D printers can print almost anything you can imagine and design.  Sounds a bit futuristic, right? When I first thought of 3D printing, I actually tried to visualize a normal laser ink printer printing out a full 3D object like a plastic box, which didn’t make much sense. When I finally saw a MakerBot 3D printer in action, I was shocked at the results.  Using a variety of  different manufacturing materials including plastic, metal and silicon, 3D printers are capable of creating anything you can design. 3D printers are about to go mainstream and when they do, they will truly change the world.  Through major impacts in the fashion industry and manufacturing industry, 3D printing is quickly becoming commonplace and will change the way we create things in years to come.

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Just imagine having a device capable of printing you your dinner and even your utensils to eat your food with.  Maybe a dear family member of yours is in dire need of a surgery or organ replacement.  Well, with the technologies advancing in 3D printing, you could make your own replacement organ that you need to survive.  What may first seem like extreme examples will soon become a reality.  The real issue to address is: how will 3D printing change the process in which we manufacture commonplace and even extraordinary items to impact our society?

One major application of 3D printers is in the fashion and clothing industry. Although 3D printing company MakerBot, the most well known 3D printing company, is aiming to make 3D printers conventional, there are a lot of advancements to be made before we can have clothing printed so easily.  One practical use of 3D printed items are wearables such as clothing, fashion items, jewelry, watches, etc.  “We’ll no longer have to buy a suit off the rack and hope it fits. We’ll no longer have to buy a dress with that particular belt or ribbon,” says Askin. “We can tailor everything to suit our own specific desires” (Hiscott).   In the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show a skeleton dress completely created using a medium-powered 3D printer was previewed and was extremely artful.   Items similar to the dress like bracelets and rings are already in consumer budgets, but items like sneakers and tank tops are just a few years down the road from being affordable on a wide-scale production.

Going along with the fashion industry, any items that are 3D printed will be infinitely more customizable.  The consumer/user will be able to program or design anything they can think of and logically put into shape.  Creative people will be provided a platform to build, create, and explore new ways to build anything. This will, however, inevitably change the strategies and operations of all businesses in the areas of supply, manufacturing, and even retail (D’Aveni).  With this in mind, we look to China, where a large part of the workforce and capital is created from outsourced-manufacturing there.  The economy of China is reliant on the mass-manufacturing it is capable of and with 3D printing replacing a lot of the need for that, China may be in a tough situation economically and even more so, it will lose it’s title of being the mass-manufacturing powerhouse of the world, thus changing how the world trades on manufactured goods (D’Aveni).

With so many impactful changes, we must not look past the possible downsides to the era that 3D printing technology will bring along with it.  A major obstacle with 3D printing is the lack of regulations and laws regarding its uses and capabilities.  Many retailers might claim copyright infringement on designs of jewelry that others can copy identically through 3D printing design software and print on their own (Hiscott).   “Another main disadvantage of 3D printers is the fact that children could print out dangerous items. In order to prevent this, one can employ software limitations and parental control” (Pîrjan).

Looking past the possibility of downsides and misuses of 3D printing, we can also look in a direction that offers unlimited capabilities.  For instance, what are some external implications that 3D manufacturing has?  One possibility is the extreme cut in waste produced from manufacturing.  3D printing allows users to create many small parts of a larger object as well as prints in layers with no excess in printed material, thus cutting out the majority of waste produced and emissions released (Pîrjan).  Another possible external benefit is the ease of design sharing.  With users able to design and send creations across the web, the limitations of new materials in fashion, food, transportation, or virtually any manufactured item are non-existent (Pîrjan).

Does 3D printing still seem futuristic?  Regardless of the complexity of the technology, 3D printers will continue to transform the way we design, create, mass-produce, and share a plethora of objects, items, and tools.  In the coming years, our clothes can and probably will be printed at our own houses, giving us the option to design and wear whatever our imagination comes up with.  Our own thoughts will be the only limit.  With this in mind, the impacts can extremely beneficial such as saving lives with 3D created artificial organs or replacement bones.  Likewise, misuse of this technology draws some serious skepticism with gun/weapon control and destructive material as two easy capabilities.  Like anything, though, what’s reward without risk?  How can we look forward without roughing through the possible storms ahead?  3D printing is going to make an impact and it’s all up to us what that impact is.

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