Tomorrowland’s Forecast: The Practicality, Pitfalls, and Potential of 3D Printing – VIDEO


3D printed prostheticsAs the opening segment of the video shows, 3D printing is still a largely unknown concept in the mind of the general public. But far from being a niche technology, 3D printing, as President Obama declared in his State of the Union address earlier this year, really does have the potential to "revolutionize the way we make almost anything." Indeed, everything from prosthetics, to stem cells, to clothes, to cars, and even home-building is being reexamined with 3D printing in mind. Inspired by this limitless potential, executives with the 3D printing company MakerBot have begun a campaign to put a 3D printer in every school in the country, an initiative backed by the White House. Market analysts are taking note as well, with a recent report projecting an $8.41 billion 3D printing market by 2020.

Like all newly emerging technology, however, cost remains prohibitive for most people in the early years (remember how expensive blu-ray players were back in 2007?) Entry level 3D printers still run around $1,300 with high end models in the $20,000+ range, meaning 3D printing is currently relegated to tech companies and wealthy hobbyists. In 5-10 years though, that will all change.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 4.11.57 PMBut while the cost will lessen as time goes on and the technology becomes more readily available, the pitfalls may only increase. Take, for example, these printers ability to mass produce non-metallic knives, guns, and other weapons that could potentially pass though security systems undetected. As Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) warned earlier this week, "We are looking at a world in which anyone with a little bit of cash can bring an undetectable gun that can fire multiple bullets anywhere – including planes, government buildings, sporting events and schools."

Currently, the 25-year-old Undetectable Firearms Act is in place to ban manufacturers from creating guns that can't be picked up by metal detectors. The act, however, is set to expire on December 9th and with the NRA-backed tea party unwilling to entertain even the most sensible solutions to gun violence earlier this year, an extension could very well be an uphill battle in Congress.

True, 3D printed guns in their current state cannot withstand more than a few firings before shattering (as this recent Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms video shows below), but it's important to remember that this technology is still in its infancy. As printers and the material they use become more sophisticated and durable, so too will the weapons they create.


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  1. Alan says

    What’s with all the ageism? A good deal of hype from people at a sales show.

    The most ironic 3D printing story I heard recently was on NPR. A typewriter refurbishing company is producing replacement parts for typewriters with a 3D printer.

  2. JB says

    Bit of a disappointing article as only example given of what the technology can do given is creating weapons.
    If you had written an article in the potential of the internet in 1989 I guess you’d have only listed porn as it’s potential use?

  3. Randy says

    “3D printing has gone from a pipe dream to an inevitability.” Yeah, don’t get too excited there, just yet.

    Like every technology delivered by cowboy engineers, the main thing about consumer 3D printing is that you can pretty much throw quality control out the window.

    There’s not a good way for the typical consumer to test for proper materials or manufacture. And who’s to say that the way one printer builds something is going to be the same way another printer does it. Even if they’re programmed identically, one will be out of calibration with the other over time. Lastly, the copyright and patent monopolies will want even more control over our internet connection, to ensure we don’t share our 3D products with each other. This can only be controlled if they (as the NSA does) monitor everything we do, all the time.

    So, 3D printing is great if you want to print a decorative key fob you purchased a license to print, but I would never use it for any part designed to be of any important use.

  4. johnny says

    @Randy, that’s why there’s this process called “reviews” via the internet so that everyone can share their experiences and speak to quality or lack therein. The review process will weed out the pieces of junk that are inevitably going to be offered on TV through Ron-co for 29.99. A few poor suckers will be stuck with junk but they’ll warn the rest of us.

  5. disgusted American says

    ..its kind of like a Replicator…but the ingredients that’s makes up the facsimile determine what the product/copy will look like and be made of….

  6. disgusted American says

    ..its kind of like a Replicator…but the ingredients that’s makes up the facsimile determine what the product/copy will look like and be made of….

  7. says

    3D-printing is still in its infancy. There is still a lot to be discovered about its usage but even in its earlier stages it has shown great potential to produce such advanced and futuristic concepts or ideas to be used by companies to move further ahead. Looking forward to what it can become in the years to come.

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