3D printing is the breakthrough new technology that allows anyone with access to a 3D printer and the internet to get pretty much any object they want into existence. Chuck Hull invented the first 3D printing process called ‘stereo lithography’ in 1983. In a patent, he defined stereo lithography as ‘a method and apparatus for making solid objects by successively “printing” thin layers of the ultraviolet curable material one on top of the other’. Nowadays, rapid prototyping has a wide range of applications in various fields of human activity: research, engineering, medical industry, military, construction, architecture, fashion, education, computer industry and many others. The worldwide 3D printing industry is expected to grow from $3.07B in revenue in 2013 to $12.8B by 2018, and exceed $21B in worldwide revenue by 2020. As it evolves, 3D printing technology is destined to transform almost every major industry and change the way we live, work, and play in the future.
Positive effects of 3D Printing:
3D printing has many advantages, including faster manufacturing speed and lower costs after the initial outlay. The biggest advantage they offer is the customizability of the product. Computer software will allow the user to individually design the solid object they require, right down to minute specificity. The possibilities of this customizable technology could also be crucial in the role of medicine and surgery. Doctors will potentially be able to manufacture tailor-made body parts or organs, directly from replica human DNA, which would bypass the problem of donor rejection. Additive manufacturing at low volumes is very competitively costed compared to traditional manufacturing. For the production of prototypes that verify form and fit, it is significantly cheaper than other alternative manufacturing methods (e.g. injection molding) and is often competitive for manufacturing one off functional parts. Traditional manufacturing techniques become more cost effective as volume increases and the high setup costs are justified by the large volumes of production. Traditional manufacturing produces additional products that you probably know you will eventually need thus storage problems arise. However, 3d printing technology, products can be “printed” when needed thus excess products are eliminated and no storage cost is required. The widespread use of 3d printing technology will definitely increase the demand for engineers who are needed to design and build these printers. Technicians who are skilled at troubleshooting and maintenance and Designers to design blueprints for products and more jobs will be created.
Negative effects of 3D Printing:
At present, 3D printers can only create items out of resin, ceramic, plastic and certain metals. As you can see, 3D printing with the use of mixed technologies and materials, such as circuit boards, is still under development. Similar with the impact other new technologies have, 3D printing will decrease manufacturing jobs, which means that it can have a huge impact on third-world economies, especially China that is depending on a large number of low-skill jobs. With this printing technology becoming commonplace, printing copyrighted products to create counterfeits of them will also become more common, and it would be nearly impossible to identify which is the original product. There will definitely be a challenge with intellectual property rights, especially with the value of a product residing in a digital file, where there is a question whether manufacturers would assign licensing rights and insert copy protections to protect their property. 3D printing will allow for the creation of more dangerous items, such as knives and guns, with little or no oversight. In terms of regulation, this process also has the potential to undermine control mechanisms that make sure products are appropriate and safe. As you can see, customs regulatory bodies would lose their power to oversee goods when they are no longer transported across borders. This printing method can outperform or even replace traditional processes of manufacturing and shipping. For one, it actually cannot compete with the speed of traditional manufacturing processes, thus it is not a good solution for mass production of goods. As of yet, 3D printers are still limited with product sizes that they can create. Aside from this, traditional mass production processes are significantly cheaper than using 3D print technology to produce large quantities. And for items that require their surfaces to be smoothened, they will still need finishing following 3D print production, as the process will still leave a rough surface structure on objects, especially those made of synthetic fiber.