The Guardian: ‘ 30 things being 3D printed right now (and none of them are guns)’ – And a Few Thoughts On Where 3D Printing Is Going…

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jan/29/3d-printing-limbs-cars-selfies

I think this article is important as it shows the vast breadth of ideas already being implemented with the use of 3D printing. While this article doesn’t provide masses of detail about each of the projects, it is really interesting to see how many different varieties of companies are already investing in the technology. The relative low costs related with this individual manufacturing process, in so far as it being possible to visualise a design or component on a digital screen, and then so rapidly produce a one off component with relative ease, and low cost, seem to be the most enticing reason for so many large and varied companies getting behind the technology. I do still have some doubts however, while I see national journalism getting behind the technology and backing it, I am not entirely sold on it being the next big thing to change the world of mass manufacture. Whilst there are some definite perks in being able to produce rapid and editable pieces of design to individual consumers, I’m not sure we are yet at a stage where it is commercially viable to think that we can rely on 3D printing for mass production. When we speak of 3D printing in university, we speak in terms of rapid prototyping rather than final production. The perk of having pieces made quickly and relatively cheaply is that we can do it there and then. Look at this list of 30 things in real depth and you realise that nothing on the list is anything that you would ever really likely come in contact with as a high-street consumer, you may choose to have a 3D ‘selfie’ model produced as a one off, but when it comes to something that you might buy for function, and that your neighbour or best friend would also buy, it simply wouldn’t happen. Other production methods are still cheaper, faster and more viable. My concern is that people become too bogged down in how “cool” the technology is, how felxible and expressive it is, and how available it is, instead of its true position in the process of design and manufacture. There is no doubt that currently there is a big buzz and sensation about this technology, which is understandable given how affordable some of the printers, such as the ‘MakerBot Replicators’, are. I think it is exciting in terms of the potential to being able to send these units to remote locations, such as battlefields, or Space, to repair crucial components in restrictive environments, but again these are very isolated cases in which the common consumer is almost certainly not going to find themselves. Given the nature of our current social cultures, where those who can afford to consume do so, with little regard for where things come from, or where they go afterwards, I struggle to see where the crossover is between 3D rapid prototyping and mass marketing and production. Would it be possible for the common man of today to make a shift to producing his own things with his own printer? Would he take his time to re-print damaged things and print his own new products? With this I will make a predicition; I believe that the technology will either expand in such a way that 3D printing eventually replaces the majority of production methods we know of today, and gives us an affordable medium with which to create our own products from home through vast databases of online designs, such as those found on www.thingiverse.com, with then only the most complex and largest (in terms of size not scale) manufacturing processes being left to industry. Or, the 3D printing buzz will slowly die down, with printing technology developments shifting to focus on how technology can better provide engineers and designers with even greater prototyping capabilities,  and the tools to produce prototypes which lead to even better products, leaving other production methods to make the final design for the mass market.

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