A 3-D Printed Future

Can you imagine a future where common, even complicated, everyday items are just a mouse click away? No more last minute trips to Target because you ran out of paper plates or solo cups. Just download a file, add filament, and thirty to sixty minutes later you’re ready to eat that cold pizza you ordered thirty to sixty minutes ago.

The first 3D printer was developed in 1984, by Chuck Hull of 3-D Systems Corporation. The process used was known as stereo lithography, in which layers are added by curing photopolymers with a UV laser. 3-D printers, like Dimension by Stratasys that costs $80,000, that use stereo lithography technology are used by the automotive, medical, and dental industry to make engine parts, prosthetics, braces, and even artificial organic organs.

On the other side of the 3-D printer market, small companies are trying to make affordable desktop 3-D printers.

3-D printers, like Makerbot replicator mini that costs $1,375, uses a process called fused deposition modeling. Fused deposition modeling (FDM) was developed by S. Scott Crump in the late 80’s and first commercialized in the 90’s by Stratasys. Makerbot Industries also hosts an online community dedicated to the file sharing of user made designs called Thingiverse. This website has free and costly, even expensive, files that can be downloaded and printed in a matter of minutes.

Some people have taken the capabilities of 3-D printing towards a more sinister direction by making files that can create a plastic, fully functional, handgun. Defense Distributed, who made the first fully 3-D printed handgun called The Liberator, is a non-profit libertarian corporation dedicated to helping people defend the civil right to bear arms and themselves against government tyranny. The file for The Liberator was released on May 6, 2013 and were downloaded over 100,000 times in the two days before being taken off the internet, first by the creators of Thingiverse, then by the U.S. Department of State.

The file for The Liberator can still be found on Tor websites like Pirate Bay and Silk Roads. Defense Distributed still offers a file for the lower receiver of an AR-15. The lower receiver is currently the only controlled piece of an AR-15 and holds the serial number that helps track guns to their owners. If 3-D printers become a common household appliance the idea of gun control will become impossible.

The possibility of 3-D printers even push past just saving time and money on household objects to being able to recreate a human organ or body part. “The mechanical process isn’t all that complicated. The tricky part is the materials, which are biological in nature,” said Mike Titsch, editor-in-chief of 3-D Printer World.

The fragile materials used by the printer will be harvested from the person in need, then allowed to grow in a controlled lab environment before being put in the printer.

This 3-D printed future can be far closer than we imagine. 3-D printers could be a common household appliance, just like the microwave and oven, in ten years. The price of a Space Saver Microwave in 1983 was five hundred and ninety dollars, which would currently only set you back two hundred dollars.

If this example as any relevance to the future of 3-D printing we will see a remarkable decease in the cost of purchase and operation in the next ten to twenty years. Hopefully, a 3-D printed future with guns, guts, and easily made gears is just around the corner.