The “Replicator Revolution” is here! Utilizing 3D printers costing in the $1,000 to $3,000 price range, average people already have made (i.e., have printed) plastic cookie-cutters , toy action figures, parts to fix household appliances and other products. The only limit is the imagination, along with the basic materials which the current 3D printers utilize – primarily ABS and PLA plastics, metals and other such materials that can easily be melted and printed/molded.
Users can purchase the raw materials from the 3D printer manufacturers or other companies and then utilize their own CAD-type designs or download already-created designs from free or paid sites, such as MakerBot’s Thingiverse. Clearly, such flexibility hails an age that may indeed produce a device similar to the infamous “Star Trek replicator;” a device that, given a simple verbal or other command, can produce a desired physical object or food item.
Questionable Future Implications of 3D Printing Technology
What happens if these 3D printers are engineered to use not only inks of plastic, metal or wood pulp; but red blood cells, DNA and neural maps? Already there has been a 3D-printed kidney , as well as 3D-printed prosthetic devices. Could it be that, one day, we may generate a fully-replicated clone of ourselves from a 3D printer, Pharmacists also might one-day “print” medications but, at the same time, drug dealers might misuse these same capabilities. Moral, ethical and religious implications certainly would need to be considered, in conjunction with any legality issues.
More Palatable Applications
Imagine a paraplegic person printing a perfectly-fitted, customized prosthetic limb at home. This would be a truly practical and positive use of 3D printing technology.
Imagine printing an automobile replacement part or, bigger still, a fully-functional automobile with a 3D printer. Certainly, certification and safety testing would be needed, before such smaller manufacturers would be allowed to utilize “self-printed cars,” for example. Still, for aesthetic-only parts, it may become cost-effective enough to print your own replacement part.
Imagine the teaching implications in the medical field. True-to-life 3D cadaver models can be re-printed, providing perpetual cadaver replacement, without moral, ethical and religious controversy. Such models could be made with synthetic skin, bone, organ and blood products; with specifications close enough to real-world humans that they would provide an unusually effective teaching foundation, check more details here.
Worldwide Manufacturing Would Shrink and Become Local
With low-priced 3D printing, much of the labor-intensive, geographically-dispersed manufacturing processes may become obsolete. Rather than order a universal remote control and wait for 3 to 5 days for delivery, the 3D printer would allow the user to pull down the design for the remote, insert the appropriate raw materials, and print a new remote on-site, in a matter of hours (and, with newer faster models, potentially in a matter of minutes).
Consider mock 3D miniature-scale airplanes, drones and spacecraft. These could easily be designed, printed locally and tested on a small scale. Once designs are proven practical and functional, they can then be sent to full-scale production facilities. Such facilities would use larger-scale 3D printing, appropriately-designed to produce larger sizes and quantities of items.
Final Thoughts on 3D Printing: Dilemmas and Machines Making Machines
Depending on uses of the technology, ethical, moral and religious dilemmas may occur. Such controversy would come about, for example, when printing human body parts, living beings, weapons, ammunition, drugs, etc. If I can “print my own gun,” then I have no need to register and purchase a gun. Also consider legality: can a person print a replica of “anything” without any consideration of a trademark, patent or copyright holder’s rights?
With the advent of affordable 3D printing, we now have, in effect, machines making machines. Can it be too farfetched to imagine a 3D printer replicating itself ? This type of “self-replication” already is happening, which means the entire fabric of our existence might shift to one of “everything is possible!” So, please, replicate responsibly!