3D Printing Coming of Age, Bringing Benefits and Problems

We have talked a bit here about robotics lately and I’m also interested in what is happening in with what I consider a parallel technology: 3D Printing. For some reason I have been hearing the subject coming up more and more in the news lately — even in the political arena.

In his recent State of the Union address, in pushing for more manufacturing in the USA, Barack Obama touted the potential of the technology when he said:

“Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns . . . I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.”

As noted when we discussed robotics, 3D printing can certainly revolutionize manufacturing, but it has a similar potential as robotics to do so without an increase in manufacturing jobs (something not noted by Mr. Obama). Al Gore is another (ex) politician talking about 3D printing as a revolutionary technology which brings with perils as well as opportunities.

3D printing was recently featured in a news segment on NPR which focused on the intellectual property issues surrounding the technology where copyright is turning out to be a major issue to deal with. For example, if you make a CAD file of a Star Wars action figure and print it out, you are technically in violation of copyright (, and are potentially open to being sued by the copyright holder.

A real-world example of this was mentioned in an article about copyright and 3D printing on ReadWrite.com:

“Last week, HBO sent a cease-and-desist letter to Fernando Sosa asking him to stop selling a 3D printed iPhone dock he modeled after the Iron Throne chair from the popular HBO TV series Game of Thrones. Even though Sosa designed the dock himself in Autodesk Maya, HBO owns the rights to the show, its characters, and apparently the inanimate objects that appear onscreen.”

We’re still dealing with copyright issues in the digital domain and the 3D printing world brings a whole new dimension of problems to handle. Another extended article that I think is well worth reading on this topic is “The next Napster? Copyright questions as 3D printing comes of age” by Peter Hanna on Ars Technica.

Finally, here’s an interesting little video featuring the “poor man’s” 3D printer: The 3Doodler.

So why bring up 3D Printing on a blog that deals with cold fusion? In my mind it’s one of those technologies that along with new and superior ways to produce energy could help to transform the world we live in and affect our quality of life in significant ways. The disruption that the combination these (and other) technologies may bring could be great, but they have the potential to bring tremendous benefits as well.

A world without the need backbreaking manual labor and grinding poverty is something that most people would welcome, and it may be that these technologies could eventually put such a dream within our grasp. Much wisdom and creativity will be needed to handle these so that the advantages will outweigh the drawbacks, allowing all to share in the benefits of such rapid technological advances.

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