Waking Up to the Disruption of 3D Printing

Here’s an article on 3D Printing that I think will be of interest to E-Cat World readers, largely because it deals with topics that we have discussed here in terms of energy for a long time. Gary Beato on Reason.com has written a piece titled, “The 3D Economy: Forget guns, what happens when everyone prints their own shoes?” in which he looks at the long term global implications of 3D printing which he sees as being one of the Next Big Things.

His main focus is on what will happen if and when 3D printing moves beyond the domain of hobbyists, and millions of people worldwide state printing their own products which are now provided by large and small companies.

Imagine what will happen when millions of people start using the tools that produced The Liberator to make, copy, swap, barter, buy, and sell all the quotidian stuff with which they furnish their lives. Rest in peace, Bed, Bath & Beyond. Thanks for all the stuff, Foxconn, but we get our gadgets from Pirate Bay and MEGA now.

Once the retail and manufacturing carnage starts to scale, the government carnage will soon follow. How can it not, when only old people pay sales tax, fewer citizens obtain their incomes from traditional easy-to-tax jobs, and large corporate taxpayers start folding like daily newspapers? Without big business, big government can’t function.

Beato mentions the fact that currently 3D printers are slow, and many of the printed products are inferior in finish and quality to mass-produced goods, but predicts that in time that will change. He mentions a printer called Zeus which is being developed as “The first and only device that allows users to 3D scan, print, copy, and fax objects with a touch of a button from one device” by a startup called AIO Robotics in Los Angeles, and says, ” If you decide you really, really like the pasta bowl your mom gave you for Christmas, you don’t even have to go to the mall, or surf Amazon.com to get another. Just throw it in Zeus and push a button!”

He sees technology like this as forever altering consumer consumption, with obvious knock-on effects for manufacturing, retailing, employment and ultimately government revenues. And it’s from the government that he expects a lot of the push-back t come — in the name of consumer protection.

Another article highlighting some concerns about 3D printing is by Lyndsey Gilpin on Techrepublic.com who brings up 10 problematic or dangerous aspects of 3D printing that she thinks we need to be aware of. She states that 3D printers are 1) energy hogs, 2) produce harmful emissions (similar to smoking), 3) rely on plastics and thus produce hazardous plastic waste, 4) allow for easy piracy of IP rights, 5) make it easy to get around gun laws, 6) liability issues are not defined, 7) allow for bypassing bioethical standards, 8) make possible the printing of dangerous or unregulated drugs, 9) produce objects and products that could pose national security risks, 10) produce products that could be health hazards when they come in contact with food (like plates and forks).

I don’t think there is any way to put a stop to the technological development of 3D printing. There are giant companies like Amazon, Adobe, HP, and UPS getting involved in the industry, and the convenience and versatility of the technology has such clear benefits, that I can only see it expanding. Economic disruption is unavoidable, but I think the benefits to people the world over in terms of inexpensive and superior goods may ultimately be a net positive, even considering the effects on business and employment. This is especially true if energy production becomes less expensive and more widely distributed, as is the hope of those who see LENR as a significant energy breakthrough.

It’s early days, for sure, and we can’t predict the pace and trajectory of all these advances, but there does seem to be something of an inevitability about radical technological transformation. We may be heading towards a time where inexpensive, distributed energy and manufacturing will obviate the need for employment as we currently know it. What if a person could make things cheaply at home that they currently buy at the stores? Would there be the same need for jobs for survival that we see now?