The Revolution Will Be Printed

(Apologies to Gill Scott Heron).

Although it’s a little early the signs are there: 3-D printing is here to stay – and it’s only just beginning.

Just what is 3-D printing? Simple: get a CAD (Computer Aided Design) program, design something – for example, the statues that you see in this blog post picture. The one on the left is the original of which the one of the right is cast from via 3D printing.

In effect, you enter your design onto a computer program and plug it into what can loosely be called a ‘printer’ and voila! Instant object. To be more specific, here’s how it all works (via Wikipedia):

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing is a process of making three-dimensional solid objects from a digital model. 3D printing is achieved using additive processes, where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printing is considered distinct from traditional machining techniques (subtractive processes) which mostly rely on the removal of material by methods such as cutting and drilling.

To perform a print the machine reads in the design and lays down successive layers of liquid, powder, or sheet material, and in this way builds up the model from a series of cross sections. These layers, which correspond to the virtual cross-section from the CAD model, are joined together or fused automatically to create the final shape. The primary advantage of additive fabrication is its ability to create almost any shape or geometric feature.

The applications are rather limitless. At the present time, 3D printing is used in the fields of jewelery, footwear, industrial design, architecture, engineering and construction (AEC), automotive, aerospace, dental and medical industries, education, geographic information systems, civil engineering, and many others items.

It’s a hot, growing field, so much so that even Chris Anderson, former Editor in Chief of Wired magazine abruptly left Wired to get involved in the 3-D industry, stating that “3D will become bigger than the web.”

Maybe so, but I wouldn’t leave your day job just yet.

It’s going to take some time before 3D settles into a marketplace scenario that is comfortable and accepted by all. Why, you ask?

Simple: because it scares too many people.

Right now, the idea that an average small business or individual can buy their own 3D printer and make speciality products is going to get some corporations pissed off – and whenever some corporations gets pissed off, they do their typical thing: they go and buy off (er, donate campaign funding) to some legislators and pass laws limiting the technology until such time they feel that they have a handle on the application.

Think about it: depending on how things would go, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for folks to get together, form a cooperative (as but one example) and make their own toys, rather than go out and buy – say, Legos – from Toys R Us.

It’s not too far a stretch for folks to start doing their own communal / cooperative thing and save money. Which is why 3D printing is gong to be something bearing very close watching as it drills down directly into the heart of free market competition and blows away the primary foundation of true capitalism: eliminating the middleman.

It’s a revolutionary idea: we’re talking about going beyond the workers controlling the machines of industry like the old socialist / communist ideal; rather, it will ultimately be about the consumers who will determine their own needs and demands – and make what they want when they want it, as opposed to going out and diving into debt buying it.

Imagine: instead of communal block parties where people come tougher and exchange Thanksgiving pies or Christmas cookies, they can come together, buy into a machine or a series of machines and make their annual Christmas toy list, materials / items they need for day-to-day living or even items that they can trade with others for things that they couldn’t easily make on their own.

And potentially, 3D printing has another plus point: by limiting and printing only what one individual or a group would need, it lessens the negative impact against the environment: you only print what you need, and not create thousands of widgets, along with the manufacturing process and environmental waste associated with standard subtractive creation.

To be certain, 3D printing is not free: time, cost and skills are required, but as mentioned, the notion of creating a series of cooperatives is not something totally out of line. But don’t hold your breath just yet: this Workers / Community visionary thing is a long way off from developing because it’s facing a tremendous challenge: the very Captains of Industry and Champions of the Free Market.

It never fails: we hear the usual yahoos who clam on about how it’s all about free enterprise, open market capitalism; let the market decide how things work out and screw regulatory oversight – but when somebody actually goes forth and takes them up on that very notion these very same yahoos then run to their congressman and buy them off – er, raise substantial campaign funding – to enact legislation to keep this very thing from happening.

And conflict has already arisen (

Through his organization Defense Distributed, Cody Wilson has been raising money to design the “Wikiweapon,” a gun that could be created completely from 3D-printed parts. 3D printers like the Reprap and Makerbot, which use computer-controlled nozzles to perfectly replicate digital models in materials like metal and plastic, have recently become more affordable and accessible to mainstream consumers at less than the cost of a new Apple computer. The machines make it possible for individuals to print out custom-designed objects without any of the mess, fuss, or regulation of a factory line — whether that’s a one-of-a-kind necklace or something deadlier.

That’s right: the technology has already advanced where one can literally make their own guns right in their homes – in fact, this technology is already being used by the major gun manufacturing giants as the costs and returns on this technology is something they appreciate and recognize.

Hence the conundrum: do we now pass laws defining what one can or can’t print / create / make in the comfort of their own home?

I can hear the arguments already: “but it’s just like making distilled alcoholic products at home; that’s not permitted!” Granted, ‘moonshining’ is a dangerous business, if for the simple reason that most moonshiners wind up getting hurt or killed because their stills blow up. But that’s a false argument, as any Scotch connoisseur (as but one example) will tell you making moonshine is not the same as making 15 year old Macallan: there’s a reason why it’s called 15 year old Macallan and that’s because it’s aged in specific oak wood barrels under specific conditions with specific water sources using specific recipes: it ain’t the same so therefore, one is going to pay the premium for the 15 Year Macallan (assuming that they’re into that kind of thing).

Moonshine is not 15 year old Macallan: I’ll go to the store and get my Macallan, thank you very much.

And to argue that one needs a license to bear firearms is rather facetious as gun regulations vary widely from state to state. In fact, there’s an entire underground industry based upon purchasing weapons from one state and selling them in other more regulated states (funny how’s there’s really no major national license required for the purchase and regulation of firearms in this country,…).

But you do have the right to bear arms in this country – right?

So why not make our own guns?

It’s a frightening argument. And for the record I am a believer in the right to bear arms as frankly, I don’t entirely trust “my government”, whatever that means nowadays. But by the same token it is my honest and fervent belief that there are many people out there who should not be allowed to bear arms (much less be in possession of a valid driver’s license!) simply because they’re just too damn stupid or scary.

So now enter another potential point of consideration: rather than go out and buy that replacement part – say, a drain plug, a piece of plastic from your car, a button from your computer, etc., etc., etc. – you now could, with a little effort, come up with your own replacement part that’ll be nearly just as good – if not better, if you or anyone else you know understands and can use this kind of technology.

And don’t think for a moment that the Captains of Industry are already aware of this. I’m certain some of them are (and if they’re smart, they’d better be!) having late night thoughts about this potential development.

Kiss your residuals goodbye,…

And now we have technology that’ll allow folks to go out and make their own automatic weapons?

Please pass me my antacid bottle; between the 15 year old Macallan scotch and the antacid, I’m going to need all the help I can get to help me sleep tonight,…


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