3D printing: How far can it go?

On: October 7, 2013
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About Jennifer Veldman
Hi. Nice meeting you. I'm a student of Master's "New Media & Digital culture" at university of Amsterdam coming from the background of literature studies. I've been working as a journalist reporting daily news both, writing articles and making video reports. As well was involved into the the routine of post-production film / advertisement company located in Amsterdam. Decided to study New Media cause it's been my wish since three/four years and, don't tell anyone, a dream to be a professor since I was a teenager. Don't know if it will happen but am happy to come back to academic environment. P.S. I love dancing lindyhop. Join me whenever!



3D printing  – a mind-blowing process which might bring the future so far that science fiction stories might become reality. This technology becomes more accessible to the average user every day, but is still questioned a lot. That was the reason why we decided to go to an event organized by one of the advertising agencies in Amsterdam where a Dutch 3D printing company was introducing this topic to a wide audience.

Event was started by showing this advertisement:

As we could see, Coca-cola launched new design mini bottles in Israel by calling the campaign “mini-me” and was offering service to print real body copies of the winners using the latest scanning and 3D printing technologies. Incredible, right?

According to the speaker of the event Anush Martirossian, one of co-founders of Dutch 3D printing company, such advertisement is a sign of 3D becoming mainstream. And we could agree with this presumption. Just last week The Guardian was writing about new launched “mini-me” application and discussing how popular it might become. By downloading the new app you can create your own design of yourself just from scratch and print it using a 3D printer.

The 3D printing technology is still discussed as if it would be new but the first inventions has been already made over 25 years ago. By giving a short tour to the 3D printing history, the speaker was introducing the audience to different types of machines, materials and made a point that the costs of printing are already getting closer to the average user – now it’s possible to buy 3D printer for around 250-350 euros for just home use. And that’s really not a joke. After research we found out that it’s easy to get through online suppliers and the price can be really affordable.

After the presentation of 3D printing innovations and Q&A, the audience started discussing about the future prospects of this industry. Everyone in the audience seemed to have his own opinion, but during our online research we found some numbers. Worldwide shipments of 3D printers will grow 49 percent in 2013 and in 2014 shipments will increase further – growing 75 percent. According to the survey, 3D printing is already a part of an emerging “revolution in manufacturing” since the community in 2013 will just grow. The 3D printing market will be worth 4 billions of dollars by 2025, predicts physicist and academic Dr Wendy Kneissl.

“Consulting firm McKinsey estimates the economical impact of 3D printing to be between 230 and 500 billion dollars in 2025 with the largest impact of consumer use,” says our interviewed A.Martirossian.

According to her, “the number of 3D printers for home use are growing, however the past year the growth has been less compared to years before. An explanation could be that the majority of the early adaptors already owns a 3D printer. It is estimated that about 25.000 – 30.000 desktop 3D printers are sold each year.” The number of users in Netherlands is growing as well she says, “there are a lot of FabLabs (Fabrication Laboratories) where people can work with digital manufacturing machines like 3D printing.”

But if we actually would look to the future, what could be the possibilities and how far we could really go? Companies selling 3D printers are now thinking about customization and online selling in order to make an easy access to print products at home. According to them, 3D printing comes with the 3D online trying of products.

With 3D scanning of your body in the future you might be able to ‘try on’ clothes, shoes, glasses online and to decide if the product suits you. Sizes of the product could be accostumed to your actual body. You could change color settings or details about the product and if you’re really creative you could just create your own individual design. There’s already such an app where you can try 3D design glasses online.

Once you’re perfectly satisfied with the product, you could buy it online, and the 3D printer standing on your desk would print it for you. The product you’ve bought online would be created in your home. This would mean that there would be no extra costs for transport. And it would even be good for the environment as you would reduce CO2 emissions of the transport and recycle the waste product of the item just printed.

“Today I would say the most popular brands like Ultimaker and Makerbot are quite user-friendly, but there’s no such thing as real “plug and play” 3D printing. You are working with a machine that is using melted plastic and it’s normal that a lot of times you have to tweak your machine or clean it,” says A.Martirossian. After cleaning machine the extra plastic can be cut in small particles and be reused again.

As for the natural question to come up journalist Brad Hart gives us the answer on Forbes that yes, “a printer is capable of printing a functioning copy of itself.” And this is only what is happening right now. But if this is what the printer is capable of now in what ways can we think about the future prospects of 3D printer? Could we think about printing food, organs? And if so, the questions would soon be raised about patching yourself up to maybe even eternal life? Or if this is too far-fetched how about the extension of organ printing into the printing of entire human beings? In the time we dream about these possibilities NASA is preparing to launch a 3D printer into space to directly print broken, not functioning or lost parts in space shuttles.

“In the future more and more materials will be developed, as well as for printing food and human tissue,” says A.Martirossian.

On the other hand this new item, like every other innovation, also has its darker potential. Because of this there is a need to create strict laws about 3D printing, when Americans are downloading blueprints and printing their own ‘self-made’ guns. As we see with the expansion of downloading music and movies there is no way to control illegal downloading – because this is happening inside of people private houses – and the same will problem occur when people have their own 3D printers at home.

But as we have seen with every new media or media tool development in the existence of man, a new innovation creates both awe and fear. As imaginations run wild you can envision both, a new utopia, as well as a new hell of future potential. What the future will bring we can only dream of. What we do know is that apart for the new rules that will have to be created concerning 3D printing, is that we are only at the beginning of a third industrial revolution.

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