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September 24, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Science: What’s It Up To?

Entering the third dimension

Those alty boners studying at Te Aro might have a fair idea about the ins-and-outs of 3D printing, I’m sure not everyone is familiar. Basically, you design your ashtray or whatever it is you want to print out on some modelling software like CAD, then send it to the printer. You then select the type of material you want your ashtray to be made from, and it begins to print it, layer on top of layer, until it’s fully formed. Some of these printers can print out hundreds of material types, such as rubbers, plastics, metals, even organics! There is theoretically no limit on what can be printed, we just need bigger printers and new materials to print with. Currently the technology is being used in many fields such as medicine, doctors can print out simple human body parts. I know what you’re thinking tiny-dong, but we’re not there yet. That being said, a lower jaw was printed out and successfully implanted into a patient earlier this year. Also, spare parts for vehicles and machines are a simple print, which makes maintenance a thousand times simpler and cheaper.

So what is the future of this technology you might ask?

One idea is home-based printing. Forget buying something online and waiting for the postman. Simply buy the design and print it off at home. See a new Lego bionicle you want? Print that bitch. Can’t afford a printer? Go to your local print shop. You bring in your receipt from Nike.com and the bros down at Printshop print them out for you. This is probably more favoured by intellectual property owners—I doubt Nike would be happy with everyone torrenting the new pair of Air Force Ones. The very same issues the music industry has been whining about for more than a decade are now about to be visited on manufactured goods as well.

Scary thought: in some US states, every part of the AR-15 (a gun) can be purchased and printed without a license except for the lower receiver. Recently the design for the lower receiver was posted online on a design sharing website. That last part can now be printed at home, license-free. Some debate whether the design will work properly, but the larger point is clear: assuming the design works, any 3D printer that can handle metal or polymers can privately print out the necessary part for a functional, unregistered gun. This could eventually place an arsenal of untraceable guns in the hands of people who would not be able to legally buy them. Plus, America’s gun violence will be easy to export—right over the internet—to other countries that have stricter gun ownership regulations.

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