What is the meaning of the word “Print? And why is it believed that it is the key to open paths to our futuristic views. As humans how do we savor a moment in the past? How do we tell those who come after us what happened in our age? How do we preserve our heritage and culture in a way that we ensure is not lost within the threads of time? Humans concluded that that way is printing. Whether it was carved on wood, metal, transferred by pressure to parchment or vellum, rolled with ink or paint.
The earliest documented evidence of printing dates back to the 2nd century when the ancient Chinese started using wooden blocks to transfer images of flowers on silk. In the 7th century, they went on to create the first printed book which was called the Diamond Sutra(http://shc.stanford.edu/news/research/buddhist-diamond-sutra). The Mayan civilization is an eastern culture that took place 500 B.C, one would be surprised that even that far back wood carving and stone sculpting were extremely common amongst those cultures, even if they were mostly used as altars to honor their kings and gods. 1450 Germany, Johann Gutenberg came up with the idea of inventing the Printing press, a machine that prints ink onto paper or similar material, one might see this invention as one amongst hundreds of others. Its value is not in the items it physically provides but is in the future it changed through this simple machine. One can say that it served as an agent for change. The Printing Press led to an intellectual revolution which resulted in many key inventions that we could see today including 3D printing which will be discussed later on in this paper. Before the invention of the Printing Press, books were written by hand which meant that only few people or organizations could afford to have books. Those same people protested against the Printing Press because they were not able to control the flow of information anymore. The only thing that made those people and organizations fight the printing press was that they knew that information was valuable and if it was going to be available to the public, it will diminish their power.
The word “Print” was used in the 14th century to mean “Set a mark upon a place” or “Leave an impression." We have not gone far off from that throughout the years. The act of printing on something means to leave a mark on whatever the material is. The word “Print” has evolved to a certain extent, evolved so much that nowadays it is mostly used to refer to computer printing, which means placing dots on a piece of paper to create meaningful letters, words, sentences, or even pictures. The word “3D Printing” or “Additive manufacturing” is not often heard in today’s world. Even though it has the word “Print” in it, we automatically assume that it is some form of placing material on an object. However, this isn’t the case in this situation. 3D Printing is the manufacturing of a three-dimensional product from a computer-driven digital model using multiple layers of design. So essentially, one could take a digital file and then send it to someone or print it, this file is the blueprint of the object you want to print (Lipson, 2003).
3D printing is no longer an early adopter technology. Many companies and organizations are beginning to use these technologies extensively to the point where they can’t see themselves competing in today’s market without them, and these aren’t some small companies that were created two to three years ago, but ones with a large history dating to more than a hundred years. Ford and General Electric –also known as GE- are using 3D printing in the car industry, it has assisted in the plans in order to develop new models, create spare parts and efficiently test them. For GE, it isn’t just helping the design process, but soon there might be planes flown using engines made by the additive manufacturing process. GE states that they have started using the additive manufacturing process because it consumed less material and will make the engine lighter; it is expected to be used by 2016 in commercial air flight. Mattel, a toy company, uses 3D printing instead of wax and clay, the company states that using 3D printing has made the process much more efficient and that they are now using it to create almost every type of toy (Chulilla, 2011). Mattel has a different thing in mind for the future; they want to give the consumer the idea of designing their own toy. These three companies mentioned are using additive manufacturing extensively. However, it doesn’t stop there as many other industries are using this technology, not just to sell a product, but to save people’s lives as well ( this will be discussed in a greater degree later on). 3D printing is the answer to the material shortage problem, such technology should be embraced, not buried beneath the ethical propaganda that gets spewed out at any given chance to justify the unreasonable attachment to old technology, in order to evolve one needs to look forward and not latch on to the past(Lipson, 2013).
- Reasons why 3-D printing took so long to get to where it is today.
3D-printing, though matured technology at the moment took so long to reach where it is today. The technology is over 20 years since inception but is still not mature enough as compared to later breakthroughs. As promising as 3D printers seem, their adoption is disputed because of such factors as high costs of adoption, safety issues, design complexity and patents.
- 3-D technology patent withheld
3D technology pattern have been withheld for some time now, and most of the patents are expiring in 2014. The cases arising, as a result, of patent infringement has pushed back 3D-printing. In 2012, 3D Systems sues Formlabs and Kickstarter for infringements of claims 1 and 23 of the 520 patent. Pattern 4, 575,330 to 3D systems held Apparatus for Production of 3D Objects by Stereolithography (Bradshaw, 2010). This aspect and other patents which have expired and others expiring in the near future held back the innovation and competition that could have seen it push down the prices. After the expiration of the patents, the prices according to FDM, decreased significantly from thousands of dollars to hundreds. It is expected that the expiry of the stereo lithography patent will stir growth and innovation.
Other factors such as safety and aspect of usefulness play a role in the late adoption of 3D printers. Some of the products of 3D printing such as iPhone cases and Star Wars-themed novelties does not provide a compelling reason to acquire 3D printers because anything that is printable on a 3D printer apart from the customization, are available at the stores. A compelling consumer product that can be created at home has not been designed the laxity hence.
Public safety has served to impede the development of 3D printers. The design, development and printing of a 3D-printed gun by Cody Wilson and American and subsequent provision of the STL file for free download sparked outrage of safety concerns and prompted Congress to renew expiring ban on plastic guns. Since all plastic 3D guns won’t catch the attention of metal detectors, it raises safety issues to the public (Bassoli, 2007).
Finally, the characteristics of 3D-printers make impede its adoption for household operations. First, they are not user-friendly in that they require few wiring, are high-voltage devices and relatively expensive to acquire. Second, the design software is complex and may not work on any printer. Lastly, they are still slow for manufacturing purposes taking hours to days to print. These features make them a liability rather than a utility to make life easier.
- Medical applications of 3-D printing
3-D printing has gained a number of significant applications that range from construction of toys, art, motor vehicles, planes and spare parts for space stations to other interesting items. The applications of the technology have been extended to the medical industry as well. The near future will see the commercialization of 3-D technology for medical purposes and notably, the production of human organs at a hospital near you. The near two decade technology uses liquid substances that harden as they print out three-dimensional objects based on the digital model. The applications of 3-D printing in medical industry span from dentistry, organ regeneration to facial construction and treatment of ailments. Currently, 3D Printing is used in dentistry for caps, hard-material crowns, prosthetics and bridges (Rengier et al., 2010).
- Organ Regeneration
Organovo Holdings Inc. is currently using 3-D printers to create living tissues that may in the future resemble the human liver with the ability to cleanse the body of toxins and regenerate. This process is a propitious technology as it would significantly reduce the instances of organ shortage and transplant rejection as the anticipated organs will be regenerated from the patient own cells. In The next decade or so, the possibilities of 3D will be real in regeneration of tissues such as kidneys and liver. Efforts are currently underway to create replacement bones for patient using 3D-printed biodegradable scaffolding. The same are expected for reconstruction of breasts in former cancer patient. Instead of the silicone implant, MRI technology can be used to scan a patient's healthy breast and design a breast scaffold. The scaffold will be implanted, and liposuction used to suck the fat tissue from other parts of the body. In a period ranging from two to three years, the scaffold would completely degrade and the breast would regenerate (Yang, 2001)
- Facial Reconstruction
Facial reconstruction using 3D printing is currently possible. Accident victims whose faces are deformed can have them reconstructed using 3D printing technology. Reconstructive surgery is conducted on the face of the patient using 3D-printed structural implants which are developed and implementation is done by the use of 3D-printed models of his facial bones. A case of 3D-printing has been successfully procured in Morriston Hospital in Wales and involved an accident victim. In the case, doctors used finishes that allowed the bones freely to meld with a 3D implant hence more precision than conventional metal implants.
- Curing Diseases
3D-printing could be used in a host of other processes and procedures to cure different ailments. For instance, one, 3D printed medical implants have been found to improve patient healing process by integrating into the body more effectively just like the body tissues itself (Lowmunkong, 2009). Strong, hypoallergic materials made to mimic the properties of the bone can be custom-designed to aid in the healing of rare injuries or anatomy. These devices can be created using Laser Engineered Net Shaping (Cooke et al, 2003)
Second, a 3D-printed device can be used to track and treat heart diseases that were difficult to treat and monitor. Third, it has been found that 3D eye cells could promote the cure of blindness. The research at the University of Cambridge showed that a 3D inkjet could be used to print retina living cells which could subsequently be used to create a replacement of defective tissues in the eyes of rats. The retina cells can be put in ink jet, printed, in a pattern, desired and can survive and thrive. It is an amazing innovation which though have been conducted with rats alone, can be applied to humans and other organisms.
- Negative effects of 3-D printing and it is going to spark a major debate in the future
Not everyone is comfortable with the 3D-technology as there are numerous ethical concerns that emanate from its use. The phenomenon of lab-built body parts is not comfortable with everyone. As it is, the technology is growing so fast that major ethical concerns will arise by 2016.
- Limits of technology and how where it should stop
The initiatives are well intentioned but raise a number of issues that remain unanswered. For instance in the medical field, what happens when complex and enhanced organs involving non-human cells are produced? Who takes the responsibility of controlling the ability to produce and use them? Who ensures that quality of the resulting organs is of the highest undisputable level? These are the issues that raise grey areas in the emerging technology.
- The cost of preserving life
The cost of preserving life matters when it comes to adoption of such technologies. 3D printing has just been proven to be beneficial for a number of purposes especially medical, but the cost is yet to be known. If the recent breakthroughs are anything to go by, then the technology will revolutionize medical sector but with what costs. Will the technology be affordable or just for the rich and super rich? These are some of the emerging issues.
- Religious aspects regarding similar technologies
There are also religious concerns that will impede the adoption and commercialization of the technology. Proponents of the technology argue that the ethical concerns arising, as a result, of 3D printing are bound to be the same concerns that have arisen in the past wherever a technological breakthrough came up. For instance, in the medical field, major medical breakthroughs such as organ transplants and stem cells have suffered the same moral resistance as 3D but saving lives tend to trump all the objections.
- 3D Printing becoming available to the public
When 3D devices become available to the public, issues emerge as to whether they are safe or should only be utilized restrictively. For instance, the safety of the public when such devices come in contact with food is disputable. Printing a 3D spoon with MakerBot can be easy but when ABS plastic is used, it is not free from BPA. Likewise, many 3D products have spaces when bacteria can thrive if not cleaned properly. AA framework for monitoring such as FDA-approved machines need to be in place but is yet to be established to check the safety of 3D printed utensils or other household items.
- Effects including the positives and the negatives
3D printing provides an antidote to some of the industrial problems with humanly centered advantages that give designers and IT savvy users more personalization and freedom via customizable procedures. It benefits humankind because it utilizes locally processed materials eliminating the need for transportation and distribution.
3D-printing when made available to the public aid in the design and manufacture of new structures and shapes to fit the needs of every person. The nozzles of the 3d printers can create many complex shapes that are only confined to the imagination of the user.
There is also the capability to combine different materials and eliminate the traditional manufacturing processes that are restrained by physical properties and costs considerations. Further, wastes can be significantly eliminated leading to a safer ecosystem. For example in manufacturing aircrafts, 90% of the metals and plastics used are wasted due to the restrictive production methods. But with additive manufacturing, less material is wasted, and energy conservation are enormous (Mironov, 2003).
Printing a 3D spoon with MakerBot can be easy but when ABS plastic is used, it is not free from BPA. Likewise, many 3D products have spaces when bacteria can thrive if not cleaned properly. Apart from the concerns of safety that have been mentioned, 3D-based printing is messy and potentially explosive depending on the material used. A framework for monitoring printers such as FDA-approved machines need to be in place but is yet to be established to check the safety of 3D printed utensils or other household items.
There are accompanying national security risks that come with the technology. It is undisputable that there will be significant legal and economic consequences on the business environment. However, questions emerge as to whether 3D printers can produce a wide range of products that cannot be sufficiently controlled (Pfister, 2004).
There is still the possibility of 3D printed drugs where a consumer can print their own medicine using chemical blueprints sourced from the pharmacy. It will allow the printing of a wide variety of medicines from cocaine to ricin with ease. Though the revolution is good for the pharmaceutical industry, it is not good for the society.
In addition, there is the aspect of responsibility when it comes to using 3D printed devices. For example, weapons can be 3D-printed, the same as safety equipments such as helmets and toys for small children. However, in accidents, or when a person shoots and kills another using 3D-printed weapon, or gets damages the head in the process of bike-riding. It can also occur when the rider rides on a bike with a 3D printed helmet, which absorbs the responsibility(Yoo, 2003)?
- Copy infringements laws
Most of the patents on 3D printers will expire by the end of 2014 setting the ground for competition, innovation and low prices. However, there are still a lot of overlapping patents that will create lots of legal tussles. By 2010, the Patent and Trademark Office had issues almost 7,000 patents of which 700 were filed after 2007. The issue of intellectual rights infringement will emerge as competition and innovation subdues. Competition between brands will lead to many lawsuits over knockoff and infringement issues.
- The use of 3D printed guns
The first successful 3D-printed gun has been existence for some time knows, but the ramifications are essential. A number of companies are purporting to sell 3D printed guns, and engineering firm Solid Concepts has even fired a few rounds of ammunition out of the first 3D gun. However, there are contradictions or loopholes in the law concerning the use of 3D printed guns. Undetectable Firearms Act, which prohibits guns that cannot be detected by X-ray scanners and metal detectors, has been upheld for the next ten years. This creates a loophole whether 3D printed guns with small metal components are allowed or banned by law to be used. Congress has ignored the issue for some time now, but they are coming to the realization that a loophole exists and need to be sealed.
In conclusion, this paper has highlighted 3D-printing from its inception in the second century until the present moment. 3D-printing can deliver immense benefits to mankind, particularly, in this age of depleted natural resources. It is also a technology with immense potential to medical fields and its persistent problems. But, just like any other technology, it needs a framework for management and control to dispel the fears associated with its adoption.
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