Earlier this year tech headlines were throbbing with the somewhat terrifying news of a home-made gun constructed with the help of a 3D printer. The gun did work, in fact the user went on to shoot 200 rounds from the machine and constructed pieces of a further firearm with a Stratasys 3D printer. The 3D printing industry is ballooning, with manufacturers of the specialist printers trading publicly with hardware able to print everything from food, clothing and even parts for the aeronautical engineering industry.
The kind of DIY manufacturing that 3D painting provides will change the face of commerce forever. Issues of safety, legality and breaches of intellectual property rights have already been brought up since the gun-printing incidents. Stratasys, the company behind the printer that creates the ‘printed’ weapon has reportedly withdrawn the product from a rogue user after discovering that arms business Defense Distributed, planned to mass-produce the printed guns. BBBC.co.uk published a letter from Stratasys to Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson stating that they were withdrawing the printer “based on your lack of a [firearms] licence and your public statements regarding your intentions in using our printer”. The same BBC article published last month also raises concerns over the copyright infringements that are inevitable once vendors of fake trainers, watches and clothing get their hands on these printers.
How does it work?
A three-dimensional object design using CAD software is sent to the specialist 3D printer where you will be able to choose the material you wish to use – i.e. rubber or plastic. The printer will then release a little of the chosen material at a time, creating the product layer by layer until the item is fully formed according to the digital blueprint it received. According to Mashable.com, this kind of ‘additive manufacturing’ has already been used to create 3D architectural models, for highly specialized aerospace components and even an artificial lower jaw that was successfully transplanted into a patient earlier this year. Jay Leno also printed discontinued parts for some of his classic cars. And all this can be done easily and relatively cheaply when compared to traditional manufacturing processes.
The medical and scientific benefits of the technology are astounding but internet law around the manufacture, sale and distribution of printed merchandise will have to be looked at before the 3D printing industry gets any bigger. Stratasys seized its product from potentially dangerous hands more as a result of their own ethical code than anything else as the printing of firearms is not strictly illegal in the United States. And if people are allowed to print guns rather than buying them from licensed retailers, the floodgates are pretty much open for anything else.