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Brett Morgan

Malcolm Campbell
English 1103
March 25, 2015
3D PRINTING: A STEP INTO THE FUTURE
As a kid, everyone saw movies or TV shows that depicted the future in
interesting and innovative ways. One idea common amongst the majority of them was a
device that could print a physical object on command from almost nothing. Believe it or
not, this device essentially exists today and is used practically across the world. 3D
printers are, essentially, a step into the future. A 3D printer works by taking a file of an
object designed on a computer and uses plastics/polymers in order to mold or shape
the object. There are several different processes or methods, but they all come up with
a finished product that seemingly appears out of thin air. These devices can be
considered the key to the future; at this very moment, there are even machines that can
print food. The possibilities for this technology are endless. The more I think about it, the
more I relate it to science fiction movies and TV shows like The Jetsons. Even though
this technology is already in use, there is much room to grow for the future and can
become much more practically and commonly used.
Whenever you are dealing with something out of science fiction, you really need
to examine the way it works. With these complex ideas and concepts, there can be a lot
of moving parts, which can be a source for confusion. 3dprinting.com provides an
excellent insight into the 3D printing process, beginning with a design on a computer.
Users can utilize a CAD (computer-aided design) program in order to create their

concept. From there, the design is converted into an STL (Stereolithography) file, which
is read by just about every 3D printer in existence (Gibson, Rosen, and Stucker 4). This
file is inputted into the printer, which then uses the file as a blueprint for the design.
From that point on, several different methods of 3D printing are used. Selective Laser
Sintering (SLS) uses a laser to fuse materials into the desired shape. Fused Deposition
Modeling (FDM) uses a plastic or metal wire that unwinds to form the shape using a
heated nozzle. Stereolithography (SLA) lays polymer layers and molds them into the
desired shape using UV rays. SLA is the most commonly used. The process of 3D
printing is quite complex, so who could have possibly brought the idea to life?
In the early 1980s, a man named Chuck Hull was working at a company that
used UV light to put layers of plastic on tabletop surfaces (in order to make them more
durable) when he had a bright and innovative idea (Hickey). He imagined that you could
use the UV light technology and mold the plastics into any shape you want. By 1986, he
had a received a patent for Stereolithography. Hickey described in his Guardian News
article that large companies such as General Motors and Mercedes-Benz instantly
wanted his technology for prototyping and ease of manufacturing. 30 years later, we can
now see 3D printers in a home for just over a thousand dollars. Hull had predicted that it
would take about 3 decades before practical and widespread use of his invention, and
he seems to be right. The father of 3D printing can be hailed as a visionary; he took a
science-fiction concept and turned it into reality.
At this point in time, 3D printing has endless practical uses. The United States
house of Representatives held a committee on Small Businesses early in 2014 in which
they interviewed several business owners who have used 3D printing for their

respective companies. They stated that entrepreneurs and small business owners
benefit extremely from the technology. It allows them to make prototypes quickly and
easily. Patrick ONeill, CEO of olloclip, a company that manufactures small clip-on
camera lenses for iPhones and other smartphone devices, used a 3D printer for his
prototype, and he has continued to use them for production up to this day. He stated
that if it werent for 3D printing technology, development for products would take
months, but it can now take less than a week. Jonathan Cobb, Executive Vice President
of Stratasys (a 3D printer manufacturer), stated, it will not replace the traditional
manufacturing process, but serve as another tool for manufacturers. On the other
hand, Peter Weijmarhausen, CEO of Shapeways (a 3D printing marketplace), and Jan
Baum, Executive Director of 3D Maryland (an organization designed to increase
engagement between businesses and the 3D printing process) felt the technology to be
more impactful than Cobb. These entrepreneurs and business executives clearly show
that 3D printing is an incredible tool for innovation.
3D printing is an incredible concept; to be able to create an object from one raw
material almost instantly. However, when you start to bring up not only printing objects
or prototypes, but also food, the concept becomes almost inconceivable. The Foodini
can do just that; it uses the same technology as a 3D printer, however, instead of using
a plastic/polymer, the device uses edible ingredients (Prisco). It uses fresh ingredients
to create complicated dishes. Even though the general focus of the product is to make
preparation of certain fresh meals quicker, the product cant just create a burger out of
thin air. The technology may be limited, but the fact that it can shape a meal or dish
from raw materials is promising. This type of technology is set to hit the market in the

second half of 2015. The Foodini is certainly a step into the future. Even though it cant
create a burger or a slice of pizza from nothing, it can definitely serve as a starting point
and an inspiration for this type of technology. Applications of 3D printing like this make
the future seem incredible.
3D printing might seem incredible when it is applied to food, but what about the
human body? The biomedical aspect of this technology has been pondered on for
years. Jonathan Butcher, a biomedical professor at Cornell University, has done
extensive research on this topic, specifically on the reproduction of the Aortic Heart
Valve (Crawford). People with Aortic valve disease require a replacement of the aortic
valve, and with this technology, it can be done much easier than prosthetic devices.
With 3D printing applied to the biomedical field, the valve can be designed to exact
specifications and can be made from scratch. This may just be one small part of the
human body, but the fact is, 3D printing of human tissue could be a milestone in the
biomedical field.
As 3D printing has grown more and more popular and widespread, people have
found ways to take advantage of the technology. The biggest instance is somewhat of a
crisis. In Nick Biltons New York Times article, The Rise of 3D Printed Guns, Bilton
explains how 3D printing has applied to the weapons and arms market. People have
found out that if you have the right details and schematics on a CAD file, you can create
a gun from your 3D printer. Granted, the majority of these weapons can only fire one
time (plastic isnt the best at containing a gunshot blast), but once is all it takes for a
deadly occurrence. There are now databases of weapon blueprint files. From AK-47s to
Glock pistols, there are files out there than can effectively print these weapons from a

3D printer. The danger is quite obvious; how can governing bodies impose gun laws if
they cant control where the guns come from? Normally, they would just ban the
weapons from being sold, but the Internet is a deep, dark place with no limitations.
People may not be able to buy an M16 at their local gun store, but if they really want it,
they can simply get the blueprint CAD file from a 3D printed gun database and print
each part. However, it was not originally a real concern for governments because these
weapons were not fully functioning. By only being capable of firing one round, these
guns were effectively rendered useless at least until machinist Michael Crumling of
Pennsylvania came up with his design. He has created a round tailored specifically for
3D printed weapons. These rounds havent been commercially manufactured yet, but
they do offer an innovative concept; by turning the round into a glorified barrel and
thickening the steel, the explosion of the gunpowder can be contained enough to
maintain the frame of a 3D printed weapon. Until this type of round is manufactured on
a large scale, it is not much of a concern for firearm enforcement yet. However, once it
hits the market, governments should be concerned. This will allow for people who have
3D printed weapons to actually mobilize them.
3D printed weapons might be a significant problem in the future, but that is really
just the start of things. With so much room for this technology to grow and with 3D
printed food already available, it is only a matter of time before scientists can develop a
way of 3D printing medicine, and along with medicine come medicinal abuse.
Researchers have already created a 3D printer that can work on a molecular level to
make drugs and medicine, and although there is clearly a plus in the fact that it can be
used for medical benefits, there is the potential for abuse. The creator wants to

revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry by allowing patients to print their own


medicine with a chemical blueprint they get from the pharmacy. (Gilpin). There is
clearly a danger here as DIY chemists will be able to toy around and make other
dangerous drugs such as cocaine or ricin (Gilpin). The fact is, if the technology is out
there, people will find a way to do something illegal with it.
Aside from the most obvious negative of 3D printing being 3D printed illicit
substances, there are plenty of other reasons to be against the technology. For
example, 3D printing may be an effective way to feed societys need for instantaneous
results, but it comes at the cost of the environment. Not only does it rely on plastic as a
source material, but according to a 2009 study done by MITs Environmentally Benign
Manufacturing program, it uses significantly more energy than traditional manufacturing
processes (Gilpin). On top of that, researched at the Illinois Institute of Technology have
found that 3D printers have potentially harmful emissions because of the burning of
plastics. 3D printing may be making our lives easier in the future, but it could also be
shortening them.
Because of the fact that 3D printers have the potential to create dangerous and
illicit substances and can also be detrimental to the environment as well as ourselves,
this can be major cause for concern from the government. Not only can people possibly
create drugs and guns, but we dont even know if this technology is safe to use.
Although different plastics can be chosen, if people create items such as food ware,
plastics with BPA might be unknowingly used in the process, which are know to cause
cancer (Gilpin). The fact that 3D printers can help people cut through so many

loopholes makes the risk of owning them much higher, so they may affect insurance
costs, as well. Altogether, the risk for 3D printing can actually be quite high.
3D printing is, undoubtedly, a step into the future. This technology pushes the
envelope for what humans can achieve. Because of one mans idea in the 1980s, we
can now create any object from thin air (and a little bit of plastic). Even though there are
many processes within the 3D printing realm, they all can essentially turn a design into
something you can hold in your hands. This technology has even inspired Foodini, a
device that can 3D print food. As improbable as it sounds, the Foodini is practical and
will hit the consumer market by the end of 2015. 3D printing can provide endless
opportunities for our society, but some arent always positive. 3D printed firearms will
serve as a major conflict going forward, but in general, 3D printing is an incredible
technology. When you truly step back and look at the 3D printer, you can see the future
of technology as a whole.
WORKS CITED
Bilton, Nick. "The Rise of 3-D Printed Guns." The New York Times. The New York
Times, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.
Committee on Small Business, United States House of Representatives. The Rise of
3D Printing: Opportunities for Entrepreneurs. Hearing Before the Committee on
Small Business, United States House of Representatives, One Hundred
Thirteenth Congress, Second Session, 12 Mar. 2014. Web. Feb 2014.
Crawford, Mark. "Creating Valve Tissue Using 3-D Bioprinting." Creating Valve Tissue
Using 3D Bioprinting. ASME.org, May 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.

Gibson, Ian, David Rosen, and Brent Stucker. Additive Manufacturing Technologies: 3d
Printing, Rapid Prototyping, and Direct Digital Manufacturing. New York:
Springer, 2015. Print.

Gilpin, Lyndsey. "The Dark Side of 3D Printing: 10 Things to Watch."TechRepublic.


CBS Interactive, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2015.
Hickey, Shane. "Chuck Hull: The Father of 3D Printing Who Shaped
Technology." The Guardian. Guardian News, 22 June 2014. Web. 26 Feb.
2015.
"What Is 3D Printing?" 3D Printing. 3D Printing.com, 2015. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
Prisco, Jacopo. "'Foodini' Machine Lets You Print Edible Burgers, Pizza - CNN.com."
CNN. Cable News Network, 31 Dec. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.