3D Printing, Manufacturing and Recycling
In the 18th century in Britain, we welcomed the first Industrial Revolution with the mechanisation of the textile industry. Instead of having workers weave all the threads and clothes by hand, we had machines to do it all. The second Industrial Revolution could arguably be the use of coal steam to work the machines and led to mass production and the assembly line. Now, we are seeing the beginnings of digital manufacturing seen in 3D printing. People are able to start producing electricity at home and manufacture at home however and whenever they want. Welcome to the third industrial revolution!
In 2008, RepRap developed a 3D printer that would be able to print its own components. MakerBot Industries, set up in 2009 by Bre Pettis, built upon RepRap’s designs to create a cheaper consumer version for at home 3D printing. You can now download plans and schematics of designs to print essentially anything you want at home. Currently it’s only limited to certain plastics and a small range of colours, but as the world gets to grips with 3D printing, the materials will become more varied, become recyclable, and even bioplastics could be used. If you could print anything, what would it be? This raises so many questions though. As with any new revolution in their infancy, things need to be looked at carefully. The biggest issue on the corporate side would be copyright of products. The one that comes to my mind is Lego. Lego has been very profitable with last year’s earnings of around $730 million. Imagine if we had plans or developed our own design just like it and printed our own bricks? What is going to stop Lego from us producing our own Legos for use in our own homes? Right now it’s cheaper to just buy Legos as opposed to printing our own, but in the near future it could indeed be cheaper for us to print them. Manufacturers like Lego will most likely do what they can to limit the damage. They may have to go with anti piracy software, watermarking every design, or sue every single family who downloaded the designs illegally. Kind of reminds me of Napster and the digital music age.
The other major concern would be printing of weapons. 3D printing will not be used just for common household items and works of art, but it would be naive to think that no one would use the printers to print out weapons and components. Ballistics may be hard to print as you need gunpowder and ammunition. However, anyone with a basic understanding of chemistry knows you can make gunpowder with sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre.
In a resource based economy, I could imagine every home having a basic 3D printing unit to produce everyday needs. For instance, just this past Thanksgiving, my husband and I hosted dinner in our small flat. We wanted to do cocktails but we rarely ever use cocktail glasses. We had to go to our local supermarket to buy 8 glasses (2 boxes of 4) just for five people. We may never use them again so they sit in their boxes. Now, what if we had the choice to print them? We could’ve just printed 5 of them and recycled them afterwards. I could easily imagine that plastics and other materials will become more recyclable and easier to reuse in the printers to print other things. There would be no more waste. Break a plate? Break a glass? It’s okay! Just recycle it in the machine and print another one. Simples!