Virtually everybody has printed documents, pictures, or files from the treasure trove of online data, but have you ever printed a house? What about a car? This kind of technology isn’t reserved for ethics class hypotheticals and science fiction premises any longer.
Instead, 3D metal printing is exploding in popularity and becoming more and more of an essential for producers and manufacturers the world over.
The Legos of the Real World
The first mention of 3D printing might be found in the short story “The Things Pass By,” written by Murray Leinster in 1945. In this story, Leinster’s protagonist describes the process of printing an entire space ship by “feeding” molecular compounds to a robotic arm and having it spray out solid matter in mid air.
At the time, this was considered the product of fantasy and wild imagination. However, in just about seventy years, Leinster’s concept would go on to become less of a product of fantasy and more of a fantastic product available for purchase at any ordinary Best Buy or tech store.
Imagination Made Reality
As often happens, science fiction accurately predicted the invention of what we today call “3D printing.” These devices are capable of being set up anywhere from a decently-sized living room to an auto body shop and printing necessary parts with relative ease.
Anything from chairs and tables to screws and nails can be printed, if the machine is large enough and using the correct materials. Even houses have been printed using 3D printing technology.
The Dangers of 3D Printing
One of the biggest sources of controversy for 3D printers is the ability for owners to create unregistered firearms completely incapable of being traced. Oftentimes, these firearms are only capable of firing one bullet before having to be either partially or completely reconstructed.
A great comparison would be that 3D printed guns are incredibly similar in firing speed to muskets, except muskets can be reloaded. While a few designs for 3D printed guns allow the broken piece to be removed and replaced by another discardable barrel, most do not.
This sort of technology has been showcased in the rebooted Lost in Space series, in which one of the characters hacks into the ship’s 3D printer to create a gun without telling anybody else. The gun ends up playing a pivotal role in the plot, as you might expect.
Authorities have, as of August 2019, been incapable of putting a permanent stop to the 3D printing of weapons.
While there are perhaps limitless ways to use 3D printers today, we are still far from the day when we’ll be able to speak into our Star Trek replicator and command it to instantly materialize food and beverages. That said, among the controversy comes hope for a better tomorrow.
In the words of captain Jean-Luc Picard of the SS Enterprise, “Make it so.”
For a more in-depth explanation of the mechanical components of a general 3D printer, check out this great article. For more information on what politicians are doing to prevent violence from unlimited printing of 3D firearms, click here.