A Dutch architect completed designs for an "Endless loop" building, which will be constructed using the world's largest 3D printer. This is one of many recent announcements heralding the arrival of 3D printing on the marketplace, and the revolutionary changes many industries will soon face.
3D Printing is the innovative process by which digital designs can be transformed into real world physical objects. This is achieved by segmenting 3D designs into thin horizontal "slices" and binding the object together layer by layer, using an electron beam — the futuristic equivalent of "brick by brick." The products created can range from toys to jewelry and even complex machine parts, though many innovators have grand plans for more ambitious manifestations.
Recent increases in federal funding have made the technology more accessible to average consumers, who can now own devices capable of custom molding metals, plastics and ceramics for under $1,000. For the every day shopper, this offers a dramatic surge in personalization, allowing people to edit designs and create customizable products in the comfort of their own home. Imagine seeing something you like on Amazon, clicking on it and having your printer create it right in front of you.
Many inventors and designers, however, are looking beyond the consumer market. Architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars hopes the successful construction of his unique building design will allow for space faring possibilities in the future:
"The great thing about the printer is that you can take it somewhere and then print with the ground you find on location … so you could take the printer to the moon, assemble it there and print with moon material."
Launching autonomous robots to the moon to get started on our lunar bases may seem far-fetched, but the possibilities of 3D technologies are quite vast and prolific. Biomedical specialists at Wake and Cornell University, for instance, are pursuing fascinating advancements in printing human organs from raw biological materials. The viability of these might be a few years down the line, but the implications for organ replacements customized to each patient's DNA are profound.
There are some potentially dangerous manifestations for the technology as well. One firearm enthusiast has managed to use a printer to construct a functioning gun mold. If people can access gun receiver designs, they'll be able to construct working weaponry in their own home. This would completely circumvent the registration process of in-store gun purchases, and make it impossible to stop everyone from carrying an unregistered weapon. In light of Sandy Hook, Aurora and countless other gun related incidents in the last few years, this is concern that should very much be addressed.
Meanwhile, shoppers in New York who are interested in experiencing the technology can visit a Soho pop-up shop called MakerBot. Customers can print off customizable goods in store, where rows of colorful materials decorate the walls and futuristic machines take center stage on the floor. This might be a sneak peak into ultra-modern shopping experiences: browse digital catalogues on a computer screen, choose your materials and colors, then watch your creation come to life right before your eyes.
With endless possibilities and grand ambitions, it will be interesting to see how the service model manifests for 3D printing. Venture capitalists have invested millions, but it is as yet unclear whether start-ups have a solid idea for how to make 3D printing real to the masses. We might be at the onset of a new industrial revolution, where cottage industries re-emerge and even bring manufacturing back to the American shores. Whatever the future holds for 3D technologies, we won’t have to wait too long to find out.