Yes, 3-D printing is not ink on paper—and it’s not a service we currently offer at Ballantine—but the technology is fascinating and we wanted to write about it.
In the very recent past, we’ve left behind a world where the only way to listen to music was to buy it at a record store or turn on the radio and call in a request. Today through the power of the internet, it takes only seconds for us to be able to listen to virtually anything we want at any time. While it might be an understatement to suggest that the internet revolutionized the way we experience music, one thing we can say for certain is that it definitely would be an understatement to say we can’t expect a similarly colossal change thanks to 3-D printing.
3-D printing, sometimes called additive manufacturing, is just that. While traditional printers take bits of computer data to create digital schematics of images or text on paper, 3-D printers take data to create full bodied 3-D objects. By layering 2-D objects over one another, modern 3-D printers can create anything from a fully functional robot to something as simple as some stylish new shelving for your home.
The technological capabilities of this device are, in principle, endless. In fact, in his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama asserted that thanks to advances in technology, “3-D printing has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”
The statement was made with good reason; once the digital schematic is available on a computer, 3-D printers can reproduce just about anything. Depending on what you’re printing, construction can take anywhere from half an hour to half a day, all in accordance with whatever color, density, or flexibility that has been written into the design of the product.
Not only does 3-D printing allow for low volume production quantities, the technology behind it is reasonably affordable and poised to continue to be that way. While investing in a 3-D printer might not be ideal for a hobbyist right now because of the limited amount of 3-D schematics that are available for this relatively new technology, there are already fully functioning 3-D printers on the market for as little as $1,000 (at the time of this writing).
One of the earliest major anti-piracy campaigns hauntingly reminds viewers that “you wouldn’t download a car” in order to draw parallels between downloading merchandise and pirating music. Exactly how wrong that message may be remains to be seen, but as this technology becomes more widespread across the globe, it seems self-evident that traditional downloading will soon escape beyond media and enter into the realm of physical property.
But downloading toys and furniture aren’t all 3-D printing has to offer. Medical professionals have long been aware of the development of 3-D printing, and work to “print” out fully functional organs has long been underway. From a simple human ear to a fully functional bladder, while the complexity of the item being printed weighs heavily on the early limitations of the technology, it may only be a few decades before countless lives are saved by a major reprieve to the demand of organs for transplant.
Finally, anyone who has thought 3-D printing through for only but a moment will be vividly aware of what challenges it may pose future generations. Simple equipment like firearms are already well within the capacity of 3-D printing, and it doesn’t take a science fiction writer to realize the various potential dystopian outcomes such a technology might produce. However, should we remain optimistic about it—rightly so, since the technology truly has capabilities for huge improvements in everyday life—it may only be a matter of years before 3-D printing is as normal a part of browsing the web as checking your e-mail or using Facebook.