Mountains of hype and hyperbole have been heaped by the media on 3D printers lately. Of course, we expect that type of behavior from the media, because it draws our attention, which increases sales or ratings, which results in more money. (For them, not us.) Perhaps in this case it’s warranted, because 3D printers appear poised to be the Next Big Thing. At least, that’s what the media is telling us.
First, let’s understand and agree that “3D printer” is a horrible name for these devices. It’s not accurate, and is in fact actively misleading. The name probably came from the Society for the Creation of Ridiculous Names (SCORN), which provided such celebrity baby names as Pilot Inspektor , Kal-El, and Moon Unit. The 3D printer is not a printer at all. It doesn’t make copies of letters, family trees, or your grocery list. Rather, it’s a manufacturing device that makes objects from a computer model by layering material successively. Traditional manufacturing machines remove material from a blank.
Like most overnight sensations, 3D printers have been around for a while, dating back to 1984. They are now experiencing a dramatic drop in cost, however, and may soon go the way of the personal computer and smartphone, exploding across the land. Speaking of exploding, there was some hubbub recently about the danger of being able to produce cheap, undocumented pistols with 3D printers. It turns out the danger would be to everyone involved, including the shooter, as the guns are apparently, shall we say, not robust, and have an annoying tendency when fired to blow up in the shooter’s hand. Well, remember, desktop computers had issues when they first came out, also. They froze often, and would crash without warning, lose valuable data, etc. To my knowledge, they never had an exploding issue, though.
So, if we can envision a near-future in which we all have 3D printers sitting in the corner of the family room, what would you make? I think that, like many of you, the first thing I’d make is a fully-functional light saber. This would, for one thing, answer one of the more burning questions of the day: What color would the beam of your light saber be? (Mine would be Deep Purple.) A Maserati would be a good second choice. Many people would want to make money, but the feds still frown on that, to the tune of life imprisonment.
Initially, the limitations of 3D printers would constrain what could be made. Common household items such as glasses, cups, dishes, combs, and shoes would be popular. Not to mention backscratchers. Oh, yes, we need more backscratchers. Artistic items such as bracelets, necklaces, and rings would also be popular. Soon, though, the only limiting factor will be our imaginations. We will be downloading popular 3D models the way we download apps today.
But what about really useful things, such as peace? Or a cure for cancer? Or a letter from my long-departed mother? Can they make a 3D printer for those? No, of course not. In the end, 3D printers may make our lives easier, but they’re basically still just appliances. Any real change must come from within. Has your dishwasher ever made you a better person? Maybe it’s made your life fractionally easier, but that’s all. It won’t really transform you or your life, and neither will the 3D printer.
Until they come out with a 4D printer, that is. You know, one that also utilizes the so-called fourth dimension of time. Then it’ll be watch out, H.G. Wells, here we come.
Tags: 3D printer