3D Printing

You'll Soon Be Able to Manufacture Anything You Want and Governments Will Be Powerless to Stop It

From DIY guns to designer drugs, classic-car parts, and human livers, 3D printing promises a dynamic and uncontrollable world.



In the very near future, governments will lose the ability to keep guns, drones, and other forbidden goods out of the hands of their subjects. They'll also be rendered impotent to enforce trade and technology embargoes. Power is shifting from the state to individuals and small groups courtesy of additive manufacturing—aka 3D printing—technology.

Additive manufacturing is poised to revolutionize whole industries—destroying some jobs while creating new opportunities. That's according to a recent report from the prestigious RAND Corporation, and there's plenty of evidence to support the dynamic and "disruptive" view of the future that the report promises.

It's all pretty cool, if you look forward to a future that just won't fit under rulers' thumbs.

"The simplicity and low cost of [3D printing] machines, combined with the scope of their potential creations, could profoundly alter global and local economies and affect international security," write RAND's Trevor Johnston, Troy D. Smith, and J. Luke Irwin in "Additive Manufacturing in 2040."

To their credit, the authors see additive manufacturing not only as a "disruptive threat," but also as a "powerful enabler." They quote one industry expert who raves about the potential to "print electronics, insulators, conductors, plastic substrates all together without degradation." Likewise, a health expert tells them, "The medical field will be transformed dramatically … We will be able to print livers, or we can print pieces of arteries for heart surgery."

The authors also note that 3D printing represents a loss of control by government officials. Five years after the creation of the first 3D-printed firearm by Cody Wilson, the RAND authors see technology continuing to re-balance the power relationship between individuals and the state.

"At the domestic level, point-of-sale consumption will no longer be an opportunity for governmental control of risky goods, such as firearms and drones," they write. "State sovereignty is predicated on a monopoly of force and, at a minimum, the capacity to regulate arms. [Additive manufacturing] will further relax this control, giving private citizens greater access to lethal weapons and other tools of violence."

Not mentioned in the report, but noted in a related RAND article, is "the potential for new street drugs, custom-printed from chemicals."

Yes, this could mean—as the report foresees—more risk of crime and terrorism in the future. The authors pose scenarios in which terrorists penetrate targets unarmed and use existing 3D printers inside the defensive perimeter to create weapons.

OK. Maybe.

But criminals and terrorists are already pretty well supplied around the world, via black markets, state sponsors, and often their own manufacturing capability. Forget ISIS—it's the shopkeepers afraid of crime and denied the means of self-defense, or the deliberately disarmed and abused minority suffering under a hostile government, who are most likely to find the acquisition of arms easier courtesy of new technology.

Additive manufacturing also eases the availability of spare parts—especially in isolated settings and for old or unusual equipment. That's why the United States Marine Corps has embraced the technology for fabricating replacements in the field, and fanciers of classic cars see 3D printing as a great alternative to hunting for rare parts and paying through the nose for the privilege.

"When a product fails and certain replacement parts are unavailable or scarce, 3D printing offers a means for a quick and efficient repair," noted a paper presented at the 2015 Product Lifetime and the Environment Conference.

And the innovations that keep weapons functioning in the field and vintage cars cruising the roads will just as easily benefit an airline forbidden to make purchases on the world market. Subject to international sanctions, Iran's domestic airline "had become infamous for its crashes as the aging fleet struggled to fly using only 'smuggled or improvised parts,'" notes the RAND report. But the company is gaining the ability to make what it needs.

This "might reduce the number of accidents," sniffs the RAND report, yet "that benefit comes at the cost of weakening the effectiveness of sanctions, which represent a basic tool for managing geopolitical challenges." But many observers might think that it's a positive development when end users can create critical replacement parts on the fly, even if it deprives squabbling politicians of the ability to hold airline passengers as hostages.

A technology that can fabricate replacement parts at the point of use can create a lot more, too. Johnston, Smith, and Irwin cite estimates that 10 years from now, additive manufacturing will be responsible for between 5 and 50 percent of goods sold, and up to 90 percent two decades out.

That scale of industrial transformation is likely to mean big changes in where and when goods are produced—potentially creating (the authors say) new dangers. They open the paper with a hypothetical attack by terrorists radicalized by high unemployment in their country because "factories that once assembled more-specialized goods have been replaced by local [3D] printers in the markets to which those goods were once exported." But that's only looking at what's lost—considering the horse-drawn carriage makers, to use an old example, without also acknowledging the automobile manufacturing jobs that came to replace them.

Later in the paper, the authors concede that "business opportunities that do not even exist yet, such as the production of human organs, could emerge" as additive manufacturing progresses," and "thus, products and perhaps whole industries could move to different locations in the figure even as the frontier itself advances."

Well, yes. Dynamic change can be disruptive, but it also means new opportunity and prosperity.

The authors also worry some about the potential for new hacking targets posed by 3D printers, in which software change might result in sabotaging a whole run of products. But that sort of danger pales compared to the dangers posed by cyberattacks on existing large-scale manufacturers, who would seem to represent much more tempting targets than a decentralized world of small printers.

To me, the ratio of risk to reward in additive manufacturing recommends a firm embrace of the technology. But even if it didn't—even if I were to join the control-freaky among us, panic, and try to cram the genie back in the bottle—it's too late to turn back.

Additive manufacturing "machines could soon be able to replicate themselves, with organizations such as RepRap and Fab@home providing freely available open-source schematics on how to manufacture the necessary parts," Johnston, Smith, and Irwin notes. Soon, "point-of-sale controls will not be able to limit (or even track) the proliferation of" 3D printers. And if policymakers try to control the creation and exchange of disapproved designs, "online communities, black markets, and other venues for exchange will make any number of plans and designs readily accessible worldwide."

So rolling back the DIY revolution, or somehow crippling or tracking 3D printers, is out of the question. Instead of fretting about the latest wave of empowering innovations, let's embrace them. Sure, they pose some potential dangers, as does every new development. But they also offer the opportunity for individual empowerment, growing prosperity, and wild new possibilities in a world where governments are less able to restrict, disarm, and otherwise bully their subjects. And that uncontrolled future is coming whether anybody likes it or not.

NEXT: Trump Will—and Should—Declare the North Korea Summit a Success

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  1. “Government guns will stop working because 3d printing.”

    1. 3D printing of Captain America vibranium shields will make government powerless to stop you.

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    2. Removing the government monopoly on guns is the point there.
      A person with a gun is a problem. Lots of people with guns are not.

  2. To incredibly stupid people things they don’t comprehend seem like magic which leads them into magical thinking. Computer-controlled production is half a century old. “3D printing” is an incremental step forward with so many limitations as to make it nearly useless at the consumer level for anything but the simplest trinkets. Anyone that can afford to fabricate aeronautical equipment weapons systems and designer drugs using 3D printing is already doing it for cheaper with conventional computer-controlled fabrication techniques. And yet DIY nuclear weapons and Substance D have not slipped under the government radar.

    1. What you’re missing here is that 3D printing keeps improving, with no end point dictated by physics short of being able to print anything you have the design for that’s physically realizable.

      Eventually they’ll become “Von Neumann machines”, capable of replicating themselves from power and dirt.

      But, yeah, 3D printers won’t be able to transmute elements any time soon.

      1. No, they won’t. Standard manufacturing processes are always cheaper than 3D printing for any significant lot sizes (10k+). And they always will be. Anything that has to raster is inherently slower (read more expensive) than bulk processes.

        1. The idea is that it has already become consumer grade, which is just a signal that the process is becoming more refined and cheaper. But even more than that, people are now becoming accustomed to the idea. Changing social inertia is a bitch to do, and it’s being done. We’re definitely not there yet, and it could be much further off than the article implies. But it’s coming.

          With further technological advancement, the argument goes that this becomes an inherent check on IP and its market restrictions. Much like the advent of file sharing.

          1. JunkScienceIsJunk|6.12.18 @ 10:56AM|#
            “But it’s coming.”

            No, it’d not, except in wealthy countries.
            It’s ‘batch process’ and slow besides, requires infrastructure support left and right.
            Trinkets for hobbyists, or somewhat inexpensive prototyping. Nothing more.

      2. In essence, the RepRap project is intended to do just that. The goal of the RepRap project, (which I’ve not hung around for several years now, so there may have been some drift,) is to 3-D print all the parts of a 3-D printer.
        Some assembly required, and the first generations are only able to print the brackets, with the others having to be sourced from outside.

        1. Some assembly required, and the first generations are only able to print the brackets, with the others having to be sourced from outside.

          The n-th generation won’t be fully self-printing. For the foreseeable future (that is at least the next 25-50 yrs.) a significant portion of the machine is going to be made from off-the-shelf pieces. I say 25-50 yrs. because it’s readily obvious that stuff like the glass printer bed, copper coils of the pre-assembled stepper motors, and the threaded rods used both as structural elements and guide pins aren’t even going to be able to be printed by laymen in the next 5-10 yrs. and will require a massive redesign of the printer when they are able to be. Not that we’ll never make a fully self-replicating machine (it’s arguably already been done at the nanoscale), but it should be evident to even a modestly skilled engineer that the machine isn’t ‘right around the bend’ from printing an entire copy of itself from scratch.

          1. No. It’s not, but 25-50 years is a very pessimistic projection.
            Multi-head machines can print materials with different behaviors. Printing conductive materials has already been mooted. Print an air-cure heat-resistant material, like JB-Weld, for the bed, (and for the thermoplastic extruder bits). Add a mill, a dremel, as a print head to buff off the rough edges.
            Play rock-paper-scissors with the materials. Material A is fragile, but takes heat well. Material B melts, but is durable. Materials A and B are both insulators, but Material C conducts well, and can be forced through a nozzle.

            Some things it’ll probably always be cheaper to supply as a separate material than to print from scratch, but it wouldn’t surprise me if, within the next decade, the 3D printer, the CNC milling machine, and the pick-n-place robot started to come together into a single, not-too-expensive product.
            Oh, and let’s not forget CNC painting. Add an airbrush as a print head to have full-color printed parts.

            1. No. It’s not, but 25-50 years is a very pessimistic projection.

              Some things it’ll probably always be cheaper to supply as a separate material than to print from scratch,

              Which is it?

              Play rock-paper-scissors with the materials.

              Have you ever designed a product on the consumer-level? Rock-paper-scissors *might* get you into feasibility and almost certainly isn’t going to get you out of it.

              I’m not saying manufacturing can’t be automated or even some of it automated in the home. I’m saying that the sum total of manufacturing can’t be boiled down to the limited functionality of an at home (or even industrial) 3D printer. The only way it does is if you give the 3D printer capabilities that are in no way 3D or printing. Ultimately, your half-hearted and indirect defense exposes the notion that you’re trying to fool yourself and others because you know I’m right. Yes, you can someone could extrude three different kinds of plastic from a Reprap and add an airbrush head to spraypaint it colors. It still does nothing to address the fact that the printer can’t come close to printing the dozens of feet of copper wire or threaded stainless bar that are required for its construction and possibly-to-likely never will. The sorts of things that have been strung up in homes and used to make screw clamps for the better part of a century if not longer.

              1. A printer that can print itself, using the printer to produce snap-together parts, should be doable inside a decade. I’ve seen at least one rep-rap design where all the structural elements were made from printed plastic rather than that stainless bar.

                Will a 3-D printer be as good as general manufacturing in 25, 50, or 100 years? Not likely. But will the hurdle of being able to print a copy of itself from basic stock, rather than separately sourced assemblies, take that long? I don’t believe so.

                Will there ever be a point where a 3-D printer is better than a factory for producing one thing well and in quantity? Not likely. Specialization nearly always beats out generalization, within its narrow specialty…such as making a million identical spoons a day.

    2. This is simply not true. High end manufacturing is already turning to 3d printing because it can do things that traditional computer controlled fabrication techniques cannot do. SpaceX is making much of their rocket engines with 3d printing.

      But at the low end 3d printing offers access to things that are hard to get and maybe only marginally worth the price it would take to obtain them. Things like replacement parts for appliances. I had a dishwasher that needed a tiny little plastic door release lever replaced. The 40 year old dishwasher was barely worth fixing, and a hard to find part made replacing it all the more tempting. I ended up fabricating a fix myself out of materials on hand, but a 3d printed part available for the cost of a download would have been a no-brainer.

      Right now it is at the level of the hobbyist and the boutique manufacturer, but the time is coming soon when they’ll be common enough that you’ll be getting things 3d printed on a routine basis.

      I paid $90 for a gang valve for my clothes washer last year. 3d printing threatens to make that into a $5 part that you either print yourself or get made at a local printing service. And that’s before laser sintering becomes commonly available to the hobbyist.

      1. We have two “consumer level” 3D printers here in the engineering office. They paid for themselves in the first month, producing replacement parts and little fixtures. In theory they could all have been machined out of blocks of plastic by our shop, but the amount of skilled labor necessary would have made the parts ruinously expensive, while the printers can just run overnight unattended.

        A 3d printed assembly has saved a shower nozzle at home that I’d otherwise have had to replace. Other than that my home printer just turns out little trinkets, sure, but even the production of them is educational for my son. We’ll be making extensive use of it this summer on a robotics project.

        The mistake, though, is assuming that the technology isn’t going to continue advancing.

        1. On the robotics front… one of the teams at this years elementary school nationals had a bunch of 3d printed tools that one of the dads had designed.

          They were neat little “pullers” designed to easily remove the pins for the robotics kits. They were so cheap he was able to hand them out to everyone as a little ice-breaker.

          No such tool existed. But dealing with those little pins was a pain. I was using a pair of small needle-nose pliers and a wire-stripping tool – the kids tended to use their teeth.

          This is the kind of innovation that ubiquitous access to 3d printers could provide. Solutions to problems that aren’t worth setting up a business and a manufacturing contract. Maybe there’s a thousand bucks to be made each year in selling that tool, worldwide. That’s not really a business. But as a downloadable CAD file?

        2. I’m saying all of this as someone who’s got one in the garage. Relative to my other tools and machines, even ones I’ve built myself, It’s a bitch to maintain. More than once, we’ve wanted to make something out of a material other than plastic. At which point, we have to revert to centuries old technology of forging and casting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic teaching tool. But then the ultimate product it’s intended to produce isn’t aircraft engine parts, but an robotics and manufacturing education.

          The mistake isn’t in assuming that 3D printing won’t continue to advance as much as assuming that everything else around it doesn’t.

          1. Arg! Threading fail!

      2. Right now it is at the level of the hobbyist and the boutique manufacturer, but the time is coming soon when they’ll be common enough that you’ll be getting things 3d printed on a routine basis.

        This time has been coming soon for well over a decade. Bre Pettis founded Makerbot in 2009. They’ve tried selling them in Home Depots and they aren’t moving. Which is funny because the injection molded parts sold at Home Depot right next to them continue to move. Meanwhile, local zoos and tourist traps in Chicago have had novelty injection molding machines for more than half a century.

      3. A *big* part of the problem with 3D printing is/was hype. In a multi-ton rocket, SpaceX sends up lbs. of 3D printed parts and, even then, the genius of the whole SpaceX venture has just a tiny bit to do with 3D printing. That is to say, if a better way were found to launch and guide rockets, SpaceX would abandon 3D printing tomorrow (GE largely has). Further, in the consumer-industry, 3D printing is advertised as completely custom at scale. The problem is, most custom work isn’t at-scale and most at-scale work isn’t custom and the custom work that is at scale requires at least a modicum of expertise, which starts putting out of the hands of the general consumer. At it’s heart, 3D printing essentially assumes that *always* a single-robot, bottom-up fabrication technique is *the* answer to every problem and that’s just not the case. It smacks of the unbridled optimism akin to that espoused by Drexler in the Drexler-Smalley debate. Where engineering is nothing more than just a process of smashing the correctly-shaped parts together in the right order.

        1. Bingo.

    3. Being able to reverse engineer a currently monopoly-produced or banned product – priceless.

      1. aajax|6.12.18 @ 11:12PM|#
        “Being able to reverse engineer a currently monopoly-produced or banned product – priceless.”
        Which 3D printing does not do.

        1. It does that for AR-15 lower receivers in states and countries that ban or restrict them.

          3D printing has plenty of limitations, certainly, but it’s main potential is in distributed/decentralized production, especially of controlled goods.

  3. So, RAND has arrived at the realization the Foresight Institute reached 20 years ago? That’s nice…

  4. Don’t worry, J.D. I’m sure Trump will come up with some inventive “national security” tariffs or penaltaxes or something in order to stop all that innovation. And if he doesn’t do it, then a President Elizabeth Warren will certainly ban the things outright, since they can make scary looking guns. Either way, the state will find a way to thwart cheap widespread 3-D printers.

    1. Unfortunately, as you said, it would be far too simple for the government to make 3D printing nearly impossible. All they have to do is regulate “materials designed for use in a 3D printer”, and/or regulate the printers basically out of existence.

      I hope it doesn’t happen like that, but it’s government we’re talking about.

      1. It would be nice if, before that time arrives, SCOTUS sees fit to revive the freedom of contract doctrine that they used to have before the New Deal.

      2. It isn’t just the government interests that are threatened. We also have entrenched business interests to consider. I’m sure there are plenty of well-funded corporate interests that would like to raise regulatory moats around their businesses.

        Auto manufacturers and dealers make a great deal of money off of their parts business. I’m sure they would love to nip this competition in the bud before it becomes capable of threatening their profits.

        And that is just one that pops to mind. I’m sure there are hundreds of other examples of very lucrative small markets that could be disrupted by cheap 3d printing solutions.

        1. I would not expect 3d printers to impact the auto industry any time soon. I’m an engineer at an auto parts supplier, and 3nd printers have a long, long way to go before their products have remotely the level of reliability required of automotive parts. A typical car has thousands of parts, many of them requiring micron level tolerances and extreme material properties, and parts per billion failure rates.

          Mass produced automobiles are going to be one of the last industries really hit by this. What you *might* see are a lot of aftermarket kits to customize cars. But the drive train is not the sort of thing 3d printers are really suited for, so the manufacturers are fairly safe.

          Manufacturers of cup holders, though? Beware!

          1. Manufacture of one of the specialized and overpriced switches in the steering column of 2000-2008 GM pickups?

            I once drove a minivan with, (I think) a failing computer. The air wouldn’t turn off, (until the fan died,) the cruise control wouldn’t catch and hold, and, when it got hot out, the thing would decide it was losing gas, and would actually behave as if it were empty…until you put it in park, killed the motor, opened the door to kill the lights, and then restarted the motor.
            I toyed with the idea of replacing that piece of junk with an off-the-shelf microcontroller. Something that could be swapped out with another off-the-shelf microcontroller if it ever failed.

      3. They’ve been completely unsuccessful at regulating other inanimate objects, like marijuana and heroin, so I doubt they’ll be able to pull it off.

        Ultimately, I think the big fight will be over content/designs. But they lost that battle re: file sharing, so there’s no reason that will be a hindrance either.

  5. But how will I know what to do if the goober mint doesn’t control me?

  6. Funny, I seem to remember a time when it was said that the internet and the World Wide Web would render governments similarly powerless vis-a-vis their subjects. See how well that turned out. See, e.g., Andrea O’Sullivan’s post on the GDPR.

    1. The internet has definitely had an impact on governments around the world. And they have definitely noticed. Even “liberal democracies” are taking steps to control content on the internet. Free speech is scary for those in power.

      1. Impact, yes. Weakened the power of government? We shall see.

        1. Weakened. Not eliminated.

          Yes, it weakens, until they learn to subvert it to their own purpose.
          3D printing will be the same. Once you can 3-D print a 3-D printer and an observation drone, police will print one pair, and have it print another pair, and pretty soon those little quadracopters will he hovering every hundred feet down every city street, watching for any suspicious activity via their Siri-like AI.

          SoHo 3D printers will probably “call home” with a list of what designs they’ve printed, and 3D printers, and certain other things, will probably be flagged for special notice. You printed a Freedom Gun on your Sears brand 3-D printer? Yeah. We noticed. Sort of like how the government is now apparently watching for TOR traffic and could be taking note of anyone who visits Reason magazine.

  7. The biggest problem with 3D printing is that for many types of products it will never be as COST EFFECTIVE as mass manufacturing. So while it will be sweet to be able to print out some weird old car part that has very low demand, and would be cheaper in that case than running a big run of thousands that may take 20 years to sell, it will not likely replace many other things due to cost. It is simply faster and more efficient to have big ass plastic molding machine crank out 100,000 widgets in a day for some product that sells by the millions every year. 3D printing will never match that speed/efficiency.

    So while there is a lot of room for awesome stuff, I think it will remain more of a niche thing in most areas of life. That said, if the metal 3D printers ever become affordable that could make for some fun ass hobby stuff! Plastic is just lame, and the industrial ones that do metals are crazy expensive.

    1. I think this is exactly where we are heading. High-end manufacturing is already talking about moving to huge floors of 3d printers for mass production of weird laser-sintered metal parts. Anything made of metal where weight is an issue is prime for 3d printing solutions. We may be a long way away from automobile monocoques being 3d printed from composites, but engine blocks that are 20% lighter is a possibility.

      I didn’t get it at all when people started playing with building 3d printers 20 years ago. I thought it was a cool hobbyist thing, but I couldn’t see how some little plastic blob that was almost as good as a bad injection mold was in any way a viable product. But they kept talking about how this was the future and everything would be 3d printed.

      Well, now I can see what they were talking about. I still don’t see “everything” anywhere in the near or mid-term future. But the printers are getting good enough and cheap enough that they are creating a market. And we all know what happens when a market for a product exists.

      1. From what I see as a layman, it looks like even with additive manufacturing, there is still pretty of post processing needed, ie polishing, coatings, hardening, etc and we appear far away from stuff just popping out done, other than simple or non critical parts. All that stuff takes labor and fear too.

        1. Replace “fear” with “gear”

        2. All true. Unless you’re okay with a very rough finish almost nothing on the market really comes out ready to sell/use. Gotta have them tumble polisher dealy bobbits too even in the 21st century!

      2. Yup. There are a TON of potential uses, either in niche products, OR in situations where 3D printing offers a performance advantage, like making parts that are hollow that could never be molded that way. There will be a lot of cool stuff done with the tech… But the plastic fork you pick up at McDonalds in 2035 will still be stamped out in a mold by the millions just like it is today, as will tons of other things.

        I have “got” that there are cool things to do with the tech since I first heard about them many years ago… But for me personally I just don’t like plastic, so I never cared much. Some things it is the best material, but for me I’m more of a metal/glass/wood kinda guy. So getting the metal ones more affordable is what I think would be the most awesome thing. You can make “real” products in metal, ya know? Plastic just screams cheap/toy to me.

        But plastic has its place. A hobby business of mine sometimes has weird plastic parts that are neigh impossible to get, and the thought has crossed my mind to find somebody to do up some 3D printed parts for the 30+ year old gear. It would totally be a viable product to sell, and it’s exactly the kind of thing this tech is great for… I should probably do that one of these days…

        1. But the plastic fork you pick up at McDonalds in 2035 will still be stamped out in a mold by the millions just like it is today, as will tons of other things.

          Same goes for the metal fork you pick up at IHOPB or Cracker Barrel.

          The thing that *kills* me about 3D printing is the overt retardedness of it’s fanbase. There are plenty of applications where plastic is melded to metal, plastic is lost casting metal, plastic is formulated to coat metal, two metals are treated with plastic to prevent corrosion, wood is treated with plastic and mated to iron to prevent corrosion, metal is ground into shape, etc., etc., etc. 3D printer look at all of it and go “Somebody’ll make it come out of an extruder.” Not, “We could print the plastic on existing unusual metal surfaces.” or “We could add a powder coating functionality to our printer.” or “We could have a joining machine butted up against the fabricator and negotiate a pass-between.” It’s frequently a rather overt display of their ignorance and a rather classic example of making your problem fit your solution.

          Like if, tomorrow, everyone insisted that all sharp metal edges be made the way samurai swords are made. Even within the sword/knife-making community, there would still at least be half a dozen ‘factions’ making better single-piece forged swords, let alone all the other places where metal edges are used to break materials. To act like 3D printing is the one manufacturing method to rule them all is just stupid.

          1. Yup. Fanbois get like this with a lot of technology though. Just because a certain technology CAN do something, doesn’t mean it should, or that it is the best way. 3D printing WILL revolutionize many specific areas, but it is not the one ring to rule them all.

    2. Material efficiency may help 3D printers as well, especially in metals. What’s more efficient?

      – Making blocks of metal that get CNCed into widgets, then the metal scraps get collected, melted down and recast into more blocks?

      – 3D printing widgets with the exact amount of metal you need.

      1. Recycling clean scrap is almost free. The majority of the energy cost is in the initial refinement.

      2. Material efficiency may help 3D printers as well, especially in metals. What’s more efficient?

        – Making blocks of metal that get CNCed into widgets, then the metal scraps get collected, melted down and recast into more blocks?

        – 3D printing widgets with the exact amount of metal you need.

        This is a false dichotomy. Again, you’re working from the frame of mind that there are only two methods to do things when it’s not the case. You’re trying to solve all the problems from start to finish rather than solving any given problem well. 3D printing isn’t fundamentally more efficient and in lots of ways, it’s less.

        If I need to make a massive sheet of metal, the metal scraps would probably be best. If I need a long hollow tube, they’re both about equally bad. If I need specifically alloyed and finished metals, unless the specific alloy and finish can only be done by 3D printing, the 3D printer is going to fuck it up. All this kinda assumes that I need to make something from scratch, that I’d never need to do repairs to existing materials that weren’t 3D printed or make “destructive” changes or modifications to off-the-shelf parts to address an existing problem.

      3. More efficient in terms of WHAT is the question.

        Cost tends to win, whether it is more efficient in others ways or not. For instance China produces more pollution, uses more energy per output of products, uses more man hours, then has to have shit shipped half way across the world… In other words it’s the WORST efficiency in every way possible… Except cost. We import around a trillion a year worth of stuff from them, even though we could produce it all more efficiently in every single measurable way other than cost in USD.

        But for some products doing it the more efficient way might well win because it makes sense in some instances, like needing a HUGE block because of small protrusions in various directions, or for other reasons. Some things can in fact only be made with additive manufacturing, like adding empty spaces inside of solid objects, which would be essentially impossible to mold. So there is a lot of potential, even if it doesn’t take over the world like some people think it will.

      4. Except, that metal that got close to the sintered part got a little hot, and only hobbyists turn around and use the clumpy stuff again.

        However, a decent liquid nitrogen extractor and you have both a shield gas for your mSLS machine, and something for your cryogenic chipper, to restore that stuff to “pristine”.

        Also, I’ve read of a technique for “improving” mSLS output. Putting it in something called an isostatic press, and squeezing all the voids out of it, making it denser and stronger. It would be simple to print the can at the same time as the part, and just squeeze the whole thing that way. But that bungs up even more of the powder. Again, requiring milling it back into a “pristine” form.

        (I put “improving” in quotes, because sometimes you WANT a reduced density metal object, so such improvement would be situational, not absolute.)

        It is my layman’s suspicion that laser sintered parts are probably almost as good as cast in their tensile strength, but for some things you want forged.

        I will be interesting when the mathematicians figure out how to “fold” a part from a cast item, vaguely looking like what you want, into a drop-forged item, looking like what you want, and both the item, and a single-use, disposable, drop-forge die were both made using the same mSLS machine.

    3. In its present form? You’re absolutely right. But technological advancement is totally a thing.

      Also, some have argued against your mass manufacturing idea. Kokesh, if I recall, had a pretty compelling argument against that analysis. The idea (and I’m not doing it justice…) is that when the cost of raw materials comes down, and the designs become freely accessible through demand, then many things will be more efficiently manufactured by your printer because you’re not also paying for distribution, marketing, regulation, etc. And you’re also not subject to IP restrictions. (well, you are, but we can ignore that for now…)

      1. There is a place for what you’re saying, all I’m saying is it won’t take over EVERYTHING. As a for instance: If plastic printers were found in every home, as many enthusiasts think will happen… MAYBE printing out a random cup might make sense. You can cut out distribution in a way, and that can be efficient losing middle men… Other than the fact that the raw plastic STILL has to be shipped out and distributed too, probably with middle men. Also, how many different colors and types of plastic will the home enthusiast want to keep around? What if they want a black cup instead of red, which is the source plastic they happen to have handy? What if you want a LARGE plastic item. Most people won’t buy printers that can print out a 3′ by 4′ item, even if they can print a cup. There are many issues even with plastic that will keep it from taking over EVERYTHING.

        But what about when you want a knife? A metal 3D printer won’t be in every home. One that does glass? Wood? Even if many types of items become 3D printed, a lot of it will still be done at industrial scale by businesses because it’s just not practical for everybody to own all these different machines. So the utopian idea many 3D printer proponents have will never quite get there.

        1. You’re right that FDM-style printers are limited in what they can do, printing a single material per head, with some limitations on what materials a given printer can be adapted to take, and those limits will hold for awhile.
          The ideal would be a nanoassembler based printer that could print everything…within size limits. We’re not there yet, of course. Not even close.

          This is the daisy-wheel printer of modeling.

          Let’s talk paper printers a bit.
          You’re right that there is an efficiency issue. I can print out a book, right now, but usually don’t. While I have the information on how to bind that book, so I could, maybe, make a half-decent looking copy, it costs less to purchase a mass-produced hardcover or paperback from Amazon than it does to tie up my printer for hours, adding paper when its small tray runs out, clearing out paper jams, and going through expensive ink-jet cartridges.
          I HAVE printed books worth of material, but they were always things I didn’t have easy access to otherwise.

          But, if I didn’t have access to next-day shipping, (of if it was a book that was no longer in print, never was nor would be in print, something I’d not want Amazon remembering I purchased, etc.), and if I REALLY wanted that book in paper form, I can print it, and replace the supplies I expended on my next grocery run.

      2. JunkScienceIsJunk|6.12.18 @ 11:04AM|#
        “Also, some have argued against your mass manufacturing idea. Kokesh, if I recall, had a pretty compelling argument against that analysis. The idea (and I’m not doing it justice…) is that when the cost of raw materials comes down, and the designs become freely accessible through demand, then many things will be more efficiently manufactured by your printer because you’re not also paying for distribution, marketing, regulation, etc. And you’re also not subject to IP restrictions. (well, you are, but we can ignore that for now…)

        Right, the raw materials end up at our door for free, the printers are never featured in ads which cost money, the regulations never effect the raw materials you can use…
        Grow up.

        1. It’s never going to be “free”, but it’s physically possible to have a system which eats dirt and turns out finished products, including solar panels to provide the energy. Such a system doesn’t have to even be particularly large, if it operates on a molecular level.

          At that point, it’s the designs and software that are really valuable, not the hardware. Except in the case of hardware reliant on rare elements, or which is kept proprietary.

          Such a system is a police state’s worst nightmare, or its dream. If they’re available black market, nobody is reliant on the state. If the economy collapses and the only model you can get comes from the state, it likely ends up being an Orwell telescreen as well as an essential appliance you can’t live without.

          The fight for the future is which road it goes down.

          1. I have several of these .They “eat” dirt, clean the air, are solar powered, and produce one of the best composite materials I’m aware of.

            They also produce pecans, but the squirrels usually get those.

    4. I wonder how many Ferrari GTO replicas you’d have to turn produce to pay for a plant. Even selling them at 1/50 the current price of an authentic one, not too many methinks.

  8. Around 8,000 BC, a Neolithic farmer overlooked his field and thought: “We must be on the verge of an era of abundance.”

    What actually ensued was ten thousand years of assholes trying to rob you of your surplus.

  9. I’m linking to a website of fiction. It’s germane to the discussion.
    Scroll down to the heading “The Nanoswarms”, and think of that in light of the recent Russian worm that infect(ed/s) a large number of SoHo routers or the recent-ish hype of IoT-based botnets.

    Now, imagine your medicine-cabinet assembler cranking out Saran in your sleep.

    These things (will) need serious anti-malware protection.

    1. Whoops. Sarin, not Saran.
      Who cares if your medicine cabinet produces stretch wrap.

  10. “‘Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it.’ -Chinese Proverb” tweeted Ivanka Trump yesterday. There’s just one problem…

    Maybe it’s also a secret.

    1. What the hell, I’d swear I posted this to the other page? Ugh… more coffee.

      1. Actually, it is quite germane to the discussion happening here.

  11. “the potential for new street drugs, custom-printed from chemicals.”

    That’s some ignorant horse shit right there. So ignorant that it tends to discredit pretty much everything else.

    Yes, there is some talk of using printing to manufacture specialty drug products. But you would need to start with a supply of the actual active ingredients.

    It’s more about making them have specific dissolution properties – fast or slow.

    This isn’t Starfleet, we do not have the ability to ‘print’ specific molecules from atoms.

    Also, yes you could print a sintered metal firearm barrel, but you’d better have the necessary oven to turn it into something that could actually contain 50,000 + PSI, otherwise you could only fire it once.

    1. Actually, there’s been some work on 3d printing custom reactors which take basic starting materials, and run them through the same steps a drug factory would, only on desktop scale.

      Drug factory

      So “custom printing from chemicals” could be a thing. It is being worked on.

      1. Sigh.

        Maybe I wasn’t clear. This example is about creating a drug product containing baclofen, aka ?-(4-chlorophenyl)-?-aminobutyric acid.

        So they must start with a premade supply of ?-(4-chlorophenyl)-?-aminobutyric acid which then gets printed into the tablet along with the other sorts of ingredients typical to tablets (e.g. lactose, hydroxypropylcellulose, magnesium stearate, etc.)

        This is not about starting with a supply of atoms, or even precursor moieties, and ‘printing’ molecules of baclofen.

        Because that cannot (currently) be done.

        1. So the above concern about anyone printing sarin, or any other pharmacologically active molecule is needless worry.

        2. sorry, left this off.

          In the article you cite, what they are printing is not the drug, but essentially a reaction specific chemistry set intended to produce the one desired drug.

          Which is nifty, but also very limited in application.

  12. What if you could 3D print a femur?

    I did find one news article where some docs in China made a 3D printed vertebra which they implanted but no details on that. Hearts and livers, ok that is maybe in the future however a replacement femur does not need to be made from actual bone tissue. It could result in faster and better recovery than metal and bone grafts and better function.

    1. “What if you could 3D print a femur?”

      You already can. Want that in polyethylene? What are you going to do with it?
      Oh, you mean ‘3D printing an entire biologic structure’? Well, why didn’t you say so? We could have all laughed before interpreting your fantasy.

      1. Probably not polyethylene, but bones actually are a good candidate for 3d printing, in biocompatible materials. It’s actually current practice in reconstructive surgery.

        1. If you could take allografic bone, reduce it to fine consistency then re-print it into a desired shape that would be revolutionary.

  13. When the government starts handing out lengthy prison sentences for use of a gun with no serial number, things will get interesting.

  14. I bought a Monoprice Select Mini (Malyan M200) shortly after the model was introduced. I’ve mostly printed functional stuff for repairing things like the switch cover on a paper shredder.

    I needed a plastic insert to drive a screw into when installing a new dash pad in an old GMC truck. Rather than spending a couple $ for part and postage and waiting days, I measured the oval hole, whipped up a 3D design for an insert to snap in and had it all done and dusted in about an hour. (I have been doing 3D modeling for quite a while.)

    The printer has paid for itself a few times over. One job paid me $500 for some door handle and window crank knobs for a classic car. I measured originals, did the 3D design so they could be filled with urethane resin. I also printed fixtures to hold the knobs with metal pins in to form starter holes for the restoration shop to drill to final size. And I printed custom fit vise blocks so they could securely hold the knobs to drill. The shop filled, sanded, and painted the knobs to get rid of the layer lines. I sent along the early design test prints, some fails and extras of the final design to practice on.

    I was able to do it all from start of design to delivery in about 4 days!

    1. I needed a plastic insert to drive a screw into when installing a new dash pad in an old GMC truck. Rather than spending a couple $ for part and postage and waiting days, I measured the oval hole, whipped up a 3D design for an insert to snap in and had it all done and dusted in about an hour. (I have been doing 3D modeling for quite a while.)

      I snagged a door handle and a button popped off my shirt. Rather than going to the dry cleaners, spending a couple of $ for repairs and waiting days, my wife pulled a button out of the jar full of them and stitched it on the shirt, all done and dusted in about an hour. (She has been stitching clothes for quite a while.)

      While she’s made some money sewing and mending things for people, I’m unaware of whether her work has paid for the materials or not as it’s a hobby. Moreover, she doesn’t feel effaced when we don’t incessantly discuss her hobby as being crucial to overturning of the entirety of the textile industry.

  15. It’s worth noting that photographic printing has been practically perfected. Professional quality photo printers are affordable for almost any middle-class person?in sizes ranging well above 60-inches wide. The standard brands are astonishingly reliable. The pigment-based prints seem realistically to promise multi-century archival quality. These printers leave almost nothing to be desired. And not many people buy them.

    People who need good photo prints, or big photo prints, or good, big photo prints, order them from professionals who can better justify the (moderate) costs associated with putting such machines to work?because the professionals can keep the machines busy. That probably tells us something about the future of 3D printing.

    1. This is an excellent point and one I’ve made before.

      Carving an artifact out of styrofoam and casting it out of aluminum, brass, copper, pot metal, etc. is well within the realm of even relatively lower-class individuals. Few do it. The reasons why vary between the fact most of the artifacts they actually need are available conveniently and relatively cheaply in comparison; to the fact that more exotic tools are generally associated with more exotic products and services which are generally out of the reach of the lower or even middle classes and frequently necessitate their own investment of time.

  16. Using today’s 2D printing technology, almost anyone could make a hundred-dollar bill. It would be way closer to the original thing than any 3D printed firearm is likely to be. You could pass it to a Secret Service agent?who would have to go get special equipment to discover it was counterfeit.

    Despite that, somehow, government fairly successfully limits out-of-control manufacture of bogus Bens. Why is 3D printing of guns going to be any different?

  17. This is exactly how Skynet was able to make Terminators.

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