In the short amount of time since it was invented in 1984, 3D printing has become a highly versatile and marketable innovation in many fields. From medical devices, prosthetics, rocket engines, and fully functional automobiles, to novelty items and untraceable and undetectable weapons, 3D printing may not be for large companies with deep pockets much longer.

Some current altruistic endeavors for 3D printing include creating building materials faster than concrete can dry or supplies can be delivered to sites. Designs can be highly customized and reviewed before put into production, then manufactured and installed quickly. It may also mean shorter wait times for vital organ transplants, as well as an end to animal testing and organ trafficking.

3D Printing

As with any new technology, the drawbacks are considerable and usually not understood until problems arise later. Workers could be replaced by automation where 3D printing is installed, and industries that rely on model departments have already seen job losses in hands-on artistic talent for those with computer application design skills.

The development of new standards and liability concerns should 3D printed products harm or fail, may give rise to a new breed of litigious behaviors and outcomes. Some even suggest the Supreme Court will hear cases involving 3D printed guns within the next 5 years.

3D Printing

3D printers that produce items to a high spec are still extremely expensive, so access to them is disproportionate to those with income and means, which right now are still corporations and universities. The illegal manufacture of weapons, counterfeit money, or substandard medical products are major areas of concern when their costs go down.

The potential for 3D printing feels endless for a reason – it is up to us to make sure we use it wisely with an eye towards altruism as well as capitalism.