Thoughts on 3-D Printing

3-D Printers are the future. Companies such as Nike are already using them to radically speed-up their prototype phase. Getting new shoes to market, and on the feet of elite athletes, even quicker. In the near future, the possibilities for this kind of rapid prototyping by big companies, and the ability of smaller companies and individuals to be factories in themselves will definitely have a big impact. In the long term, 3-D Printing is seen by many as an important first step toward a ‘Star Trek Economy

Recently though, I was thinking about how 3-D Printing might be compared to its older cousin, traditional 2-D paper printing.

 Printers are a miracle that enable individuals to have the power of a printing press in their home or office. Think about how wondrous that idea would be to a person just a hundred years ago. Yet today we generally take them for granted, complaining about toner, paper jams, and communication errors. Is this to be the fate of 3-D printers? Will they be so ubiquitous in the near future that we will forget their potential utility and see them more as a nuisance? Not to say they won’t be a (probably huge) net benefit to the world, only that I bet they will quickly be viewed as part of the scenery once the novelty wears off. Just like every piece of revolutionary technology before.

Another thought is printers are seen as producers of waste in a society  we are trying to make paperless. Could a 3-D printer potentially be seen the same way? If reality and physical existence are going to be increasingly digitized won’t a device that converts 3-D models into physical models be viewed as wasteful too? Why not just keep the 3-D model in a virtual reality?

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