I have become interested in the topic of 3D printing ever since the beginning announcement of its birth. From printing a small toy with plastic to printing a functional kidney with cells, 3D printing technology had received development so remarkable that no one could possibly estimate it’s potential. However, it’s not hard to predict that when the price of the device is lowered and its accessibility is raised to the average households, 3D printing will bring about many changes to our traditional lifestyle. In this blog post, I will be discussing several issues that will be triggered by these changes.
One of the most fundamental characteristics that has made 3D printer arresting is conveniency. Having a 3D printer in essence equals to having a condensed factory at home. However, unlike a typical factory, there will be no need for labor, giant machinery, or packaging, not to mention the vexatious waiting before the product is finally delivered to your front door. Moreover, when factories are limited to making a particular kind of products, 3D printer could essentially print anything with the right design and corresponding raw materials. Thus, perhaps in the future, everyone will only have to shop for the designs virtually, and have the actual products printed by the 3D printer at home. This whole new procedure will sharply reduce the wait time before the customer could actually use a product, while also enabling the customer to participate in the designing, absorbing their personalization before the product has been made.
Nonetheless, this ultra conveniency will also create serious problems to the economy.
First, though one might say, factories will still be needed for mass production, when everyone owns their own 3D printers and is able to produce personalized product on their own side, the total need for a certain type of products will be largely reduced. Thus, in reality, mass production for uniformed products will only be demanded for work units such as companies in particular cases.
Second, for 3D printers are technically build to be able to take any input to construct any structure, there will be no range on the products they could made. Factories specialize in one type of product will thus have vey limited efficiency compare to 3D printer. Maybe in the future, factories will also switch from using specialized mould and machinates to lines of giant 3D printers. Yet, the number of factories will still be sharply reduced since fewer factories and labor will be needed.
Last, with another 3D printing’s functionality of being able to quickly replicate an existing product, it will be extremely difficult for the law enforcement to protect the copyright of an original design. Even if a company still follow the traditional procedure and do not grant the customer the design of the product, the customer could still possess it from a digital scanning, and make as many replicates as they desire. Moreover, when raising to the manufacturing level, factories can steal from competitors’ design by simply obtaining their products. This will not only reduce the demand of the customer but also increase the competition between the manufacturers.
To sum up, as factories are one of the largest demand generators of labor, it will aways be necessary for us to find appropriate solutions for the relative economical problems before popularizing a new technology. After all, technology is created not to incur disasters but to upgrade our living quality.