Week 5 Reponse: Rapid Prototyping and the Emergence of 3D Printing

For this post, I thought I’d discuss Wilson’s blurb on Rapid Prototyping and respond and critique some of the arguments made against 3D printing by classmates Mikah Al-Arfaj and KP Yuan. Now, as far as responding to their arguments and to the questions that were raised for 3D printing in their posts, I hope I do not come off as condescending, rude, or anything else; I really do just enjoy the topic of 3D printing and I hope to introduce a new perspective to this on-going conversation.

On page 218 of Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology by Stephen Wilson, there is a relatively short blurb on Rapid Prototyping, which refers to technology that has a “variety of means to convert digital renderings of designs into physical things” (Wilson 218). Essentially, stereolithography was one of the first processes developed which allowed the designer to digitally render an object of his or her imagination and have this object be produced in a physical form. One method of creating this physical object is through the solidification of liquid resin by exposing it to “specific wavelengths of light,” while another may be thermoplastic, which starts with a solid chunk of material which is then melted and bonded together (Qtd. Wilson 219). When Wilson discussed rapid prototyping, the creation of these digitally-rendered objects were only accessible to a few labs that had the available resources. Now, this process is available to a wider audience with the introduction of smaller and more affordable 3D printers. However, in the first few years of 3D printing, people admired the ability to produce digitally-rendered objects but were put off by its ridiculously expensive price. 3D printers ranged from about $2,000-$3,000 each, sometimes even upwards of that (excluding industrial grade printers), and the filament that came with the machine was expensive as well and had to be replaced once every few prints. The process of creating an accessible, marketable, and affordable 3D printer was difficult at first, but now with more companies getting into the mix and with an ever expanding market, companies are now able to sell truly affordable 3D printers.

An example of an emerging company that introduced a sub-$1,000 printer is XYZ Printing, a Taiwan-based company which is currently hoping to extend its market in the US. Currently, they have five products on sale, with many more slated to release later this year, and all of these products cost less than $1,000 and its filament only costs around $28, almost the same price of printer ink. By being cheaper, XYZ Printing hopes to put a 3D printer into homes, schools, and businesses around the world. It is this affordability and mass production that KP Yuan takes issue with, specifically with the possibility of being able to make whatever we would like and having no need for manufacturers. Although 3D printers will ultimately become more affordable and found throughout homes, schools, and businesses, the possibility of them replacing manufacturing companies is unlikely. The reason for this is that the quality that affordable 3D printers produce will never be as good as professionally manufactured objects. While owners of 3D printers will be able to create quick-fixes around their homes and not rely too much on having to go out and buy parts, the reliability of plastic filament is questionable when put under duress. Meaning, the fixes people are able to do around the house would only be necessary until the owner goes out and buys the legitimate part. Not to mention that the user of the 3D printer would have to have great skill with 3D rendering software to create this little fixes. While 3D printing objects, if printed correctly, can be extremely reliable, it is uncertain that they will ever reach the quality and reliability of regularly manufactured products. Another perspective on this topic is given by our other classmate, Tian Wu, as this issue is discussed in a little more depth.

Mikah Al-Arfaj poses an interesting argument with 3D printing which I want to take a moment and discuss. Mikah argues that 3D printing should primarily be available those in the medical field and those that really “need” it (followed by a line which states that “or just people who can afford them for entertainment and convenience purposes” which was really confusing coming directly after stating that it should be primarily used for medical purposes). While I completely agree that there should be a priority for those experimenting with 3D printing in the medical field, I don’t believe that the public’s access to 3D printing should be limited. A 3D printer is just like any other artistic, design, and engineering medium, and the more accessible it becomes, the more possibilities there are to create new and innovative objects which may one day have an impact on our lives. For information regarding 3D printing and the medical field, I recommend visiting Formlabs’ website: http://formlabs.com/en/applications/engineering/ and reading these two articles on 3D printing and organs: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/3d-printed-heart-saves-babys-life-as-medical-technology-leaps-ahead-9776931.html and http://rt.com/news/202175-3d-bioprinted-organ-transplant/

Finally, possibly the most controversial aspect of a 3D printer is the fact that one can use it to create a gun. This obviously raises questions of morality, gun laws, and censorship but I don’t want to talk in circles trying to discuss a 3D gun and morality considering it would take forever and get us nowhere; therefore, I will approach the creation of a 3D gun as an art piece, meaning that I will be judging it on its intrinsic value rather than what it is used for. Before I begin, I just want to make a quick comment on those that believe we can easily mass produce weapons by using 3D printers: there’s no way anyone would spend hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars, on creating plastic weaponry with the intent to use it to harm or for protection. There are issues with quality, durability, and safety issues, not to mention the hours needed to get the design right (there was a downloadable template for its creation but it was taken down). Creating a 3D printing gun has no practical use. With that said, Defense Distributed’s 3D printing gun was done in order to be controversial, and use that controversy to raise awareness and tackle an increasingly important issue we have in the US — the issue of gun control. With the rise of public shootings and the increasingly restrictive gun policies, gun control is still being hotly debated with no real solution on the horizon. Cody Wilson, founder of Defense Distributed argues that the creation of a 3D printed gun, the “Liberator,” was done so to “demonstrate[s] governments’ inability to enforce gun control” (Forbes). To ban the creation of 3D printed guns would not only infringe on our rights as citizens, but would also limit and censor artists and designers and have a tremendous effect on the 3D printing industry.

An incredibly expensive 3D printed gun:

Forbes article on Defense Distributed:



— Ashley Bryan Marin


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