The not-so-dark side of 3D printing: 10 things you won't worry about

Published on: Saturday, 26 November 2016

A few weeks ago, an article published at TechRepublic titled "The dark side of 3D printing: 10 things to watch", highlighted 10 points we should be worry about related to 3D printing. The article did not went far, but a recently published article in the BBC website which mentioned the TechRepublic's post has given it a new impetus and has been shared through the internet to a great extent.

Lyndsey Gilpin, the author of the original post says "The 3D printer is a double-edged sword. It stands to transform technology and society for the better, but we also can't ignore the potential negative consequences". Ok, let's take a look to those 10 things we have to watch.

1. 3D printers are energy hogs
When melting plastic with heat or lasers, 3D printers consume about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding to make an item of the same weight, according to research by Loughborough University (...).

Yes that's right, but with injection molding we usually build thousands of objects that not all are sold, remain in the shelves for years until they are obsolete and, at best are recycled, but many times end up in illegal landfill or in the ocean. 3D printing objects is intended to build the exact number of pieces we need as they are built on demand, there is almost no cost reduction per unit when you print one or one million pieces.

2. Unhealthy air emissions
3D printers may pose a health risk when used in the home, according to researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The emissions from desktop 3D printers are similar to burning a cigarette or cooking on a gas or electric stove (...).

Well, it's slightly pretentious to attribute a health risk to the use of 3D printers at home. Many models are enclosed-type, while the open-type are always recomended to be placed in airy rooms. Anyway if you are a smoker, then you should stop smoking.

3. Reliance on plastics
One of the biggest environmental movements in recent history has been to reduce reliance on plastics, from grocery bags to water bottles to household objects that can be made from recycled materials instead (...).

Many of the 3D printed objects made from PLA (a bioplastic) or ABS can be melted again to produce more filament, there are great initiatives all over the world to recycle failed objects or small parts of filament. The concern to not produce waste with this technology has grown virtually parallel to the technology itself.

4. IP and licensing deals
In January, 3D Systems acquired Gentle Giant Ltd., which owned the licensing rights to toy franchises such as The Hobbit, The Walking Dead, Harry Potter, Alien, and Star Wars. Gartner has said that companies may lose at least $100 billion in four years to licensing or IP owners. 3D printing will change the business market—and the black market for these items—and the legislation will have to rush to catch up. This potential digital piracy situation is comparable to the way the internet challenged the movie and music industries for copyrights, trademarks, and illegal downloads.

Again the same debate as with music and movies. The technology has arrived, and this is unstoppable, the industry should take notice of it and adapt their business model to 3D printing era. Adapt or die my friend.

5. Gun control loopholes
The first successful 3D printed gun is old news, but its ramifications are very important. Companies are popping up around the world, attempting to sell these guns and/or the CAD designs for them. Engineering firm Solid Concepts has even fired rounds out of the first 3D printed metal gun. Congress' Undetectable Firearms Act, which bans guns that can't be detected by metal detectors or x-ray scanners, was renewed for 10 years. It left a loophole in the law, however: 3D printed guns with a tiny piece of metal aren't banned by the Act. Legislators are attempting to close that loophole now, after Congress ignored the issue for quite some time, with special requirements for printed guns.

Gun control loopholes should be a thing to review from our politicians, not from the 3D printing industry.

6. Responsibility of manufacturers
Weapons can be 3D printed. So can safety equipment such as helmets, wheels for bikes, and toys for small children. Of course there is the issue of intellectual property and trademark, but the larger issue involves responsibility. If a person shoots a gun and harms or kills someone, stabs someone with a 3D printed knife, or breaks their neck while riding on a bike with a 3D printed helmet, who is held accountable? The owner of the printer, the manufacturer of the printer, or the irresponsible person who thought it was a good idea to produce and use an untested product?

Please let me laugh a bit. Have you ever seen a gun manufaturer being condemned because one of its guns has been used to kill someone?


7. Bioprinting ethics and regulation
The conversations about the ethics of bioprinting have already begun (...) Printing cartilage is still the most realistic type of bioprinting, and printing whole organs is still many years away, but 3D printing is growing in medicine quite rapidly. Conversations about the moral, ethical, and legal issues surrounding bioprinting have started, but they will inevitably cause a lot more controversy as it becomes more commonplace.

Hmm, so the use of test-tubes to experiment with stem cells is also controversial, right?, Ok, let's ban the test-tubes.

8. Possibility of 3D printed drugs
Assembling chemical compounds on a molecular level using a 3D printer is possible. A researcher at the University of Glasglow created a prototype of a 3D "Chemputer" that makes drugs and medicine. He wants to revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry by allowing patients to print their own medicine with a chemical blueprint they get from the pharmacy. Of course, this is a very long way off, but it stands to enable DIY chemists to create anything from cocaine to ricin.

Let's activate the 'sarcastic mode': Well, at least the illegal drugs laboratories won't explode accidentally.

9. National security risks
A white paper released from the National Defense University highlighted national security risks from 3D printing technology. Since there will be significant legal and economic implications on the business sector and 3D printers offer the ability to produce a wide range of objects that cannot be controlled yet, the paper noted that there are definitely national security risks that need to be analyzed in the near future.

Yes, and the cell phones, the internet, computers, shoes, .... everything pose risks to national security.

10. Safety of items that come into contact with food
You can print out a fork or spoon with your MakerBot, but if you use ABS plastic, it is not BPA-free. Luckily, new filaments that are safer to put in your mouth are being created for this specific reason, but they aren't widely available yet. Many 3D printers have spaces where bacteria can easily grow if they aren't cleaned properly, as well. In order to more safely-produced 3D printed food and kitchenware, there may be a need for an FDA-approved machine. People probably don't want to eat genetically-engineered pizza off of toxic plates.

Well this last point is completely absurd.

A last point the author forgot to mention

11. Sex toys

There is a high risk of people buying 3D printers to build their own sex toys. This can lead to IP infringements, while posing a national security risk if this toys are used as a hand gun. But more seriously, people could put them into their mouth or other body holes or use them to hide drugs.

Definitely, 3D printers are an invention of the devil, we should ban them as soon as possible ;)