Archive for January 2014

How are 3d printers going to change the world?

January 6, 2014

Well, who knows?   We can never predict the myriad of directions new technologies will take us.  But wow it’s going to change the world.   It’s especially going to change the nature of copyright.

Currently 3D printing in the form  accessible to most of us is limited to simple shapes  made out of  (mostly)  ABS type plastics.    And  you might think that this limits the usefulness offered by them.    But a vast number of the components of your house,  car,  motorcycle,  life are just bits of this same type of plastic.    Various forms of technology exist and are emerging to allow any raw material of these plastics to…  in a generation or two of these machines … provide the raw material.   And that should give us a world where discarded plastic has much more value.   So we can see that in the near future  a component may not be worth what the supplier says  it’s worth…   but may be worth just the time and materials it takes to make it.

The implications of this are immense.    The LH mirror from my classic motorcycle is not obtainable new.  It’s not sophisticated or elegant.   It would cost $60 from Suzuki if they had one…  and when you cost in design.. storage for thirty years and the $10  cost it’s actually worth  that is reasonable enough.  But now it’s unobtainable and worth whatever anyone is willing to pay.   But it’s still $5 worth of plastic, a $5  bit of mirror and a design.   So it… and a million other (or maybe a billion other) components are all mostly worth the design.     How interesting is that?

How many things do we throw out every year just because we cannot or are unwilling to make the effort to get parts?
So  the design is the only thing of huge value the original manufacturer has.    So copyright is going to become hugely important.      Some manufacturers are going to  vigorously defend their copyright and patents.  Some are going to happily just release obsolescent designs for old products they have no interest in supporting just for the PR Value  (Thank you Suzuki!)   And some are going to just see their designs reverse engineered  in both legal and illegal versions.   Something which  the emergence of CAD  scanners will make much quicker.      And of course some countries such as China don’t actually strongly believe in copyright or patents anyway.

Then there is the  issue of criminality.   There will be no illegal machinery that  cannot be built.    Only the design needs to be either transmitted or developed.    3D printing is possible in very many forms.   It’s been done with metal automatic pistols that straight off the machine have survived several hundred rounds.    There will be no stopping this sort of thing at the border.    And likewise there will be no stopping someone printing off a replacement heart valve somewhere down the track.  And the possibility of printing off food has been investigated.

Are we not lucky to have lived long enough to live in such a dramatically changing world?

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