New 3D printing technology could drastically affect economy

Imagine being able to create something from close to nothing. Not even taking some wood and carving a desk from it; literally taking some dust and making a desk from that.

In the past, such an action was primarily confined to God.

Thanks to modern technology, however, anyone with several hundred dollars and the ability to draw three-dimensional models on a computer can obtain this wondrous power. It’s made possible through a new process called additive manufacturing, or commonly known as 3D printing.

Now, not only will doctors have god complexes, but engineers will as well.

It’s a complex process and there are scientists who can explain it quicker and easier than a layman such as myself can, so I’ll not delve into how it works in too detailed a fashion.

In a nutshell, basically a 3D printer takes a digital model of a 3D object and “prints” it out in a confined printing area. The printer sprays minuscule layers of a liquid or powdered mixture of plastics and metals on top of each other, which are exposed to either light or a liquid and harden. The process continues until the object is completed, usually several hours after the print button is hit.

Currently, 3D printers can print anything from simple model toys to furniture and even working bicycles.

Yet the future implications of this technology are astronomical.

Sure, the 3D printers nowadays are relatively small and take hours to build objects. Then again, when cell phones first came out, they needed briefcases to carry them around town and they could only call people. Look at what they’ve become today — smartphones are essentially computers that can fit in your pocket. Now think about what 3D printing could hold in store for mankind 30 years down the road.

While the technology is new, vast amounts of literature and demonstrative videos can be found online to demonstrate how incredible the concept is. You can literally create anything your mind can conjure up, provided that you have the right materials and software prowess.

Scientists and speculators have theorized that the technology will eventually be used to create large scale projects such as creating cars and planes, furnishing entire houses and even building the house itself.

That’s right — the house that your grandkids raise their families in could potentially be printed out. Crazy, huh?

It’s scary too. Think of how many jobs could be cut by such a technology. Entire factories with human workers could be replaced by streamlined and efficient 3D printers.

Our economy is in the proverbial toilet right now. Who’s to say that it couldn’t sink even lower to the sewer level? If that becomes the case and 3D printing hits it big, it could create further complications for rejuvenating the economy by cutting factory, carpentry and masonry jobs.

While handcrafted objects of high-quality materials will always hold a higher status and value than mass-made objects, 3D printing could potentially impinge on that market as well — it’s possible that stone such as marble or sandstone could be pulverized into a mixture used in 3D printing.

Even bricks and mortar could be printed out in the future to save time, money and raw materials.

Admittedly all of this is conjecture. 3D printing is still in its early stages, such that most owners of the devices work in professional laboratories. Nevertheless, as can be seen on YouTube, 3D printing has already yielded hobbyists who have not only printed small-scale objects, but have designed the printers themselves.

It’s a very neat technology. I’d love to be able to print out furniture I myself designed to furnish my future apartment. Talk about your place standing out from the rest.

That being said, 3D printing has the potential to alter the commercial sector and economy in a drastic fashion. We would do well to proceed with it cautiously.

— Jason Axelrod is a senior from Atlanta majoring in mass media arts

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