Tuesday, May 28, 2013

3D printers - Novelty toy or criminal's joy?

I have had a story about 3D printers floating around in my mind for a few months now. Ever since a friend of mine showed off the project which he created in his college class and those wacky Big Bang Boys touched on the topic with their mini replica 3D printed dolls. Then the news that the design for a working 3D printable gun had been downloaded over 100,00 times convinced me that 3D printers were definitely a hot topic. 

Howard Wolowitz and a building block
Howard Wolowitz and his 3D printed mini-me and Bob's brick (inset)
On May 5th 2013, Defense Distributed released it's blueprint for the first 3D printable firearm, the single shot .380 pistol called 'The Liberator'. 4 days and 100k downloads later, the US Department of State asked for the download links to be disabled so that possible violations of international weapons trafficking regulations could be investigated. Defense Distributed complied with the request without hesitation.

Defense Distributed had already made a mark on the weapons world with it's STL (STereo Lithography) files of standard AR-15 and AK-47 magazines.

AK-47 and AR-15 guns with 3D printed magazines
Magazines also available in other unrealistic colors.
Not only is a 3D printable gun relatively cheap, and infinitely re-printable, but it is also metal detector proof. These weapons could theoretically be smuggled through any security station that relies exclusively on metal detectors. It is possible that a 3D printed gun could end up in a prison, on an airplane or in a courthouse if the security checkpoint is not performing at 100%.

Back in early 2012, a master safe-cracker announced that he had scanned and uploaded 3D blueprints of a master key for a handcuff brand used widely across Europe and in most prisons in the United States.

Governments are aware of the potential danger of criminals, terrorists and stupid people getting hold of a printer and a blueprint, and are attempting to find ways to block the sharing and printing of these potentially lethal items. On the flip-side, civil rights groups claim that these steps could endanger constitutional liberties.

3D printers are being used in many aspects of industry for a variety of reasons. Prototyping is probably the leading use since most design is done on computers and in 3D. Printing a scale model of your new car design enables people to visualize it with little imagination required (useful for shareholder meetings).
With the price and availability of 3D printers now favoring the average geek consumer, the novelty of printing items in 3D is not quite so novel. You can now get a basic 3D printer for the home for a little more than $1000 and a pro-model for $2500.

If you don't want to spend that much money on a printer but you still want to create a model of yourself in Star Trek attire, or if you have a 3D design which needs to be brought to life, then Cubify.com can print your 3D model and ship it to you for a very reasonable cost.

So far I am yet to find the blueprints for a 3D printable girlfriend for all you young men who are likely to have access to a 3D printer, but if I discover a link I will let you all know.

According to another story I read today, it's not just science undergraduates and criminals who are embracing this technology. The US Navy is investing in 3D printers for making replacement parts for their remote reconnaissance planes also known as drones. The USN have commented previously that they have had mixed results with drones made entirely by 3D printing, but have not closed their mind to the rapidly evolving technology.

  • If you could print anything in 3D, what would it be?
  • Should 'Big Brother' attempt to restrict what can be downloaded and printed?
  • What color Star Trek uniform are you ordering for your figurine?

Share your answers below in the comments section

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