Although 3D printing is constantly in the news, will it actually change our lives? After all, the majority of 3D home printers can only print cheap plastic replicas. However, we are currently at the start of a new technology! Do you remember printers in the 80s?
But if you want a more polished professional look, you still have to use a 3D printing service such as Shapeways. But we are in an exciting new era! 3D printing can only get better. The resolution of objects will get better and there will be a wider range of usable materials.
This year alone, the patent for laser sintering, which enables metal to be 3D printed, has come to a finish. Although home printers won’t offer this process, we can expect the cost of 3D-printing of metal to go down drastically.
But 3D printing hasn’t disrupted the technology industry yet. Large-scale manufacturing hasn’t happened as of yet, but we can probably expect huge changes in the future. For instance, companies will be able to print spare parts for their items rather then needing large storehouses. Spare parts will be on-demand. Millionaires, like Jay Leno, can already do this! Printing spare parts for classic cars is as easy as pressing ‘print’.
You will even be able to customise your own products. Nokia has already released CAD files for their phone cases. Users can print their own exterior shell! Even Google is jumping on the band wagon with Ara, a modular phone that allows you to design your own look.
But what else will 3D printing disrupt? Remember Napster? Illegal file sharing of movies and music created chaos in the industry. Likewise now, physical objects can be shared in the same way. After all, they are just computer files. So the possibility of copying products already copyrighted will create havoc. CAD files are already on-line, waiting for people to copy.
Games Workshop, a manufacturer for wargaming figures, has already felt the effects of illegal copying. They sent ‘cease-and-desist’letters to 3D printing companies because they discovered their designs were being pirated. In fact, their products were not being copied but new products were created using Games Workshop styles.
How do manufacturers protect their brands? Hasbro paired itself with Shapeways and has created a website called Super Fan Art where designs for My Little Pony are showcased by fans. However, these fans are selected, organised and showcased carefully by Hasbro and need their approval.
In the near future we could see print shops teaming up with large brands, deciding what people can and cannot print based on the rights of designers. We shall have to wait and see how far companies are willing to go to protect their designs!