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Three Concerns of 3D Printing

Disruptive technology is the center of discussion for innovation. For example, Apple established the smartphone industry with the iPhone and Dell revolutionized PCs with build to order manufacturing. These innovations provided significant advantages and are viewed as positive developments.

The same is true for 3D printing, which is disrupting the mass production manufacturing industry as it emerges. Products can be built as one off productions or in small batches. This can result in lower costs, decreased time to market, and an increase in mass customization. Although there are many benefits to 3D printing, this emerging technology has also raised concerns that need to be addressed. Here are three of them.

Legal Issues

As more small companies and individuals acquire the capability to produce products with 3D printers, liability concerns arise. For example, large manufacturers of helmets and toys are strictly regulated in the United States. However, it is difficult to extend these controls to small scale production. The standard of produced materials is currently not well observed.

Intellectual property is also a legal concern. Designs and programs for creating 3D products can be copyrighted, but the lines of ownership are blurred with a growing number of micro manufacturers who do not verify if a model is owned by someone.

Piracy problems are expected to grow, as there is a low barrier to acquire a 3D printer and to use a copyrighted model. Knockoffs of popular products can easily be made with 3D manufacturing. A recent report from the Institute for National Strategic Studies states that it is important that entrepreneurs are legally protected and that their intellectual property is protected abroad in reference to 3D printing.

Security Issues

Unfortunately, new technology will always be used by those with malicious intent. For example, plastic guns can be made that are undetectable by metal detectors. ATM card skimmers, a widget that reads your credit card information as you withdraw from an ATM, have been produced to gain access to bank accounts.

Another concern with 3D technology is that it enables a greater number of companies and individuals to enter the manufacturing industry. This allows proprietary corporate and government intellectual property more accessible, increasing the chances that this sensitive information will be leaked or pirated.

Environmental Impact

While the flexibility of 3D technology allows smaller production runs with less waste, there are some adverse environmental consequences as well.

Current 3D printers consume a lot of energy, some using up to twice as much energy as conventional injection molds. Smaller manufacturers using this technology may lack sufficient air quality controls; unhealthy emissions can then be a concern. Also, as producing small batches of products is so cost effective, disposal of unused prototypes could increase and a consequence of “design fatigue.”

Although there are concerns that arise from the growth of 3D printing, they should not be a reason to slow the development of the technology. Overall, the benefits of 3D printing outweigh the consequences. As with all new technologies, vigilance should be used to ensure 3D printing is used with good intent.