3-D printing: For better or for worse?

You may remember Erin mentioning that I recently attended a Star Trek Convention. One thing I enjoy about Star Trek is that it provides an interesting view into the future. For example, on the original series (1966-1969) the crew of the Enterprise used communicators that resembled cell phones of the mid-1990s. The Enterprise crew of The Next Generation (1987-1994) used tablets that resemble iPads (2010).

On Star Trek, because of the limitations in deep space travel, food and other items such as clothing and tools were created using a device called a “replicator”. Replicators use recycled items and transforms them into new items. Today, this technology is available to us in a limited form — the 3-D printer.

3-D printers are very useful. Dentists can create crowns for teeth without the need for dental moulds. Custom orthotics can be created faster and more easily. 3-D printing allows developing countries to produce everyday items we take for granted using recycled materials readily available, thereby avoiding the costs of production and shipping.

Over the next decade, the cost of 3-D printers will steadily decline and become affordable for the average North American. Owning a 3-D printer could be beneficial as it would be easy to create replacement parts for objects that have broken. This could lead to fewer items being sent to landfill, as it would be easy to make repairs. Also, items could be customized to function better for your specific situation. For example, if you cannot find a shelf at the store to fit your uniquely sized space, a customized shelf could be built with a 3-D printer and that would allow you to become better organized.

However, 3-D printing is a double-edged sword. The cost for raw material is relatively low. Would consumers spend time building items that would create even more clutter in their homes and offices? (Custom bobble-head doll anyone?) Would even more items end up in landfills because it will be too easy for people to create items they don’t really need?

In the Star Trek series Voyager, Captain Janeway refused to share replicator technology with certain alien species because she felt they were not ready to use it wisely. Are we ready to use 3-D printing to reduce clutter and improve our lives?

5 Comments for “3-D printing: For better or for worse?”

  1. posted by Leslie R. on

    Didn’t replicators have the ability to recycle previously printed materials? I seem to remember Picard putting the cup back into the replicator for disposal after having his tea, Earl Grey, hot. If 3-D printers could do that, they would be truly awesome!

  2. posted by Egirlrocks on

    Excellent post, Jacki. In my community where illegal firearms are a huge contributor to crime, there’s been a lot of fear-based discussion around the ability to make guns with a 3-D printer. Thanks for offering positive possibilities for this incredible technology.

  3. posted by Sandra on

    I hope the technology will be invented soon that will make clothes for me that fit to a T. I’ll be able to choose exactly what I want and need. An added plus…I won’t have to spend time in shops being bombarded with inane sales people.

  4. posted by JC on

    Sandra: Ill fitting ready to wear is exactly why a lot of people sew. It’s certainly an investment in time to learn and practice skills as well as in minimal equipment and then raw materials, but the outcomes can be fabulous and so much better than RTW.

    If the printer had recycling capabilities, I would love to have one.

  5. posted by Michelle on

    If you need a custom shelf you can build one with a saw & a hammer. Not that a 3D printer isn’t useful, but it will most likely just make us lazier.

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