By ANDREW SHEN, freshman
With the modest reception of Google Glass and the Apple Watch, it might seem justified to say that the technological revolution is losing its steam. However, there is something in our midst that may hold the potential to spark a new age of creativity: 3D printing. Developed by Chuck Hull in 1984, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), divides a blueprint from a digital file into thousands of horizontal layers, which are then used to form a three-dimensional object, layer by layer. There is reason to question the value of 3D printing, as it has only recently gained traction in various industries like architecture and medicine and is not widely used by consumers. However, with the great potential 3D printers hold for home uses, education, and businesses, they might just be enough to add a new dimension of ingenuity to the technological developments of future generations.
Though they are still often considered to be niche products only available and useful for hobbyists, 3D printers are now affordable and accessible to the average consumer. In three years, prices for 3D printers have fallen from as high as $20,000 to $1,000. Critics, such as Rachel Armstrong of The Architectural Review, refer to 3D printing as “an artisan practice for an oligarchy of enthusiastic designers,” arguing that the low rate of adoption of 3D printing for average consumers thus far proves that 3D printers will simply remain a niche product. However, in the 30 years since it was developed, there has barely been enough time to realize the full potential of these products. There remains a myriad of uses for the consumer. 3D printing is more than a fad; critics should be more cognizant of the progress 3D printing has made and will continue to make, especially with the continued evolution of design and cost reduction for typical consumers. Considering the current optimistic prospects and 3D printing’s potential to achieve even more, it is safe to say that 3D printing can revolutionize the future of technology.
Though 3D printing is only beginning to entrench itself in home and educational uses, it has already been used in a greater capacity by many manufacturers. Companies such as General Electric and Ford currently use 3D printing to produce small-scale models of larger equipment, ranging from cars to turbines to even jet engines. Hospitals have also made significant advancements using this process in remarkable ways; just earlier this year, two-year-old Mina Khan, who was born with a major heart defect, received a life-saving operation that was made possible by the use of a 3D-printed model. Doctors used 3D printers to fabricate a copy of her heart before surgery, in order to plan and prepare for the actual operation. Those who claim that the technological revolution has come to a standstill do not see how 3D printing has been dramatically transforming all types of industries. Would companies pick up technology destined to be “just a fad?” Considering these notable advancements and growing rates of adoption of the process, one can only imagine the capabilities of 3D printing.
With 3D printing in the educational field, not only can students learn the inner workings and production of certain items, but they can also learn using 3D printed supplies. Take math, for example. Students would better understand mathematical concepts using 3D printed diagrams and designs than they would using one-dimensional textbook diagrams. Art and design classes would also benefit greatly from the ability to partake in new projects with an added dimension. Design students in Kansas State University have already employed 3D printers to make prosthetic skin for burn victims, creating fundamentally intricate designs for a relatively low price, cheaper than the prosthetic skins currently on the market. 3D printing is also used right here at JP Stevens. Although we have yet to incorporate 3D printing into our classrooms, our very own robotics team uses 3D printers to create small parts for their projects, in order to become familiar with the technology of 3D printers. Elsewhere, there are companies such as Leapfrog that offer a curriculum solely based around 3D printers. Schools everywhere from the Netherlands to Germany have used these companies’ products, making it evident that school districts around the globe have taken note of 3D printing’s potential. With all of the possible uses that the 3D printer has for enhancing our education, it is likely that 3D printing will prove to be more important in the future.
But even then, detractors still note that 3D printing may actually cause certain industries to struggle rather than succeed. With the ability to make products at home, why bother going to a store at all? This argument, though seemingly reasonable, ignores the window of opportunity 3D printing presents. 3D printing as a whole will only benefit the economy by providing new opportunities, especially to researchers, engineers, and doctors. Researchers and engineers will be better equipped to design and work with new products, increasing innovation around the board and helping companies revitalize their product lines. The 3D printer’s ability to create precise, detailed models will benefit fields that focus especially on the hands-on and design aspects of innovation. Not to mention, the benefits that 3D printing would serve to the medical field are extraordinary. Moreover, companies that produce home items will not be seriously hurt by the rise of the 3D printing industry. Though some people may decide to use the 3D printer for at-home production, others may still prefer the look and feel of industrially produced items. 3D printing is an alternative option in various situations, and it is up to people to decide how they use the 3D printer. Nevertheless, claiming that the advent of 3D printing will choke the industry will only evoke a Luddite-like fear of technology and set back our will to progress with 3D printing.
The debate over 3D printing’s ability to shape the future is not so much a question of its effectiveness, but more so a question of human nature; are we willing to try something that may not immediately benefit ourselves? Critics believe that its potential to change the future is overestimated; many also feel that modern technology is not as revolutionary anymore. However, the current progress and revolution counter this claim. Even though it is not yet a staple in our homes, businesses and schools have already integrated 3D printing into their work. If 3D printing has even shown the possibility to save people’s lives, how can we throw out its potential? Early adopters are not just members of a fad; rather, they are more likely a part of the beginning of a revolution that will only strengthen in the coming years.