Societal Impacts of the 3D Printer: Guns, Skin, and Labor
Although still a relatively small industry, 3D printer technology has already made a significant impact on society and its values. In general, 3D printers have helped to support a growing demand for cheaper products while also catering to a growing need to have personalized and customized products. This form of technology has also increased competition in the manufacturing segment and spurred the development of many new businesses and enterprises. Furthermore, the ability to create rapid prototypes helped to revive many industries that were losing their competitive edge, such as the American Automotive industry.
However, the story of the 3D printer does not end there. As we will soon find out, this type technology has already proven to be a force for increasing controversy in society as it pertains to many ethical and philosophical issues. There is evidence to show that increased controversy and even public outcry has resulted from the use of 3D printers. The biggest impacts can be found in the weapons industry and the healthcare industry with future issues likely to develop in the food industry, the labor market, and government taxation.
Impacts on the Health Care Industry
The Health Care Industry has been an early adopter of 3D printer technology mainly because of its ability to create lots of custom products in a short period of time. In addition to being able to mass produce custom hearing-aid shells, 3D printers have also been used to make a variety of prosthetic devises and even braces.
Beyond producing plastic health devices, 3D printers have even been built capable of printing new skin and muscle tissue as well as small organs and even ears! [The Guardian, 2014]. However, much controversy exists regarding this technology with some people arguing that it’s unethical to use these machines to create live human tissue. Regardless of your feelings on the matter, eventually this technology could eliminate the need for organ donors thereby greatly changing our societal values and how bio-manufacturing is seen.
In late 2012, a company called Defense Distributed raised $20,000 so that it could develop and manufacture a gun using one of Statasys, Inc’s 3D printers [BBC News 2012]. The company also had intentions to release the blueprints for the firearm design to the public so that anyone could print it out if they owned a 3D printer. Although they were not successful in their endeavor at the time, the company did serve to raise public concern about the issue of 3D printers and their ability to allow anyone to print out a weapon.
More recently in 2014, a 27 year old Japanese man was arrested for printing several working revolvers out of his apartment. I am fairly certain that this technology will really test our societal values with regards to weapons manufacture and ownership in the future [Techcrunch 2014]. Society will need to address this issue sooner rather than later if it wants to prevent the growing threat the 3D printers present in this regard
Even entrepreneurs in the culinary industry are experimenting with 3D printers. There must be a market for this already because there are currently three different food printers available for retail sale that are capable of producing an infinite array of edible concoctions. These 3D printers rely on technology similar the FDM style printers typically used for rapid prototyping and can extrude food paste into any three dimensional shape that can be imagined.
For now though this technology remains in the early stages of development because the machines can neither heat the food nor prepare meals consisting of food made with a multitude of ingredients. Commercial grade 3D food printers are also not in widespread use yet so forget about being able to eat a 3D printed hamburger anytime soon. With that said, many people have already raised issues concern the safety of food produced by these machines. However, my opinion is that food made with 3D printers is just as safe as food produce in a normal factory setting.
Impacts on the Labor Market
One of the downsides to the adoption of new technology is that it usually also means the downfall of an older technology and the businesses that supported it. Just like how landline telephone service is suffering a major decline due to the adoption of cellular technology, 3D printers will eventually replace many older more traditional forms of manufacturing.
Since the early 1980s the number of American workers employed in the Manufacturing sector has declined by more than by more than 30% [US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014]. While it's not certain how much of that decline was caused by 3D printers, if any, what is clear is that automation in general is indeed one of the reasons for this decline.
Many machine shop businesses have already suffered because 3D printers can produce prototypes and custom products faster and cheaper than they can. In addition, because change is occurring so fast these days, we may also lose many businesses that cannot adapt to the use of this new technology fast enough.
So for now, the direct impact to the labor market caused by 3D printer adoption is likely negligible. However, as this industry creates printers that are better, cheaper, and faster, the threat to manufacturing jobs will increase. In the future this could become very controversial because it may create a struggle regarding the labor market.
The growth in 3D printer sales and usage will also bring about questions regarding the government’s ability to tax goods. If enough people start to use 3D printers to make their own products at home, the retail market will start to see a decline in sales. Another consequence of this would be a decline in sales tax revenues for local governments. Just like how the adoption of Internet based purchases changed the structure of taxation, it’s probable that governments will have to change yet again by finding new avenues for generating tax revenue. Imagine being taxed for the things you produce at home!
References and Further Information
" 3D Printer Utopia or Dystopia? Two Possible Futures for a 3D Printing Society" Hubpages, Inc. 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2014. <http://cwanamaker.hubpages.com/_l1nk/hub/3D-Printer-Utopia-or-Dystopia-Two-Possible-Futures-for-a-3D-Printing-Society>
Biggs, John. "Japanese Man Arrested for Printing his own Revolvers" Techcrunch. 8 May. 2014. Web. 26 Sept. 2014. <http://techcrunch.com/2014/05/08/japanese-man-arrested-for-printing-his-own-revolvers/>
Beckhusen, Robert. “3D Printer Company Seizes Machine From Desktop Gunsmith” Wired. 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. <http://www.wired.com/2012/10/3d-gun-blocked/>
Davey, Melissa. “3D printed organs come a step closer: Australian and US scientists make major breakthrough in printing vascular network” The Guardian. 4 Jul. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/jul/04/3d-printed-organs-step-closer>
"Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics Survey (National): Manufacturing Sector" Us Bureau of Labor Statistics. Web. 26 Sept. 2014. <http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CES3000000001>
"How the Emergency of 3D printers will Destroy America" Hubpages, Inc. 18 May. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2014. <http://cwanamaker.hubpages.com/_l1nk/hub/Emergence-of-3D-Printers-will-Destroy-America>
Molitch-Hou, Michael. “F3D 3D Food Printer is Really Cooking” 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. <http://3dprintingindustry.com/2014/08/28/f3d-3d-prints-food-cooks/>
“Plans to print a gun halted as 3D printer is seized” BBC News. 3 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-19813382>
"The History and Invention of the 3D Printer" Hubpages, Inc. 29 Oct. 2014. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://cwanamaker.hubpages.com/_l1nk/hub/The-History-and-Invention-of-the-3D-Printer>