What If You Could Just ‘Print’ Human Organs, And Weapons? The Promises And Perils Of 3D Printing

Posted on June 5, 2014 in Sci-Tech

By Shivangi Adani:

Imagine you’re driving through a desert to reach your destination. Your car stops suddenly. Your tyre bursts and you do not have an extra tyre in your trunk. You’re in the middle of the desert and any kind of help is a long distance away and your cell phone battery is dead. You’re stuck with no help. It will probably take hours for help to come. What will you do? What if I tell you that you could “print” a tyre right in the middle of a desert?

The human brain is capable of wonders and technology surprises us every single day. Who would have thought a century ago that communicating from one end of the world to another, in a few seconds, was possible? Yet, it is a reality today. Who would have thought that flying was possible in the eighteenth century? Yet aircrafts are a common occurrence today. Now, who would have thought that a tyre could be “printed” in the middle of a desert? Yes, this too is possible.

This less known technology, where objects can be made using digital files, is known as 3D printing or Additive Manufacturing. Chuck Hull, the co-founder and vice president of 3D Systems Corp, created the first working 3D printer in 1986. The technology has been in use since then, but not many are aware of it.

So, what is 3D Printing and how does the technology work? In simple words, 3D printing is similar to printing of documents on paper, except that the document is a design of the object and printing is not done on paper.

While printing a word document of an image in 1D or 2D, we give a command to the computer to “print” which then sends a command to the printer to print the document. For the document to be printed, it needs to be saved on the computer in a file format. The 3D printer works on a similar mechanism. A virtually designed file is made in CAD form i.e. Computer Aided Design and saved for the command. The printer then follows the command and prints the virtually designed file in the form of an object. The 3D printer has layers of material required to print the object.

3D printing technology can be used in almost everything that you can see and feel like – clothes, chocolates, automobiles and organs. Yes, it sounds impossible but it is being done. However, along with the usefulness, it also has a flip side. 3D technology can also be used to print weapons and drugs.

Engineers are making 3D printers that can print fruits, customized pancakes and even different kinds of make-up for women. NASA is all set to send the first 3D printer to the space station.

In India, however, 3D printing is still emerging. 3D printing as a technology is needed in a developing country like India. One cannot imagine the extent of progress we can make with the help of a 3D printer, if it is put to good use.
A few ways in which 3D printers will benefit India are mentioned here:

Manufacturing — 3D printing is highly beneficial to all aspects of manufacturing products. The technology will increase the speed and variety of manufacturing objects. The objects can be made as virtual designs and not as prototypes.

Medical Sector — The medical sector will revolutionize because of 3D printing. Body organs such as the heart, pancreas, eyes, etc can be manufactured. This area of 3D printing is not yet in use today but if successful, we cannot imagine how lives will be changed.

Low Costs — The cost of a 3D printer may be high today but for long term uses, the technology will reduce costs of resources, especially labor.

On the other hand, a few disadvantages of 3D printing are also mentioned here:

Jobs — Progress in technology and invention of new machines leads to decrease in labour and dearth of jobs. Manufacturing objects by making use of 3D printers will reduce jobs.

Ethics — Ethics are being spoken of today when it comes to 3D printing organs. A clear line has to be drawn in the medical sector as to how and to what extent can this technology be used.

Copyrights — Copyrighted products can be easily reproduced by the 3D printer. This will lead to broken laws and at the same time making it difficult to identify the prototype objects.

National Security — Prototyping of drugs and weapons can be a huge threat to national and public security.

The future with 3D printing is booming. We cannot begin to fathom the areas of our lives where 3D printing can be used. Technology has the power to make as well as destroy the world and similar is the case with 3D printing. 3D printing is going to change our lives, for better or for worse.

So, the day is not far when you won’t have to call for help when your tyre bursts in the middle of a desert. All you have to do is “print” the tyre.