Exemplar: 3D printing is really cool

So I’m a huge fan of custom fabrication. My first run-in with the concept was at a design lecture by Nervous System in 2011 (they design algorithms that create digital patterns that replicate biological processes, and use those patterns to create custom fab products like jewelry and furniture). The idea of custom/on-demand fabrication of everyday household items seemed fun.

I still think this idea is fun and useful. And I would very much like to explore the potential in my own career. But I’m also worried about the implications. In that same year of design lectures, Cameron Tonkinwise gave a spoke about sustainable design, where he points out designer and “makers-of-things” are so empathetic to humanity, that they materialize that empathy into designed things – and thus we have so many things. And I am worried that custom fabrication will just add more things to this world. But perhaps it will eventually lead to less things, by replacing the mass production of useless or less necessary or less popular things? I don’t really know. But I’d like to learn more about the possible implications of 3D printing and custom and even in-home fabrication on society and the environment.

Do we really need more teacup designs?
No rings
No puddles
No dangling strings
No handles
No thieves
No need for a plate or a napkin or having to get up and throw away the teabag?!

Okay, back to business. Here are some examples of 3D printing I looked at…

3D Printed Homeshttp://www.cbsnews.com/videos/3d-printing-could-revolutionize-home-building/
This is so cool. And the professor researching this area points out that he hopes it will be used for humanitarian purposes, like building structures after a natural disaster. But my mind jumps to two things: what happens to these structures after the disaster dissipates and there is need for real and well planned infrastructure; and what happens to the construction and architecture industries and that have already taken a huge hit in the past decade? 

3D Printed Everythinghttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/10372598/A-vision-of-how-3D-printing-may-change-the-world-unveiled-Science-Museum.html
When I look at this I see a lot of junk. There are some very useful and unbelievable projects that are highlighted in this gallery video (like 3D printed tissue and food?!), but a lot of the knick-knacky things look like they will just occupy landfills one day, or worse – the stomachs of poor, unsuspecting birds!

3D Printe Objects Recyclinghttp://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/3-d-printing-a-recycling-machine
Some people are developing ways to grind test prints, as well as everyday objects, down into filament to be re-used for new 3D print jobs. This seems like a step in the right direction.

3D Printed Toyshttp://www.notcot.com/archives/2012/03/free-universal-construction-ki.php
Perhaps this could extend the lifetime of childhood toys, adding a new layer complexity to playtime? But on second thought, homemade products like this can bypass US Consumer Product Safety requirements for children’s toys, of which the standards have been remarked as some of the toughest in the world.

3D Printed Guns: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/11/14/245078880/plastic-guns-made-with-3-d-printers-pose-new-security-concerns
(More) unregulated weapons? Yeah, that could be a problem…

Like I said, I’m not 100% sure on where I stand, but custom fabrication can have some serious implications on society.

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