The easiest way to understand 3D printing – a printer that follows a computer’s instructions to layer raw materials thereby creating a three-dimensional object – is to think of it as a manufacturing rather than printing process. This is an additive process that allows the creation of complex designs that are impossible with traditional processes and while the technology is in its early stages, the possibilities seem almost limitless (Lipson, H. & Kurman, M. 2013 p65).
The prospect of being able to mix materials brings with it the possibility of creating something with properties outside the range of the base materials; even properties that don’t exist in nature creating what is known as an auxetic material. (Lipson, H. & Kurman, M. 2013 p266-268).
The creation of materials that don’t exist in nature is just one of the possibilities offered by 3D printing; it also enables the creation of shapes and structures that only exist in nature, leading to exciting projects such as architect Enrico Dini who, through printing a house in stone wants “to manufacture something with a behaviour we don’t have” (The Man Who Prints Houses 2011).
It is only through experimenting and projects such as Dini’s that the fullest potential of 3D printing can be realised. However, this is where innovation and economics clash with manufacturers of 3D printers providing their own proprietary materials and experimenting with anything else invalidating the warranty (Lipson, H. & Kurman, M. 2013 p82).
The alternative is for researchers to create their own 3D printers, such as the University of Bath’s “self- replicating rapid prototyper” or RepRap, a printer that can reproduce most of its own parts as well as goods that may lead to the emergence of home manufacturing (Söderberg, J. & Daoud, A. 2012 p66).
But this then leads to a conflict with intellectual property law, much as in the 90s and the advent of files-sharing music and films, there are already the first signs of designers and manufacturers lobbying for legal protection to impose restrictions on 3D printing. (Söderberg, J. & Daoud, A. 2012 p74).
Lipson, H. & Kurman, M. (2013). Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing, p65, p82 and pp 266-268. John Wiley.
RepRap. University of Bath. Available at: http://reprap.org/ [accessed 8 May 2016].
Söderberg, J. & Daoud, A. (2012). Atoms Want to Be Free Too! Expanding the Critique of Intellectual Property to Physical Goods, p66 and p74. Triple-C 10 (1).
The Man Who Prints Houses. (2011). Directed by Jack Wake-Walker & Marc Webb. [Film Trailer]. Available at: https://vimeo.com/29984723 [accessed 8 May 2016].