Birtchnell and Urry describe 3D printers as “fabrication technologies that manifest digital data in three-dimensions” Birtchnell and Urry, 2016: 13) and it is changing the prognosis of many ill and injured patients (Scott, 2017).
Daniel Omar got a 3D-printed prosthetic arm fitted after losing his during an aerial attack in Sudan (Birrell, 2017). This fuses analogue (human body) with the digital (3D-printed arm), as Lipson and Kurman state this technology could eliminate the divide between physical and virtual worlds and predict it will eventually detect different blood types or changes in temperature. (Lipson and Kurman, 2013: 14-15).
This fast-developing technology creates bespoke products quickly and efficiently, such as limbs, 3D-printed skin grafts for burn victims and reconstruction parts, as well as hearing aids and dental crowns. Birtchnell and Urry believe that 3D printing will lead to “far more flexibility, choice and variety in the global system people currently rely on for the objects they use in everyday life..social, geopolitical and economic upheaval, disruption and transformation are also on the horizon.” (Birtchnell and Urry, 2016: 3). This could include redundancies of production workers, the quicker manufacture of things and the undemocratic nature of the quality and cost of 3D printers. The best 3D printers will only be available to the rich, meaning those will less expensive, less effective 3D printers could create body parts or goods that are substandard and do not last. The industry is also in early stages in terms of medical use, as Lipson and Kurman explain, “engineering tissue remains a delicate and difficult activity, bound up by ethical issues, political controversy and stringent regulatory processes.” (Lipson and Kurman, 2013: 128).
There are also concerns that 3D printers could be used to create and give unauthorised people or children access to weapons, drugs (Lipson and Kurman, 2013: 11) or counterfeit goods. (Birtchnell and Urry, 2016: 11). There could also be a black market for 3D-printed body parts that could lack the proper quality and regulation they desperately need.
Birrell, I. 2017. 3D printed prosthetic limbs: The next revolution in medicine. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/19/3d-printed-prosthetic-limbs-revolution-in-medicine (Accessed 04/05/17).
Birtchnell, T. And Urry, J. 2016. A New Industrial Future? 3D Printing and the Reconfiguration of Production, Distribution and Consumption. London: Routledge. Pp. 3-13.
Lipson, H. and Kurman, 2013. Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing. Indianapolis: John Wiley. Pp. 11-128.
Scott, C. 2017. In India a 3D printed spine saves a woman from paralysis and death. The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2017/may/04/in-india-a-3d-printed-spine-saves-a-woman-from-paralysis-and-death (Accessed 04/05/17).