3D Printing Fall 2015

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3D printing is defined to be the layers of additive process used to construct a three dimensional object. Printing in such a manner involves a computer component that monitors the pre-designed pattern of the printed object. Additive or layered manufacturing then builds the material necessary for the object to materialize[1]. From its introduction in 1980s, 3D printing technologies have advanced in producing a wide variety of objects with applications in a diverse number of industries.

The original printing process is simple. Reproducing an image or piece of text from a template has existed in its earliest form since early human civilization. While printing is a replicative process, innovation throughout history has focused on process optimization. With early technologies came improvements in the printing press industry. Conventional inkjet and laser printers utilize the same philosophy of bettering an existing process. Printing remained the same process of reproducing images onto a template and advances in technology supported it.

3D Printing is an extension of printing but is disruptive as an innovation. Printing is now re-defined as additive manufacturing from a digital file. Successive layers of material may consist of plastics or metals and computer aided design files are manipulated on a 3D modelling program to which the object can be created.

Popular 3-D Printer by MakerBot



Bronze Age

The history of printing as a process dates back to 3500 BC where cylinder blocks were developed in the Near East[2]. The Near East is denoted as Western and Central Asia in modern times, comprising of countries in the Middle East. Cylinder blocks, also known as cylinder seals, were engraved with text, designs or images and pressed onto a surface. The figures are then imprinted onto the surface. Writing during this primitive time was mostly on clay tablets and text would be rolled onto wet clay to form the impression. The purpose of this expanded from standard administration uses to decorative and ornate designs for jewelry, pottery and household items. The use of a seal was also prevalent in Ancient China where the emperor and his magistrates would print the imperial seal on royal documents [3].

15th Century

Johannes Gutenberg's invented the printing press in 1450, an invention that used moveable type to press against the paper. Prior to this, scholars would meticulously write text for a book by hand or use wooden blocks to print each page. The moveable type consisted of metal moulds where Gutenberg would pour hot liquid metal to form individual lettering. Ink was layered over the metal press and the wooden frame of the press would support the paper. Interestingly, the first book to be printed with the printing press was Bible in 1454[4].

19th Century

Printing advancement began to take hold in the late 18th and 19th century with Friedrich Koenig's high speed printing press, spurring the development of Richard Mark Hoe's rotary printing press[5]. Paper is run through supporting cylinders with printing plates and is most notably used in the newspaper industry for its rapid and automated process. Coloured printing would eventually be introduced with the rotary printing press.

20th Century

1976: The Inkjet Printer was invented. 3D printing would apply inkjet printing technology by replacing ink with physical materials.

1983: Charles Hull, engineer at a US firm that coated furniture with photopolymers, applied the printing process with hardened acrylic and produced a plastic cup.

1984: Hull invented stereolithography which created a physical object from digital data and would continue to patent further technologies with his new firm, 3D Systems.

1992: 3D Systems develops a new stereolithographic apparatus which simplifies the printing process with UV light, solidifying photopolymers in order to make three dimensional parts by layer.

1999: Wake Institute for Regenerative Medicine scientists reverse engineer a lab grown organ via patient cells to replicate a urinary bladder.

21st Century

2009: Mass customization in manufacturing with the invention of the Selective Laser Sintering machine. Lasers are used to fuse materials into 3D products. Objet, a 3D printing manufacturer builds a machine to print with a combination of materials like elastomers and polymers. This changes the material density and property of the end product.

2011: Anthony Atala, a surgeon at Wake Institute for Regenerative Medicine, showcases medical 3D technologies in Long Beach, California. He prints a functioning kidney behind stage and his patient from 10 years ago, Luke Mastella shares his experiences after receiving a 3D printed bladder.

2012: A 3D printed prosthetic jaw is surgically attached to an 83 year old woman from the Netherlands after suffering from chronic bone infection.

Forms of 3D Printing

1. Selective Laser Sintering (Melt or soften material)

Selective laser sintering is an additive process which is used to create 3-D printed objects. This type of 3D printing uses CAD files which are digitized representations of objects. Once the CAD file is created it needs to be converted into language that can be understood by the 3D printer. The process of selective laser sintering involves powdered particles of plastic that are fused together by heat from a high-powered laser [6]. The heat boils the powder which allows the particles to fuse with one another to create a solid object.

This form of printing is the most durable and robust of all 3D printing technologies, which makes it a popular process for creating both prototypes as well as final products. Some common prototypes made are airplane parts [7].

2. Stereolithography (Cure liquid materials)

Stereolithography is one of several methods used to create 3D-printed objects. This type of 3D printing uses CAD files which need to be converted into a language that can be understood by the 3D printer. For this particular form of 3D printing, liquid plastic is converted into solid objects [8]. This takes place in the form of an additive process meaning the object is created by adding one layer on top of another layer over and over again.

Stereolithography is used in creating prototypes because it quickly creates highly accurate, durable and relatively inexpensive objects [9]. An example of the type of prototype made is a car door handle. One of the advantages of stereolithography is the speed at which it can print an object however, there is a trade of with cost.

3. Laminated Object Manufacturing (Lamination)

Laminated object manufacturing uses a CAD file which needs to be converted into the same language as the 3D printer. LOM is a type of 3D printing where layers of plastic or paper are fused together using heat and pressure [10]. The object is then cut into the desired shape with a laser or blade. Like the previous methods of 3D printing, LOM also needs a CAD file which will be converted into the same language as the 3D printer.

LOM does not create models that are as accurate as other forms of 3D printing. The LOM process doesn't involve any chemical reactions which allows this type of 3D printing to build large models. The materials that are used in the LOM process are inexpensive, and readily available [11]. LOM is primarily used for creating scaled models and prototypes that can be tested for form or design but cannot be used for functional prototypes.



Bioprinting Statistics


3D Bioprinting is by far the most unique application of additive manufacturing technology[12]. Essentially, cell patterns are spatially generated by using 3D printing, making printed cells, tissues and organs a reality. The revelation of discovering and harnessing bioprinting began in 1996 when Dr. Garbor Forgac observed the similarities between cell structure during embryonic development and the clumping behaviour of printing ink. Utilizing scaffolding or a base gel to print tissue would further discovery in bioprinting after Thomas Boland's lab at Clemson modified an inkjet printer to dispense cells in synthetic scaffolds. In 2009, Organovo, a San Diego based medical laboratory and research firm, designed a commercial scale bioprinter, coined as the Novo MMX.


The general process requires 3 critical components: human cells, hydro gel and a NovoGen MMX bioprinter. Human cells are sourced through biopsies for the patient. These cells are then collected, formed into spheroids and 'loaded' into a cartridge to create BioInk. BioInk is the material used to recreate printed cells and organs. The MMX printer produces a hydrogel or liquid based gel that acts as a petri dish for the printed tissue. The biogel can be likened to the paper on which text is printed on using an inkjet printer. Cell spheroids are deposited carefully onto the hydrogel and this process is repeated additively. The fused spheroids become the printed tissue. The hydrogel is then removed after the maturation period for fermentation has allowed the cells to grow.

Assistant engineering professor at Princeton University, Michael McAlpine, built a graphene tattoo in 2011 to detect bacteria in teeth[13]. He expanded on this research by combining human tissue with electronics in an exciting 2013 development of the bionic ear. The ear was physically constructed with a 3D printer, allowing McAlpine's team to integrate an antenna with careful precision during the manufacturing process. The human tissue is supposed to mimic cartilage in the human ear and the antenna is to imitate the cochlea, which functions to detect sounds. Through nano testing, McAlpine was able to detect radio waves with the bionic ear and future iterations will be designed to detect acoustic audio. The purpose of this research is geared towards individuals with impaired hearing[14]. <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bX3C201O4MA" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe> Most recently in September of 2015, researchers at the University of Florida have utilized granular gel and developed further innovation in scaffolding[15]. The researchers focused specifically on the microscale particles of the fluid and using a 3D approach to additive manufacturing to negate the effects of surface tension, gravity and particle diffusion[16].

Bionic Ear

Future Implications

Demand for bioprinting is intrinsically linked with the demand for surgeries and organ transplants. A core issue in surgical procedures is that the demand for organ donations far exceeds its supply. In 2005, 1848 patients died waiting for liver donor availability. In 2012, 4494 transplants took place but only 2218 donors were available. The medical industry has an overwhelming demand for bioprinted organs and given 3D printing's price-competitive nature, the supply of this in the future can be easily fulfilled with this technology.

While bioprinting is a technological breakthrough, it is important to estimate how far in the future will this innovation be commercially available. At this point, scientists estimate that simple tissues for implants and surgeries are possible in the future. Lobes are also considered to be easily produced within the next 5 years. In the far future, organs will be readily available for surgical transplants in the next 10 years. To understand how realistic this can be achieved, today's technology requires an average liver to take 10 days to print. Given today's pace, it would take 1, 690,912,929,600 hours to print every liver to replace the world population.

Bioprinting also plays role in reducing annual research and development costs in the drug industry. Drug research places heavy emphasis on drug consumption's impacts on organ health. 50 billion dollars of R&D was invested in pharmaceuticals in the U.S. in 2014 and human trials are an obstacle to drug approval. The extensive development schedule for human trials are extensive. Bioprinting breakthroughs can thus be expanded to complement and lower the costs of annual drug research.

3D Printing a Human Kidney

Bioprinting has also raised considerations of immortality, provided that there are no drawbacks from the continuous replacement of failing organs[1]. Bioprinting has proven itself by saving and extending lives. After suffering from chest wall sarcoma, a specific form of tumour that targets the rib cage and sternum, a man in Sarcoma, Spain received a 3D printed sternum to replace his failing chest wall. A surgical team at the Salamanca University Hospital worked with a Melbourne based vendor, Anatomics, to commission a customizable titanium implant. Housed in Anatomics' laboratory is a $1.3 million Arcam printer that prints in metal. Using an electron beam, the machine melts metal powered to produce a fine layer of material. High resolution CT scans were used to accurately replicate with a 3D model which was then printed to careful precision [2]. Despite these successes, bioprinting is in its infancy and barriers behind continuing bioprinting investments exist due to scalability of production. To combat this, Organovo is now piloting futuristic projects to engineer tissue in oder to create a model organism in your own body, making functional immorality a conceivable notion[3].



Until recently, 3D printing for fashion has always been plagued by inflexible material that is rigid and unfashionable, making it hard for the public to accept. This places the application for 3D printing to be impractical and unsuitable for every day consumers. The function that 3d printed clothes represents serves closer to a netted hard plastic rather than what normal textile clothing (cotton) serves, which is warmth and comfort.[4].

3-D Printed Dress 2013

Current Uses

3D printing has made tremendous progress by researching and utilizing different materials to emulate soft and flexible fabric in order to achieve the same expectations as textile clothing. This results in the creation of much more fitted clothing by giving a mesh-like appearance that is more flexible or bouncier than the originally 3D printed clothing designs. For the body, a material known as FilaFlex is responsible for the improved effects. Recently, Materialise and architect Julia Koermer, Iris Van Herpen, created a lacey dress that looks like a web woven over the body. It flows and moves naturally like a normal dress. The dress appears to be made from high quality fiber such as silk, but it is actually 3D printed from laserinstered plastic, where material is built up in layers from plastic powder fused together with a laser. The leaders in high fashion are revolutionizing the fashion industry by adopting 3D printing practise: Karl Lagerfeld showcased a Chanel suit during Paris Fashion week, and fashion student, Danit Peleg, spent over 2000 hours taking her collection from 3D files to plastic wearability in her home [5].

For footwear, large apparel companies, such as Adidas, have invested heavily to bring a 3D printed shoe that is practical and fashionable to its consumers. A leader in the field of 3D printing technology, Materialise, has partnered with Adidas in the creation of a shoe composition that is perfectly made for the individual’s feet, to exact their contour and pressure points. Their ambition through this partnership is to allow an individual to enter an Adidas store, run on a treadmill, gather data, and finally recreate a shoe that is perfectly suited for the individual through 3D printing [6].

Future Implications

This revolutionary approach to retail shopping serves to tailor a truly unique consumer experience to the client specifically, assuring perfect fit and customizability which leads to personalization. In current times, having a custom fit tailor take the exact measurements to recreate a piece of clothing that is perfectly suited for the individual would be costly and time consuming. Large clothing companies such as Adidas hope to normalize this process through 3D printing due to the efficiency and waste management benefits that accompany additive manufacturing.

3D printing can also benefit independent designers because they do not have the luxury of a factory. They will need to ensure large quantities of minimum orders and consider long wait times. Through 3D printing, they can fulfill small or large requests in a much more feasible time. While 3D printing can offer many benefits to the fashion industry, it brings just as many complications. The example of Adidas hoping to have a consumer enter their store, run on a treadmill, and recreate a product personalized to them is similar to having a person enter a room or booth that exacts their measurements and recreates a prototypical sweater or pair of pants to their fitting. These two situations reflect a problem where the intermediary steps between manufacturer and consumers have been streamlined. Currently, production costs and overhead costs are based on the amount of items a customer orders. However with 3D printing , there will be no cost until a customer orders an item. One can only speculate what type of impacts this may have on employment rates and the economy.

Additionally, if the end goal of 3D printing is to be a common household item, this can also have drastic impacts on the leaders of the fashion industry. If every item is personalized (fitting), items would most likely be made to order. Companies can mail the order to you by printing in their own stores or if 3D printers becomes a household item, the consumer would be the person printing the item. Therefore, companies will be selling blueprints of their design, radically changing the manufacturer to consumer relationship. The designer will be selling the design while the consumers will have to separately buy their own materials to use for printing. As an open source, 3D printing will allow consumers to add new things or change the original design and companies will have a difficult time preventing consumers from doing so. Companies that invest heavily into brand image and quality control will have to rethink their strategy because if the consumer adds materials that are not supposed to go together or changes anything on the design, it becomes difficult to see who is to blame. One may also wonder how refunds will work in this dynamic as well [7].

Another major problem for large fashion brands is counterfeit products. It will be very difficult for them to enforce authenticity. For example, if a person buys a Prada blueprint for a handbag, replace the logo with their own brand, changes a very miniscule detail, and sell it as their own brand, it brings into question of who owns the right to the intellectual property. Alternatively, similar situations arise if individuals print an Armani logo, stick it onto a cheap leather jacket and sell it as an Armani jacket. With the personalization mentioned above, it would be hard for large fashion brands to control how people manipulate their products. Stores that sell leading fashion brands will also suffer because consumers would be wary of these stores also engaging in counterfeiting activities [8].


Current Stages

Using 3D printing to print homes and buildings is a recent development beginning in early 2000s. By 2013, 3D printing technology was capable of printing a building in a week's time. The Contour Crafting building printing project at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute is one of the first to pioneer computer controlled construction of building moulds.

Dutch studio, Universe Architecture, revealed their designs in January 2013 of a looping two storey house that is shaped like a Mobius strip.

Advances in architecture followed with Softkill Design (a UK based architect firm) when they announced plans in building Protohouse 2.0. The construction is made of 3D printed plastic that resembles a fragmented cross section of a bone.


The architecture that has been researched thus far is largely untested in scale. Despite this, architects are continuing to examine different approaches in construction material.

The Protohouse 2.0 is printed with industrial laser-sintering machines that use bioplastic or biomass plastics. The design is lightweight and synthetically maneuverable. The fibre structure and composition of a bone makes the material ideal for such thin models.

Collaborations play an incredible role in architectural research. A collaboration between Universe Architecture and Italian robotics engineer Enrico Dini has resulted in a stone like material combined with sand and a chemical binding agent. Dini uses a machine called D-Shape and is currently the largest printer in the world.

10 3-D printed houses in less than 24 hours in China

D-Shape prints at 5cm per hour over a 30 square meter area. Dini's 2010 attempt with designer Marco Ferreri is also the first time a one room structure was printed for an exhibition. While the 'house' is not ideal for living standards, its existence has historical meaning. Due to the brittleness of the stone material, Dini admits it is not yet suited for building printing but mostly for building elements like panels and columns.

In addition to the above project, China has also brings dramatic changes to the architectural and real estate industries. In March 29, 2014, Shanghai’s WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co made headlines by famously creating 10 single- story houses in less than 24 hours for $5000 each. They did so through the use of 3d printing. Each house measured about 200 square metre and was made out of concrete and waste materials [9].

Decorator, Ma Yihe, the CEO of WinSun, claims he did so in response to the housing crisis and the need to create living spaces that are affordable and dignified for the impoverished families in China [10]. Furthermore, by using 3d modeling software to first design their houses, architectures are able to account for finer, but important, details such as insulation materials, plumbing, electrical lining, and windows. Perhaps the most impressive feat of this project is the waste management associated with building 3d printed houses. Ma Yihe claims that there will be no waste from the construction of these buildings and he expects construction companies to save up to 50% on the cost.

3D printed Villa in China

Fast forward 10 months, and WinSun made headlines again by designing the highest 3d printed building in the world and the world’s first 3d printed villa. The highest 3d printed building is a 5-storey residential house while the world’s first 3d printed villa is 2 stories and 1,100 square meters. The villa, complete with internal and external designs, cost $161,000 to build.

These significant improvements from WinSun have been credited to the world’s largest 3d house printer. The “ink” that it uses is an attractive solution because it uses a mixture of recycled construction waste, glass fibre, steel, cement, and special additives [11]. Because it produces a lot of carbon emissions to recycle construction waste, this is an environmentally friendly solution.

Ma Yihe claims that by using 3d printing, his company has converted otherwise waste products into new building materials. The 3d printing technology can save 30-60% of building materials and shorten production times up to 70%. In addition, builders working under these new regulations have less contact with hazardous materials and exposed to more safe working environments. The printer itself is also a large contributor to the recent success of the WinSun group. The world’s largest 3d house printer is 6.6 meters tall, 10 meters wide, and 150 meters long. Ma YiHe states that the size plays a role by increasing efficiency 10 fold in production. In the future, he speculates that 3d printed bridges and office buildings can be built right on site to decrease labour costs up to 80%.
3-D printed 5-storey building in China


Building a habitable printed structure and using technology to transform the domain of construction is controversial but with many future opportunities as well. Printing currently saves significant time, labour and transportation costs of construction pieces.

Limitations of 3D construction is the range of materials developed for scalable use, maximum size of printed components and speed of the process. Despite research in materials, this still poses a risk to inhabitants in structures made with unreliable material. Present 3D printers produce materials with homogenous properties. As a result, experimenting with printers that can produce functionally graded materials is increasingly the trend. Functionally graded materials expand the range to which multiple architectural elements can be compositely produced.

The maximum size of printed components is primarily limited by the gantry, limiting the printing of larger scales and structural/material complexity. In this way, construction firms can consider investigating axes of movement by replacing the gantry with a 6-axis robotic arm to achieve scalability in production.


Practical Applications

3D printing has entered the food industry through means of transforming ingredients such as proteins from algae, beet leaves, or insects into attractive looking meals [12].

Kjeld van Bommel, a researcher at the Dutch Organization for Applied Scientific Research, added milled mealworm to a shortbread 3D cookie recipe to add more protein. While it may take a few years before 3D printing is fully practical in the food industry, there is potential to utilize 3D printing technology for edibles. Namely, one can add specific types of nutrients necessary to their own individualized needs as in the example from van Bommel and his team. It becomes a very patient centred approach to nutrition.

Expedition 26 and STS-133 crew members share a meal in the Unity node of the International Space Station.

Van Bommel’s team envisions a machine that can produce food containing a mixture of specific types of fatty acids, proteins, and carbs to supplement the core meal. This will work well in hospital and medical settings where patients get to enjoy their favorite food with added supplements specific to their dietary needs.

Global Future Potential

3D printed edibles have benefits for the military. Currently, the US army, specifically Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Centre (NSRDEC) is currently researching a practical method for soldiers to have access to 3D printers that can print personalized meals. One reason is that they believe this can help with waste management and with costs as well. In addition, they believe that by doing so, soldiers can benefit from having improved health. This exemplifies another process in which having personalized meals with the necessary dietary supplements can be achieves through the technology of 3D printers [13].

3D printed foods can also bring tremendous benefits to astronauts during long space voyages. Currently, refrigeration and freezing takes up precious spacecraft cargo space. Therefore, astronauts will have to rely on prepackaged foods that have been processed with technologies that degrade the micronutrients of the food so that it can prolong the shelf life of the food for the entire voyage.

3D printed edibles open up new opportunities for astronauts so that they can personalize their meals while maintaining the integrity of the micronutrients. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has invested $125,000 into a partnership with Systems and Material Research Consultancy of Austin, Texas to investigate the feasibility of this vision. While the project is still in Phase 1, it shows that other businesses foresee the potential that 3D printing can have on their industry and are willing to invest in it [14].


The notion of weaponry and 3-D printing has quickly transitioned from a complex fantasy idea to reality. The increasing availability and affordability of 3-D printers has been the driving factor in the increased production of 3-D weaponry. When they were first introduced, 3-D printers were vary large and had extremely high price tags. The significant and rapid improvement in the technology has led to 3-D printers becoming small enough to fit inside homes and cheap enough for home owners to buy.

3-D printed guns

3D Printed Metal Handgun

The world’s first 3-D printed gun, “The Liberator” created by Cody Wilson who founded the company Defense Distributed, was introduced in May 2013 [1]. Out of the guns sixteen functional parts, fifteen were made from plastic using a 3-D printer. The Liberator was a single shot handgun whose blueprints were uploaded on to the web by Cody Wilson. The blue prints for the gun were available for anyone to download and in two days the blueprints were downloaded over 100,000 times [2]. After the two days, the US Department of State demanded that the blueprints be taken down. The creation of “The liberator” prompted many gun enthusiasts to begin creating their own 3-D printed guns. A gun enthusiast by the name of Yoshitomo Imura, was able to turn the single shot Liberator into a six shot revolver he called “The Zigzag” [3]. The 3-D printed gun rapidly evolved turning into a more and more deadly weapon. In 2013, Solid Concepts introduced the world’s first ever 3-D printed metal gun. This gun, “The 1911”, was printed using a process known as direct metal laser sintering [4]. “The Zigzag” was fired over 600 rounds without any implications. In 2013, the price for a printer with this capability was extremely expensive, $500,000 – 1,000,000 meaning, not just anyone could produce this type of gun. Within a matter of a couple of years, 3-D printing evolved from introducing a fully functioning single shot plastic handgun to a fully printed metal gun. This shows just how quickly technology is progressing.


The idea of anyone being able to print a weapon such as a fully functioning gun in his or her own house is a scary thought. This brings up the idea of terrorism and how 3-D printing can further enable the act. Committing acts of terror can become easier and harder to detect with the use of 3-D printing. In early 2015, news came from Hong Kong that a major arrest was made of nine individuals on charges of conspiracy to manufacture explosives. The interesting thing about the arrest was the equipment that was seized in the raid. Along with explosives and airsoft rifles authorities found a desktop 3-D printer [5]. Fortunately, the attackers were caught before being able to commit the attack but the questions remains, what were they planning to use the 3-D printer for? This just shows that the use of 3-D printing can potentially be used to commit attacks of terror.

Given the nature of 3-D printed guns made entirely out of plastic, they virtually undetectable by metal detectors. This notion is concerning because now anyone with access to a 3-D printer can print a gun and bring it through a secure area protected by metal detectors. Congress rep Steve Israel has put forward the Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act to try and limit the ability of individual’s to carry plastic guns through metal detectors. The act states that a metal stripe large enough to set of a metal detector must be embedded in the weapon and removing the strip would be illegal and punishable by imprisonment [6]. The only downfall of this act is the simple fact that someone who is planning to carry out an act of terror will not be a law-biding citizen and thus, the act would be useless.


The first 3-D printed gun is old news now, but regulation is a re-occurring theme. How can these 3-D printed weapons be controlled? There turns out to be two different aspects in this discussion with the first being the physical weapon and the second being the digital blueprint that was used to create the gun.

3D Weaponry and Regulation

The blueprints for the Liberator were downloaded over 100,000 times before Defense Distributed was asked to take them down [1]. This means 100,000 people have the blueprints for the Liberator providing them capability to produce the gun. The power of the Internet makes it hard for government to control the issue. Companies are trying to take advantage of this new market by selling Cad designs online. Selling CAD designs falls into a grey area especially in terms of export laws in the US. Changes are trying to be made to the International traffic in Arms regulation which will ban posting blueprints for 3-D guns online [2]. The limiting factor here is even if files are deleted form the Internet; it is almost impossible for files to be completely deleted.

It’s almost impossible for the government to control the production of physically 3-D printed weapons. In the Gun Control Act, there is nothing that prevents an individual from manufacturing a gun for his or her own use. The gun maker is allowed to posses the weapon but cannot market it for sale. These guns also do not need to be registered [3]. Now that manufacturing guns has become a lot easier, the CGA may be in need of changes. Looking into the future it seems the government will have a very tough time regulating and controlling 3-D printed weapons.


Disruptive Technology

Disruptive technology is that which overturns an industry unable to adapt or evolve to meet competition enabled by a technological edge. This has occurred across various media industries – from the newspaper to large network news channels, to music and movie producers – the dropping cost of entering the market and competing either directly or by undermining previously monopolized channels of distribution have challenged special interests’ grip on information [4].

3D printing is a new technology that serves acts as a pathway between digital and physical disruption; people can use downloaded digital blueprints into physical objects. The ability to design, scan, and share these files results in the possibility of becoming a disruptive technology in many industries.

The Global Supply Chain

3D printing allows you to print on demand, locally. As a result, the need to have finished products in warehouses and then ship them to satisfy inventory/demand requirements is eliminated. When products are needed, they’ll be printed. As a result, we may see the collapse of global supply chains and the materialization of local systems with respect to products; the global supply chain may then reorient itself to primarily providing raw materials for 3D printing.

Current supply chain models are primarily focused on mass production based on low cost, high-volume workers. As 3D printing grows, the need for these aspects of the supply chain, at least on a global basis will be destroyed [5].


Some experts are saying that 3D printing will lead the next industrial evolution [6]. The process of manufacturing is slowly evolving to allow participation from everyone. There are many different manufacturing industries that are using 3D technology for various different benefits.


As the technology continues to evolve in terms of speed, cost, and quality of printing, so will the ability of new start-ups to be able to compete with large organizations. New businesses may suddenly find it easier to compete in established industries as a result of creating inventory in a just-in-time fashion; the will dampen the effects of the cost of inventory management, a major issue new businesses face [7].

The technology also presents large corporations with an opportunity to leverage their resources, infrastructure, and knowledge to innovate early and adopt the technology with a long-term vision.

Consumer Goods

The ability to 3D print almost anything that can be designed in a program inevitably brings fear to many manufacturing industries. What’s to stop someone from buying a product, 3D scanning it, and then printing hundreds of their own, or selling a modified, improved version of the design online for the entire Internet to download and print? The threat is very real to manufactures of products everywhere as the power of manufacturing, with ownership of a 3D printer, is transferred to the customer instead of the manufacturer.


Abandoned Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio during winter

Current online retail trends have negatively impacted the results of brick and mortar sales. A PwC research survey examining consumer habits found that consumers making at least 1 purchase per week, still do so in-person more frequently (40%) than online (27%) [8]. While online shopping purchase rates has not surpassed in person shopping rates, brick and mortar store sales continue to suffer and decline as the trajectory for online shopping continues to advance. A trending problem is the abandonment of entire malls [9].

According to NBC News, more than 24 malls have been abandoned in the past 4 years. If a mall had a 40% vacancy rate, it is considered a dying mall. Dying malls are indicators that it is on the path to being an abandoned mall. Up to 3% of malls within the United States are considered dying [10]. It calls into question the practicality and necessity of having malls. Stores that conjugate together hoping to attract traffic eventually just compete against each other. Leasing a property may be expensive whereas having an online store can drastically lower costs.

Large retailers such as Best Buy and Walmart may look to focus more resources for online shopping experiences. With the technology of 3D printing for retail stores, it can have drastic impacts as to how people shop in person. Merchandise would be made to order. Therefore, large spaces saved for inventory are no longer necessary. Furthermore, if companies sell blueprints to customers online so that they are able to print the item at home, it becomes even more difficult to justify the cost of leasing a showroom if the company is not a large retailer like Adidas with the necessary capital.

Abandoned Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio featuring JCPenney

If companies are to sell blueprints for consumers to 3D print in the comfort of their own homes, this will eliminate many of the intermediaries between manufacturer and consumer. The entire process will be streamlined if the final product will be created by the 3D printer. Factories and assembly lines will seem unnecessary and costly.

Needless to say, 3D printing’s innovative technology will drastically change the resources in which industries use to manufacture their products, the approach in which retailers market and distribute their products, and the methods in which consumers are able to gain access to these goods.

Future of 3D Printing

In the future, expect to see more and more households purchasing 3D printers as a consumer item. This will be driven by the decreasing costs of the machines as the demand steadily increases with the general public experimenting with and printing more items. An increase in the amount of designs available online for download and printing will supplement the increase in availability of 3D printers in households. One of the biggest downsides of 3D printing is that it takes too long, for household or commercial applications[11]. Improvements overtime will result in the speed of printing increasing either as a result of upgraded parts or new innovative methods. OakRidge National Laboratory, for example, is working on a new, experimental design that will be able to print 200-500 times faster than current methods. The laboratory is also testing laser heads which move using parallelograms vs the Cartesian printers which print on two dimensions on a given plane/axis[12].

Another innovation to look forward to is 3D printing with different materials in the same print, such that objects that hard and soft materials can be combined.


  1. http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2013/05/08/3d-printed-guns-blueprints-downloaded-100000-times-in-two-days-with-some-help-from-kim-dotcom/
  2. http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2015/07/01/proposed-regulation-could-keep-3d-printed-gun-blueprints-offline-for-good.html
  3. http://www.criminaldefenselawyer.com/resources/are-3d-guns-legal.htm
  4. http://www.globalresearch.ca/3d-printing-and-the-age-of-disruption/5411396
  5. http://cerasis.com/2014/02/10/3d-printing-supply-chain/
  6. http://www.csc.com/innovation/insights/92142-3d_printing_and_the_future_of_manufacturing
  7. http://www.forbes.com/sites/freddiedawson/2014/09/30/how-disruptive-is-3d-printing-really/
  8. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/retail-consumer/publications/assets/pwc-multi-channel-shopper-survey.pdf
  9. http://www.today.com/video/abandoned-malls-see-inside-these-u-s-shopping-relics-518642243745
  10. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/business/the-economics-and-nostalgia-of-dead-malls.html
  11. http://www.pwc.com/us/en/technology-forecast/2014/3d-printing/features/future-3d-printing.html
  12. http://www.pwc.com/us/en/technology-forecast/2014/3d-printing/features/future-3d-printing.html
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