By Anna Gale, Fueled

Any new technology generates a lot of hype. People never tire of listing the benefits, but often overlook the negatives. With the 3D printer, there are certainly plenty of benefits, namely that it has opened completely new avenues for industrial growth and development.

On the other hand there are several concerns regarding 3D printing which have been raised, and it will be interesting to see how this technology will be seen by people when these concerns are made known. Before we get swept up in the excitement of this new technology, we at Fueled wanted to explore some of the obstacles we will have to address as we move into the age of 3D printing.

Energy inefficiency

A recent study conducted by Loughborough University concluded that 3D printers use 50 to 100 times more energy as compared to the energy consumed during the conventional moulding of plastic. This makes the 3D printer unusable on an industrial scale.

Health risk

The 3D printer poses a serious health risk when used inside the home. The printers emit particles similar to the kind given off by cigarettes. These particles are emitted in great numbers and can cause serious health related issues.

Using plastic

There are ongoing movements in the world calling for reduced use of plastic. The focal point of these movements is creating awareness among the general public that plastic bags, bottles and other household items should be made from recycled items rather than plastic. 3D printers use plastic as a raw material which settles in the printer bed. If 3D printing becomes industrialized, disposal of this byproduct will become a new environmental issue.

Gun control

The consequences and ramifications of the 3D printed gun are still unfolding. Several companies have popped up around the globe that sell these 3D guns or their designs. A firm has fired experimental rounds from the 3D metallic gun. The Undetectable Firearms Act has banned all guns that cannot be detected by scanners. The Act, however, does not ban 3D guns that only have a very small amount of metal.

Intellectual property rights and responsibility issues

This technology brings up the issue of possible infringement of intellectual property rights. There is also the issue of responsibility. Who will be held responsible if someone gets hurt by a 3D printed knife? Who is responsible if there’s a motorbike accident in which the biker was wearing a 3D printed helmet? The ownership cannot be specifically pinned on the person who owns the printer, the company that manufactured the printer, or the person who printed the item in question.

Food safety issues

With the help of a 3D printer, anyone can print a spoon or a fork, but the plastic used for this printing is not free of toxins. New non-toxic plastic filaments are being produced for this very purpose, but they aren’t yet widely available. Moreover, there are free spaces in 3D printers where bacterial growth can take place. Truly safe kitchenware can only be produced by machines that are approved by the FDA.

The fact that 3D printing is a ground breaking phenomenon cannot be denied. However, there are genuine concerns regarding its widespread use that need to be addressed if it is to be used in a constructive and safe manner. People remain divided on the issues surrounding 3D printers and it will be interesting to watch how things develop. Watch this space.

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  • Mark Fraser

    I was expecting to find some REAL problems, rather than wishy washy inferences. You obviously don’t understand where and why 3D printing is going. Yawn….

  • Rich Webb

    Seems to be rather similar to an article back in March 2014 over at Tech Republic. Tsk tsk. There’s this Google thing…

  • Dakota Tech

    You clearly did not do your research on this article.

    Energy inefficiency – Which uses less energy: 3d printing a widget or driving to the store / having Amazon ship you the widget?

    Health risk – Cite your source?

    Using plastic – A common 3d printing material is PLA filament; a sustainable, durable, bioplastic derived from corn starch that composts. Your environmental argument is invalid.

    Gun control – So are mills and CNC machines a threat too?

    “Who will be held responsible if someone gets hurt by a 3D printed knife?”

    So Gerber & KaBar are responsible for the use of their knives? Ford is responsible if I hit someone with a car? How did this weapons-grade stupidity get past an editor?

  • jack kevin

    SLS printers present to be able to produce with increased animated explainer video production products for example wine glass, material, cheap, along with ceramic, however using the high-powered lasers will come a higher making cost.