“3D printing is as easy as printing a letter on your desk jet printer on the one hand, and as difficult as setting up a lathe machine on your tabletop on the other. Considering all of the variables, is 3D printing adoptable for the average consumer?”
Conceiving of an idea and then turning that idea into an actual end-product were two distinct processes prior to the era of 3D printing. But thanks to recent advancements in technology, what used to take a number of days can now become a reality with just one click. However, that “single click” involves generating a computer-aided design (CAD) model, creating the required Standard Triangle Language (STL) file, converting it into machine codes, pre-setting the machine for the desired material, and then, finally, printing it. 3D printing is thus as easy as printing a letter on your desk jet printer on the one hand, and as difficult as setting up a lathe machine on your tabletop on the other. Considering all of the variables, the question becomes, is 3D printing adoptable for the average consumer?
3DP encompasses more than a dozen similar and dissimilar technologies, including selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SLA), selective laser melting (SLM), fused deposition modeling (FDM) and many more, priced from as little as $99 to completely unaffordable for consumer-level applications. Though one technology can serve the purpose for many types of applications, for certain technologies some are better than others. For example, in dental applications, SLA, Digital Laser Processing and UV LCD are preferred. There are organizations like Nextdent, Peopoly, SprintRay and Photocentric that specifically target the resin market with their tailored products. Similarly, in the aerospace sector, SLS, SLM or Binder Jetting are preferred, and organizations like ConceptLaser, SLMSolutions and 3DSystems have captured the market.
Looking to 2D
Based on the example of conventional 2D printers, one may wonder if there is a company working to standardize the process of selecting 3D printer materials based on consumers’ needs. 2D printing as we know it today has a well-established consumer market. That’s because there is a limited amount of technology and materials, and paper sizes are standardized. The 3D printing industry should leverage the know-how, historical growth and wide acceptance of 2D-printers.
One way to get around the hassle of experimenting with materials and technologies to find the best output is to hire a third- party platform like Shapeways, 3DHubs, Pinshape or Sculpteo to print the model and send it back to the consumer. Problem solved? Not really. There are intellectual property and security concerns associated with this option. Are you willing to send your CAD model or STL file to be stored at a third-party server? Or to expose yourself to the risk of hacking?
Let us suppose that you’re just playing around with 3D printing for fun; in that case, you may be safe. But if you are an independent researcher, scientist, freelancer, designer, etc. who cares about their content, you may find it risky to share it with third-party platforms. Even a single misstep could put your efforts of years at stake and sabotage the potential profits you may have earned from it.
Intellectual property is one of the most important issues, as, in the case of mishandling of a file, determining the liability for infringement is key. But who would be liable? Printer owner, consumer or the person who created the file?
Such problems always arise when a new technology is launched under the old legal regime, as we don’t find any direct analogy or precedence. The same issues arose with the launch of home video recording devices such as Betamax (1970) or other VCRs and peer-to-peer file-sharing technology. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that recording of copyrighted content by consumers was fair use in Sony Corp. v. Universal Studios, while in MGM v. Grokster, peer-to-peer sharing was found to be an infringing use. The court held software providers liable for contributory infringement if they expressed clear intent to infringe copyright. 3D printing technology implementation is likely to mirror the peer-to-peer situation, considering its impact on the value chain across industries.
While there are many challenges ahead for 3Dprinting, there are also potential solutions. The first step towards solving the adoptability challenges might demand amalgamation of different 3D printing manufactures and material suppliers. These companies need to work together towards standardization of output, the establishment of technology benchmarks and leveraging one another’s technology and patent and trademark portfolios. For instance, patent pooling of existing technologies will not only open the possibility of cost-cutting but will also push the R&D towards new grounds of inventions.
A marketplace could be developed to control the printing environment, i.e. remote printing, of the files on a 3D printer while keeping a record by using blockchain technology. This would help to associate liability; however, all the printer manufacturers need to come forward in this move.
Lastly, the challenges concerning security may demand additional incorporation of third-party security solutions such as Crowdstrike, Fireye, Palo Alto Network, F5 Networks and Symantec in order to prevent leakage of digital models stored in online repositories.
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