Growth and Development
3-D Printing has been called "...an overnight success story that has been thirty years in the making." In the 1980's 3-D printing was primarily used in the most advanced industrial and academic environments (Hornick, 2013). Now, 3-D printers can be commonly found in most industries and schools. Even some consumers are purchasing 3-D desktop printers for their homes. John Hornick, an IP litigator with 30 years' experience at Finnegan IP Law Firm ("John F. Hornick.", 2013), has called 3-D Printing, "...the 3rd industrial revolution." He goes on to state that, "3-D Printing has the potential to change everything" (Hornick, 2013). So, what exactly is 3-D printing?
3-D printing is the process of making a physical three-dimensional object from a digital model by using thin layers of material ("3-D Printing", Oxford Dictionary). One would deem the initial conceptualization of 3-D printing to come straight out of a science fiction film. Yet, when witnessing an object, once displayed within the blinking lights of a PC monitor then translated into a physically existing object of permanence, one cannot help but think that they are living the in that film. In 1983, Charles Hull invented the first form of 3-D printing called stereolithography. ("The Journey Of A Lifetime", 2013). This technique utilizes a laser which is controlled by a computer to construct an object, layer by layer, from a liquid polymer that hardens on contact with laser light ("Stereolithography", Oxford Dictionary). Then an elevator, submerged in the liquid polymer, is used to raise and lower the platform to stack each layer on top of one another. Once complete, the elevator raises the finished object out of the liquid (Maxey, 2013). Visually, the object looks as if it materializes itself out of the liquid polymer like the villain would materialize itself out of liquid metal in James Cameron's film Terminator 2. This process is also known as additive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing means that materials are fused together with heat, light, electron beams, chemicals, and even glue. Traditionally, manufacturing is subtractive and not additive. In subtractive manufacturing, you would start with a block of material and chip away until the object is developed. Most materials in additive manufacturing are made of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) or Polylactide (PLA) thermoplastic (Hornick, 2013). The PLA material is made of biodegradable resources such as cornstarch, or even sugarcane. This material is considerably less durable than its counterpart ABS, which is the chemical compound Legos are made of (Rasal, 2009).
When Charles Hull invented stereolithography there was no such thing as rapid prototyping. In other words, there was no way for the CAD design to communicate to any type of rapid prototyping system. Charles Hull wanted a way to increase the processing speed of designing tools. Typically, creating an exact concept model or prototype took thousands of dollars and several months up to a year to produce. Coming up with a solution for such a slow process was not easy. Not only did Charles have to tackle several problems with hydrodynamics and chemistry, he also had to tackle problems with the imaging itself. The laser's UV wavelength required for the liquid polymer to harden demanded a considerable amount of power and adequate cooling system. Ultimately, the cost for sustaining one of these machines was more than the system itself. The solution did not come until almost a decade later when solid state lasers had more availability ("Journey Of A Lifetime", 2013).
In 1992, following the implementation of solid state lasers, Charles Hull and his company 3D Systems developed the first stereolithographic mechanism. The machine was able to develop complex parts such as water faucets with rotating knobs or car vents with multidirectional sliding capabilities (Maxey 2013). Charles Hull's invention of stereolithography has drastically reduced the duration of the prototyping process from months to just a couple of weeks ("The Journey Of A Lifetime", 2013). It has strengthened the productivity of manufacturing. Product assembly can now be completed in in just a handful of steps. The price per object will be truncated because the printers can create objects on-demand (Hornick, 2013). These are among some of the benefits that industries will see utilizing a 3-D printer. Dr. Adrian Bowyer saw the potentials that 3-D printing had and set to develop a printer that would liberate users from relying on manufacturers (Maxey, 2013).
In 2005, Dr. Adrian Bowyer founded the project he called RepRap. RepRap's goal was to develop a printer that could build its own elements. Nearly 3 years later RapRap released "Darwin." Darwin was the first 3-D printer efficient enough to print multiple materials into a single object. Because of this, Darwin was able to self-replicate and printed most of its own components. This allowed users to produce multiple printers without obtaining parts from other manufacturers, therefore they became self-reliant (Maxey, 2013). Now, some 3-D printers are even able to print metals and glass. Washington State University developed a material that had similar properties to bone in order to provide support for bone and joint growth. Inks are even being implemented to provide color to the objects developed. Some of these inks even have physical, mechanical, and electrical properties (Hornick, 2013)!
With 3-D printer advancements expanding, the drive to push the technology to see what exactly it can do has enkindled imaginations of what the future will bring. Many have tested the 3-D printer's capabilities and have produced some incredible objects without relying on manufacturers for parts.
In 2011, the first 3-D printed robotic aircraft was developed by the University of South Hampton. The aircraft was built in 7 days and cost around ??5,000 pounds which is $8373 USD. The plane included elliptical wings which improve its aerodynamic effectiveness by reducing drag and are typically very expensive (Maxey, 2013).
Also in 2011, Kor Ecologic introduced the first 3-D printed car simply called "Urbee." Though the engine was not produced with a 3-D printer, Urbee's entire body was. Because the car is made mostly of ABS (the same material Legos are made of), it is extremely light weight and aerodynamic (Maxey, 2013). Urbee sits at 1,200 lbs (Dodson, 2013), which is almost 1/4th the size less than the average weight of a car on the market which is around 4,000lbs (EPA.gov, 2013). The weight is one of most substantial contributors behind the fuel efficiency of Urbee which boasts 200mpg on the highway and 100mpg in the city (Maxey 2013).<
Boeing uses 3-D printing to print over 22,000 parts for commercial and government aircraft. Most of an aircraft's components come in multiple parts themselves. For instance, aircraft ducting can be printed as one piece but in subtractive manufacturing the ducting has anywhere from 20 to over 100 parts. This helps increase the speed of production, reduces inventory, reduces maintenance, and increases fuel efficiency by helping reduce the weight of the aircraft (Hornick, 2013). Even General Electric is investing in 3-D printing by looking into ways to develop more than 85,000 fuel nozzles for jet engines, which are typically comprised of 20 parts (Cats, 2013). Aside from the manufacturing benefits, 3-D printing has been used by the government as well.
The U.S. Government saves millions of dollars by using 3-D printing and incorporating it with training in avionics, medicine, communications and weapons. A company that prints mounts for U.S. tanks has saved nearly $60,000 since using 3-D printing. Even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are using the technology to create topographical maps for better intelligence. When Hurricane Katrina struck, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created topographical maps of New Orleans roughly every few hours to help in understanding the constant changes in flood water levels and other shifting features of the area. This became a crucial catalyst in the relief effort for New Orleans (Hornick, 2013). But perhaps 3-D printing's biggest contribution to humanity has been in medicine.
In 2002, scientists created the first 3-D printed functional kidney in an animal. The kidney could filter blood and produce diluted urine just like a normal kidney. This sparked new research at Wake Forest University on developing other organs and regenerative tissues using the technology (Maxey, 2013).
In 2008, the first human walked with a prosthetic leg that was created using a 3-D printer. The leg was printed without any assembly and contained the same complex components such as the knee, foot, ankle, ball and joint sockets, etc. A cover was even printed for the leg to match the skin tones of the individual wearing it (Maxey, 2013).
In 2013, a carpenter and mechanical engineer developed artificial hands and fingers for more than 170 children who did not have them. The hand was made of ABS and has movable fingers that utilize pulley system which allowed its users greater functionality. Best of all, it was inexpensive to make (Maxey, 2013). Yet possibly one of the greatest examples of effectively utilizing 3-D printing's rapid prototyping capabilities came at the hands of an infant named Kaiba Gionfriddo.
Kaiba Gionfriddo was born with a birth defect that effected his respiratory system. At six weeks old, he began having episodes where he would stop breathing. He was diagnosed with severe tracheomalacia (Hornick, 2013). Tracheomalacia is the collapse of the windpipe due to weakness in the tracheal cartilage. Typically this goes away on its own once the cartilage has hardened. In severe cases, tracheomalacia can be fatal (Tracheomalacia, 2014). Kaiba's episodes became more and more frequent, and increasingly severe. When Kaiba was 3 months old he was hospitalized and doctors feared he would not survive. Doctors took a CT scan of the blocked bronchi and developed a splint using precise measurements given by the scan. They used a material that would absorb slowly over time. This allowed the cartilage to grow stronger which permitted the boy's lungs to develop naturally (Hornick, 2013). Kaiba is just one of potentially millions of people whose life can be saved by implementing the rapid prototyping power of 3-D printing.
Some companies such as Organovo focus specifically on advancing 3-D printing capabilities in healthcare. They have developed material with regenerative properties that can be fed through a printer to which they call "bio-ink" (Hornick, 2013). The "Bio-ink" is derived from collagen which is made naturally in the human body, therefore it poses less threat of rejection. They have printed human veins, arteries, skin tissue, and even heart cells. Organovo hopes that those in dire need of replacement valves for arteries, organs from organ donors, or even skin tissue for burn victims will no longer be forced to wait for the unknown (Griggs, 2014). Dr. Shu, from Heriot-Watt University in the UK, have figured out a way to print stem cells. Dr. Shu suggests that this would aid in drug testing against human tissue and in cell printing for tissue regeneration (Nature Medicine, 2013).
Consumers are also beginning to weigh in with what 3-D printing has to offer. During the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 3D Cube X Trio won the award for "Best Emerging Technology" (Hornick, 2013). Normally, consumer 3-D printers are limited in their ability versus industrial 3-D printers. However, the Cube X Trio pushed the boundaries of functionality in consumer 3-D printers. This particular printer is able to build object larger than any other printer, categorically speaking. It can print large objects in multiple colors using 3 different types of material including ABS and the biodegradable PLA (Brown, 2013). Although 3-D printingin has yet to become the norm within the consumer market, it has staggering potential.
3-D printers have been available to the public since 2007. Wohlers Associates Inc. specializes in overseeing business metrics specificaly for 3-D printing trends and growth in industrial and domestic areas. The 2013 Wohlers Report found 35,508 3-D printers were sold worldwide in 2012. When compared to the 66 printers sold in 2007 that is a average increase of 346% each year. Despite that, the total number of personal 3-D printing machines sold from 2007 through 2012 was estimated to be 68,000 globally (Wohlers, 2013). So, exactly what kinds of devices can consumers build using personal desktop 3-D printers?
In order to find out what kinds of objects could be generated with a personal 3-D printer I consulted Google's image search with the search string query "personal 3-D printed objects." Google continued to impress as a multitude of image results spilled onto the page. Some of the results included: Yoda heads, iPhone cases, cups, geographical models, dish-ware, plasticware, wastebaskets, frames for bearing lenses, bike helmets, personally made "Legos", keyboard skins, shoes, action figurines, small gliders, chess pieces, replicas of keys, knives, guns, etc. were made using a desktop 3-D printer (Google Image Search, 2014). Makerbot hosts a site called thingiverse.com where users have the freedom to upload and download .stl (stereolithography) files at their convenience. There are currently over 100,000 downloadable files available for consumers, who are inexperienced with .stl files, to use. A majority of the files that were found in the Google search were also discovered on this site, including .stl files for knives and guns (Howard, 2013).
Anytime something new enters society and becomes more mainstream there are controversies that sometimes follow. In considering the ways 3-D printing can be applied there are sure to be debates and hearings over the legality and ways to regulate its uses. Some of the current controversies stemming from 3-D printing include its effect on manufacturing, the medical field, piracy, and national security.
For one, 3-D printing can prospectively throw the customary representation of manufacturing into disarray. Products that can be materialized wherever and whenever needed could effect thousands of manufacturing jobs. 3-D printing allows the user to become less reliant on manufacturers for parts or products therefore the need for employees in manufacturing positions will plummet (Petrick, 2013). For example, the need for employees in companies that make replacement auto-parts would be considerably less.
From a utilitarian perspective, the potential benefits this could bring would outweigh the bad. If the company used the money saved from cutting labor costs to begin a file uploading program where the customer could purchase the file at a smaller rate that would improve product speed, availability, and energy consumption. Therefore, both the customer and the company would generate a large amount of utility.
Another issue concerning 3-D printing is file sharing. File sharing has exploded since the days of Napster and software pirates have become very cunning in their ability acquire the data they desire. Because 3-D printers can produce almost anything, this could lead to overwhelming infringement which some are already calling a "Piracy Revolution" (Hornick, 2013). Products like toys, apparel, kitchenware, or just anything around you who's specific function is not limited to the material's chemical makeup or physical properties, can be pirated. Even CAD designs make it easier for counterfeiters to design around a products function or look. These infringements could in essence be undetectable and become a counterfeiter's catalyst. Plus, suing thousands of 3-D pirates is not exactly considered cost effective and therefore would pose a major problem (Hornick, 2013). Replicating products and selling them to unsuspected individuals would give counterfeiters unwanted free reign, which could be detrimental to the market. Therefore, new forms or ways to enforce patent laws may be required.
In regards to piracy, the ethical egoist (being the counterfeiter) might pirate the data because it would be in their own best interest. If the counterfeiter is able to acquire the data without having to pay for it and then turn around and make a profit from a counterfeited item, then the decision the counterfeiter made to pirate the data would be considered ethical under ethical egoism. However it could be argued that if the counterfeiter got caught, the consequences of pirating and then selling the counterfeited item would deem the individual's decisions as unethical.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Divine Command perspective would regard that the initial act of piracy as stealing according to terms of the Christian Bible. Since piracy would be considered stealing and the Bible commands us "Thou shall not steal", then the act would be unethical.
Ethical concerns about the use of 3-D printing in medicine have also sparked debate. Many remonstrate that the ability to create regenerative tissue such as organs is playing "God." Still, many questions have not been answered regarding this breakthrough in medicine and technology. It is not yet clear if the organs that will be produced will be of good quality or have any long term effects. Plus, the process of printing regenerative tissue is not the same process as traditional 3-D printing which has made it very expensive. Will the poor be left out of the loop while this newly found option is catered to the rich?
When examining the ethical concerns of printing organs from an utilitarian perspective one must look at the cost versus benefits. It is obvious that printing organs helps those in dire need of organ transplants especially when organ donors are scarce. Not to mention rapid prototyping would be highly beneficial in emergency rooms where time means life and death. As long as organ rejection or any other health issues did not become a prevalent problem then this would be considered ethical under a Utilitarian perspective.
Now let's consider these same ethical concerns from the divine command perspective. The Bible says, "Even in his illness he did not seek help from The Lord, but only through physicians." (2 Chronicles 16:12) "But Asa had already sought help from Syria in an act of disbelief and disobedience, refusing to believe in The Lord." (2 Chronicles 16:7). Asa was not condemned for seeking help from physicians. It was because he lacked faith in God. Even Luke, one of his disciples, was a physician. The desire to help those inflicted or disabled by disease or unfortunate events, using advanced medical techniques as a means to only improve health and not take away from God, would be ethical.
In order to examine organ printing from a Kantian perspective, one must ask if organ printing would be in the best interest for the patient? Also, would the printed organ be an economical choice for those on a low income budget? If treating the patient as a means to an end this would be regarded as unethical. But, because this has the potential to save thousands if not millions of lives then it must be ethical under a Kantian perspective.
Perhaps the biggest issue concerning 3-D printing is its ability to print lethal weapons. Cody Wilson, a 25 year old University of Texas law student, created a gun using a 3-D printer he had purchased from eBay for $8,000. The gun, which called "The Liberator", successfully shot a .380 caliber bullet even though the gun was made using ABS plastic material. Once word broke out several publications, including Forbes, had headlines saying "3-D Printed Gun Fires A New "Shot Heard Around The World"." The controversy spread and questions were raised concerning the integrity of the personal 3-D printer's powerful new capability. What became equally concerning was the fact that the printer used to make the gun was purchased on eBay. It was apparent that criminals and terrorists alike would now have a way to create firearms that would be undetectable in many aspects (Saginor, 2013). It was unknown if creating a 3-D printed weapon would require experience in the CAD design process. But, in the same year, file sharing on Makerbot's thingiverse.com started becoming a more and more popular. It was only a matter of time before STL, OBJ, X3D files containing weapon blueprints started making their way to the site (Jensen-Haxel, 2012).
A file dubbed "Thing #11669" was uploaded to thingiverse.com on September 20th, 2011. Thing #11669 was a digital CAD file for the lower component of an AR-15 assault rifle. Once again, controversy followed which sparked the debate over the public availability of files containing blueprints for homemade lethal weapons (Jensen-Haxel, 2012). There have been many massacres happening in America involving children stealing their parent's guns and killing several innocents in schools. The availability of shared files will make it easier to print homemade weapons which could make the situation worse. Not to mention, the weapons are plastic and can pass through metal detectors. This could pose a major terrorism crisis. A nationwide Reason-Rupe poll held in May 2013 asked if they thought Americans should or shouldn't be allowed to print their own guns at home. According to the poll: 57% of men believed that Americans should while 41% said no; 28% of women believed that it should be available while 67% said no; 70% of the individuals that were democrat voted no; and 59% of individuals that claimed to be republican voted yes while 39% said no (Taylor, 2013).
From the utilitarianism point of view, there may be a small amount of utility exhibited by the users in the form of gratification and exhilaration when they first create the weapon. But for most the utility would reduce as more guns are now easily attainable where there is more danger and less security to the general population. People of young age could obtain these weapons and pose threats to the general public. Therefore this would be unethical.
When examining the issue from a Kantian perspective we will propagate the situation globally. Suppose everyone who owned a 3-D printer prints a weapon for protection and self-defense. These individuals also claim to be moral beings that would not be malicious with the weapons in any way. This would be a logical contradiction and therefore would negate the reason for wanting one in the first place.
Now let's consider these same ethical concerns from the divine command perspective. The Bible says, 'Thou shall not kill.' Those that argue for the ability to create a weapon using a 3-D printer raise suspicions behind their reasoning. The divine would argue that there is no need to print a plastic weapon or any weapon in general. Since the nature of a gun is to destroy, then this would be considered unethical.
Now that we have taken a look at some of the ethical concerns and analyzed them one-by-one using ethical theories, we will look at 3-D printing as a whole from different ethical viewpoints to try and discern if it is ethical or not.
Since the degree of controversy has the potential to reach life threatening levels, an individual with a Kantian perspective might argue against the availability of 3-D printers for in home use. However, it would be ethical for the use in industry and medicine considering the overwhelming benefits.
From a utilitarianism perspective it is indisputable that the pros are superior to the cons from an industrial and medical standpoint. Cutting the cost of labor, increasing production speed, increasing product availability, and the breakthroughs in medicine are major benefits that would be ethical according to utilitarianism.
According to subjective relativism, the ethical debate concerning this would be useless and a waste of time. They would argue that if it's going to happen, then it's going to happen.
As for the divine command ethical theory, there are several reasons one would argue against the implementation of personal as well as industrial 3-D printers. The Bible commands us not to kill and not to steal. For some the temptation would be far too great to resist when it comes to pirating an object or building a functional weapon. But, God gives us free will. Proverbs 16:9 says, "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps." Individuals that use the printer for malicious intent would be unethical. In the manufacturing industry, executives usually try do what's necessary to maximize profit. Executive decisions to implement industrial printers to speed production would be one thing, but to save money by cutting employment would be another. Philippians 2:4 says, "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." Laying off workers that depend on the job to provide for their family would be unethical. Therefore, someone may argue that personal 3-D printers remain only in medical fields considering the lives it can potentially save, at least until more responsibility can be taken for these printers.
Convincing Others and Personal Ethical Viewpoint
In order to convince other individuals that lean towards other ethical perspectives, one must find reasons to which they would deem unethical. For example, when convincing an ethical egoist that pirating data or counterfeiting items for profit is unethical, it may be good idea to do so in the presence of law enforcement, for good measure. The presence of law enforcement may deter the egoist from the argument, since getting caught would not be in the egoist's best interest.
When trying to convince the utilitarian that it would be unethical to allow 3-D printing to replace manufacturing employees, one might explain the potential ramifications. Companies that have massive layoffs are typically in the news and earn a bad reputation. This could propagate over into the market and hurt the company in the long run. The company should instead retrain and reassign employees based on skill strength.
The ethical theory I relate to the most is in concurrence with the divine command theory but with some personal opinions. 3-D printing is still a relatively new invention where there are still many possibilities for it to grow. Although the capabilities of this technology could be misused, there are many benefits we could still reap from it. I would feel that it would be difficult to regulate what people would use the printer to do, but we could still regulate the availability of dangerous materials needed to make dangerous items such as gun powder and other materials. Considering the great power that personal 3-D printers have, I believe that individuals purchasing a printer should submit a background check. I would consider the misuse of personal 3-D printers as unethical and therefore am against the availability to the public until a viable solution is met.
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