us-3d-printerNone of us want to have to report on the dark side of something like 3D printing, a technology bursting with innovation and offering resources for doing so much good in the world, exemplifying mind-boggling advancements. This is the technology that helps lives in so many ways; we don’t want to think of it as the technology that can help take them as well.

Love and hate; good and bad — there are always two sides of the coin, though. While the normal population likes to get in on a good thing and enjoy it, unfortunately so do the less desirables. And they’ve already got a heads up on what 3D printing can do for them, as we’ve reported in numerous stories regarding the craftiness of the world’s technologically savvy underbelly — from creating fraudulent devices to scamming ATMs and credit cards. That’s just petty stuff though, considering the wide world of weapons to navigate in 3D.

It’s not a question of when criminals and terrorists will take on 3D printing. They’ve already got it. But are they churning out weapons in secret 3D printing labs in caves in faraway lands? If not now, it’s certainly a real possibility.

“Think of master bombmakers in the Middle East making new designs that look like everyday products or a lone wolf operator printing a plastic gun he can get past security at the White House,” says Alex Chausovsky, an analyst at IHS Technology.

3D printing is spreading with invention and innovation so fast that it’s almost as if we are quickly losing control over traditional ways of doing business, making things, and providing sustainability. While the rapid roller coaster of progress is exciting, it’s enough to cause light bulbs to go off — and warning bells to ring as well.

Industry and engineering are already in the midst of a revolution progressing at lightning speed, and the qualities 3D printing offers are already having a global impact. The potential is also there to affect many of the big boys in business who did not already find a way to embrace the technology and work on owning it.

With the level of progress 3D printing offers, the revolution is already escalating like a domino effect. Thus the moniker, ‘disruptive technology.’ It lives up to its name in every way, and we like to enjoy the good part of that.

dodBut how will this affect us at times when guns are most central: wartime? How does this affect relationships between allies and enemies? With innovations in 3D printing being discovered constantly, what does the future hold for the economy of the world, and how does it impact the massive defense industry, as well as helping it? While some of these answers are most likely highly classified, you can be certain that the technology is under intense scrutiny, and has the attention of the White House from the most serious things 3D printing can offer, right down to 3D printed ornaments and digital designs gracing White House holiday displays last month.

Making a strong statement in itself, the military is a proponent and user of 3D printers, with the machines being used in multiple venues as well as with more potential uses for uniforms, complex first aid, and sustenance out in the field by way of 3D printed food. All of these items are already a reality in 3D printing, so it’s not hard to believe the military would take an interest, with weapons of course being the greatest focus of all.

What is a concern with 3D printing is the level of independence it offers to everyone. As 3D printing enthusiasts became hungry to think of all the items they could possibly make with such and incredible new like the affordable 3D printer, guns ‘shot’ to the top of the list. And to the top of the news as well.

The sixteen pieces of Defense Distributed’s printed handgun, the Liberator, including spiral springs for its hammer mechanism and a nail used as its firing pin. Click to enlarge. (Credit: Michael Thad Carter for Forbes)

The sixteen pieces of Defense Distributed’s printed handgun, the Liberator, including spiral springs for its hammer mechanism and a nail used as its firing pin. (Credit: Michael Thad Carter for Forbes)

Considering that individuals have been making guns on their own all along, the issue isn’t going away, and the conversation certainly isn’t growing any less controversial as many new questions regarding regulation and rights erupt. Not to mention what’s going to happen to the world of gun and ammo manufacturing, as well as all the people currently being supported by employment in the highly lucrative defense industry. What happens when everyone can simply ‘make their own?’

“Defense contractors want to sell you an item but also want to own the supply chain for 50 years. But now you’ll have soldiers in an austere outpost in somewhere like Afghanistan who can pull down the software for a spare part, tweak the design and print it out,” said Peter W. Singer, an expert in future warfare at the New America Foundation.

In terms of location and production methods, technology is quickly diminishing the traditional work area in every way. Savvy professionals are learning to work from basically anywhere as long as they have wifi, which can encompass an entire virtual office and organization through its wide range of capacities. This is the same concept with 3D printing. It can be commanded by remote, monitored remotely, and work in a variety of ways, which means it’s not tied to an office environment. And the people developing the technology often don’t work that way anymore either.

Our military is already using 3D printers in the field and in isolated outposts, and our soldiers are learning technological skills that they can use in the civilian world later, consulting and even beginning their own businesses in the 3D printing industry. Being able to produce weapons in the field leads to an entirely new world of3D printed gun: Liberator gun, 2013 by Cody Wilson / Defence Distributed resourcefulness and organization — but on all sides, and that can a staggering thought.

“The US has sanctioned everything from fighter jet spare parts to oil equipment. 3D printing could turn sanctions — which have been a crucial part of foreign policy for a generation or more — into an antiquated notion,” says Singer.

The level of independence and flexibility of location offered is an incredible benefit, but experts point out that it also provides an enormous way for security issues to germinate.

“If you want to know where the big threat of 3D printing is, think about how reliant China is on its low-cost merchandising sector,” says Chausovsky.

And if you think the general public and tinkerers, as well as the bad guys, are coming up with creative ways to use 3D printing, they still don’t have anything on the top minds of this generation who are busy researching and developing stunning ideas, including the concept from a British defense firm which envisions planes basically cloning themselves, printing one aircraft from inside another, and launching it from there.

“It’s long term, but it’s certainly our end goal to manufacture an aerial vehicle in its entirety using 3D printing technology,” Matt Stevens, who heads BAE Systems‘ 3D printing division.

3D printing is mind boggling in that it shows we can do things we simply never considered, due to the limitations traditional technology caged us in with previously. The technology far supersedes the idea of ‘thinking outside the box,’ as it offers the potential even to allow us to do things like colonize space, and offer true sustainability for developing countries in need of food, water, and medicine.

“You can’t drill a curved hole,” says Chausovsky. “With 3D printing, you’re creating products that would never be possible with traditional methods.

One exciting element that few are aware of is in regard to the relative age of 3D printing, which has actually been around for quite some time — around 30 years or so, and numerous patents connected to selective laser sintering (SLS) are looking at an imminent expiration date. This affords an enormous chance for competitive forces to shake the industry up even further with better quality and substantial drops in prices for technology. SLS offers a wide variety of opportunity as it can perform high resolution 3D printing with metal.

“It’s the first time in a very long time that there’s been such a radical shake up in industrial engineering,” says Stevens. “We’re not just improving things — we’re re-writing the rule book.”

How do you feel about the impact 3D printed weapons could have on the defense industry? Foreign policy? Tell us your thoughts on this controversial subject in the 3D Printing Revolution forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: The Times of Israel]

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