Current General Studies Magazine: "General Studies - III (Science & Technology Based Article)" September 2014

Current General Studies Magazine (September 2014)

General Studies - III (Science & Technology Based Article)

3D Printing Technology

3D printing employs layered printing to create tangible objects using digital 3D models. In other words, if you possess the blueprint (CAD file) of an object, say a cup, a toy car, or the Eiffel Tower, you can print it in three dimension. 3D printing or additive manufacturing is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file.

The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.

Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands and thus undermines economies of scale. It may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did....Just as nobody could have predicted the impact of the steam engine in 1750—or the printing press in 1450, or the transistor in 1950—it is impossible to foresee the long-term impact of 3D printing. But the technology is coming, and it is likely to disrupt every field it touches.

— The Economist

Additive manufacturing's earliest applications have been on the toolroom end of the manufacturing spectrum. For example, rapid prototyping was one of the earliest additive variants, and its mission was to reduce the lead time and cost of developing prototypes of new parts and devices, which was earlier only done with subtractive toolroom methods (typically slowly and expensively).

With technological advances in additive manufacturing, however, and the dissemination of those advances into the business world, additive methods are moving ever further into the production end of manufacturing in creative and sometimes unexpected ways.

Parts that were formerly the sole province of subtractive methods can now in some cases be made more profitably via additive ones.

Standard applications include design visualisation, prototyping/CAD, metal casting, architecture, education, geospatial, healthcare, and entertainment/retail

Advantages :

  1. With 3D printing technology, manufacturing stuff has become easier than never before. This has paved the way for customized products, as it allows you to create your own designs in 3D, and get them printed.

  2. Since 3D technology can manufacture stuff in an instant, it facilitates rapid prototyping, which means, it takes really short time for designs to get converted into the respective prototypes.

  3. The cost of 3D printing is very high, but the truth is that while the initial cost or cost of set-up is high, it is less when compared to labor costs and other costs involved in manufacturing the product in the conventional way.

  4. Using 3D printing technology, the need for mass production is eliminated and along with it, the requirement and costs of storage are also done away with.

  5. The increasing use of 3D printing technology would create the requirement for highly-skilled designers who are adept at using 3D printers, and technicians who are skilled at troubleshooting.

  6. This technology of creating human organs using 3D printing, is termed as bioprinting, and the time is not far away when we shall be able to create complex human organs, such as the heart and the brain, using tissue from the organ recipient. This will not only address the shortage of donor organs, but also cut down organ rejections.

Disadvantages :

  1. The biggest possible disadvantage of 3D printing is counterfeiting or production of "fake" stuff, and the copyright infringement issue arising due to it.
  2. If you give technology in the hands of people, there will always be a few who would use it for the wrong purposes, and 3D printing is no exception.
  3. At present, 3D printers have limitations when it comes to size of the objects created.
  4. Another possible disadvantage of 3D printing is that people would print stuff on a whim, and this would result in a huge number of unnecessary stuff being produced.
  5. Currently, 3D printing is viable for items made from a single raw material only.

Intellectual property

3D printing has existed for decades within certain manufacturing industries where many legal regimes, including patents, industrial design rights, copyright, and trademark may apply. However, there is not much jurisprudence to say how these laws will apply if 3D printers become mainstream and individuals and hobbyist communities begin manufacturing items for personal use, for non-profit distribution, or for sale. Any of the mentioned legal regimes may prohibit the distribution of the designs used in 3D printing, or the distribution or sale of the printed item. To be allowed to do these things, where an active intellectual property was involved, a person would have to contact the owner and ask for a licence, which may come with conditions and a price.

Patents cover processes, machines, manufactures, and compositions of matter and have a finite duration which varies between countries. Therefore, if a type of wheel is patented, printing, using, or selling such a wheel could be an infringement of the patent.

Copyright covers an expression in a tangible, fixed medium and often lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years thereafter. If someone makes a statue, they may have copyright on the look of that statue, so if someone sees that statue, they cannot then distribute designs to print an identical or similar statue.

When a feature has both artistic (copyrightable) and functional (patentable) merits, when the question has appeared in US court, the courts have often held the feature is not copyrightable unless it can be separated from the functional aspects of the item.


The US Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center released a memo stating that "significant advances in three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities, availability of free digital 3D printable files for firearms components, and difficulty regulating file sharing may present public safety risks from unqualified gun seekers who obtain or manufacture 3D printed guns," and that "proposed legislation to ban 3D printing of weapons may deter, but cannot completely prevent their production. Even if the practice is prohibited by new legislation, online distribution of these 3D printable files will be as difficult to control as any other illegally traded music, movie or software files."

Internationally, where gun controls are generally tighter than in the United States, some commentators have said the impact may be more strongly felt, as alternative firearms are not as easily obtainable. European officials have noted that producing a 3D printed gun would be illegal under their gun control laws, and that criminals have access to other sources of weapons, but noted that as the technology improved the risks of an effect would increase. Downloads of the plans from the UK, Germany, Spain, and Brazil were heavy.

Attempting to restrict the distribution over the Internet of gun plans has been likened to the futility of preventing the widespread distribution of DeCSS which enabled DVD ripping. After the US government had Defense Distributed take down the plans, they were still widely available via The Pirate Bay and other file sharing sites. Some US legislators have proposed regulations on 3D printers, to prevent them being used for printing guns. 3D printing advocates have suggested that such regulations would be futile, could cripple the 3D printing industry, and could infringe on free speech rights, with early pioneer of 3D printing Professor Hod Lipson suggesting that gunpowder could be controlled instead.


1Q. Define 3D Printing technology and discuss its various applications. . (200 words) 10

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