There’s little doubt that 3D Printing has transformed the way in which we think about manufacturing. 3D Prototypes of almost any object have never been easier and cheaper to create.
As technology progresses 3D printing can only become better, cheaper and more prevalent.
The advantages of 3D additive printing over traditional methods of manufacturing have been discussed many times before, but what about the disadvantages?
Advances in technology bring many benefits, but there’s usually a darker, unethical or even criminal aspect to any new technology. Take the internet for example, the benefits of the internet being cheap and readily available almost anywhere in the world are too numerous to list.
However the internet makes committing certain crimes easier than ever before and even creates new types of crime which were previously not possible. Widespread music and movie piracy, online fraud and the distribution of illegal images or data being just a few examples.
The Criminal Uses of 3D Printing
Although many home users currently use 3D printing to create harmless customised plastic objects and businesses use it mostly for creating prototypes before going into mass production, what about the criminals?
As ever, the criminals are one step ahead of the rest of us and criminals are already printing car keys, guns, and skimmers for ATM machines. These are just a few examples of what’s already going on and it’s set to become much worse.
Many Online 3D Printing Companies have already had to turn down orders to print and distribute designs for ATM skimmers and gun parts. Although the manufacturing of such items is a little beyond the capabilities of most home printers, it won’t be long before anyone will be able to print these items at home and not be subjected to the risk of being caught by using 3rd party companies.
3D Printers and the Creation of Drugs
It’s not exactly common knowledge but most drugs can actually be manufactured using a few elements like hydrogen, carbon and oxygen with the addition of a few household chemicals like paraffin and vegetable oil. All of these ingredients are readily available.
We know that 3D printers can already print using different materials so it doesn’t take much of a technology leap to develop one of these chemical printers.
The benefits of downloading and printing prescription drugs are enormous, but there’s an obvious criminal aspect here too. If you think being able to print illegal recreational drugs in your own home is science fiction, it’s not. The technology is mostly already here.
Forgery Will Become Easier Than Ever
Only the other day, someone asked me if 3D printing will be used by criminals to create fake money. That’s what inspired me to write this article in the first place.
Luckily most affordable printers nowadays are too slow to make the printing of fake coins economically viable for criminals. That won’t be the case for long though as 3D Printer Costs Drop and printing capabilities and speeds improve.
I think we’re a long way off the printing of complex proof of identity like passports, but simpler, lower security identity cards seem quite feasible right now or within the next few years at least.
We already have the technology to use Laser Scanning Equipment to scan in an object, convert it to an electronic CAD file, modify it if we wish and then re-print it as many times as we wish.
Even in the hands of the law abiding home user, this is going to bring some interesting cases to the courts regarding Intellectual Property Rights, even for simple household items. Who owns the rights to a design, even if we modify it before re-printing it? It’s a very grey area legally.
3D Printing Legislation
There will be a time when we will need to create a whole new set of laws regarding 3D printing. Then there’s the difficult part, enforcing these new laws.
At this point in time though I’m not convinced that legislation is necessary. 3D printing is still growing exponentially but the criminal aspects are not yet a major problem.
Many existing laws can be used for the time being. For example, in the US it may be legal to own a gun, but I believe it’s still illegal to manufacture one at home without a license.
3D printing is an amazing technology which is set to change the world for the better, but we shouldn’t forget it’s negative sides. They might not be a big problem yet, but experience of other revolutionary technologies tells us that they soon will be.