Technology has been revolutionized over the last ten years. It seems like every few days the media is talking about the latest and greatest thing whether it is out already or if it’s just being theorized about. One of these latest things is 3D printers. 3D printers are one of the most recent advances in technology; however, with new advances come potential consequences and risks, the thing that mainstream media sources like to skip over. Sometimes the risk of a new piece of technology is just the price but other times it can be much more drastic. If you are someone wanting to buy a 3D printer you’ll first need to be prepared to spend a good chunk of money to buy the equipment but then also you’d need to be prepared for a high expenditure of energy and health risks. You’d also need to be prepared for potential criticism because at the moment there are lots of loopholes in the control of weapons made by 3D printers. There is, unfortunately, a “dark side” of 3D printers not adequately explored by the mainstream media.
Lyndsey Gilpin , “The dark side of 3D printing: 10 things to watch, TechRepublic, March 5, 2014,
Student Researcher: Krystal Meher, Indian River State College
Facuty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen, Ph.D., Indian River State College
3D printers have the potential to be great; they can make prosthetics, clothing, food, and way more. However, the positives can be overemphasized at the expense of the negatives and make us never question (until something bad happens), whether something is ethical. Yes it is true 3D printers have the potential to make all of the beneficial things listed above but what about the harmful things it can do?
It’s not just what a person can make themselves but what are they doing to themselves and the people around them. First, 3D printers are energy hogs; when melting plastic 3D printers give off about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding when making an item of the same weight. 3D industrial sized printers may be a long time off before we see those put into effect. Manufacturers of these printers would need to work on a more energy efficient model since the consumer will continue to pay extra even after the printer and supplies have been purchased; if this is not addressed consumers may rethink their decision on whether to buy a 3D printer for their homes.
3D printers also give off unhealthy air emissions; the emissions given off by a desktop 3D printer would be similar to lighting a cigarette or cooking on a gas/electric stove. A study conducted in 2013 showed that printing using a PLS filament (like ink used in a regular 2D printer) gives off 20 billion airborne particles per minute and when using ABS filament it gives off 200 billion airborne particles per minute. These particles could easily get into an individual’s lungs or blood which is especially dangerous for a person with a breathing or lung disease. To prevent consumer accidents the 3D printer itself and the PLS and ABS filaments should come with warning labels that they could be dangerous for people with these conditions. Not informing the consumer of the consequences before buying into it would be treating these individuals like objects in order to turn a profit; that is until an accident occurs and there’s a lawsuit. Other preventative measures could be the development of a filament that does not release these dangerous particles. Without at least one of these preventative measures there is an accident waiting to happen.
Gun and weapon monitoring is a big ticket news item in the mainstream media; yet not many people realize with the latest advances in technology it is one hundred percent possible to make weapons inside your home. Currently there are laws to control the production of guns from 3D printers; however there are many loopholes in the laws that allow “wiggle room”. United States Congress has passed an “Undetectable Firearms Act” which bans guns that cannot be detected by a metal detector or x-ray machine. As good as this law may sound at first it actually has a giant loophole; guns made from 3D printers that have a tiny piece of metal are not banned. U.S. Congress actually ignored this for quite a while and is now rushing to close up this loophole. Recently a twenty-eight year old man living in Japan was placed in jail for two years after making two guns with his 3D printer and then posting a video online on how to replicate them. His lawyers stated that he did not know that his actions were illegal.
Many social media websites monitor and record what its users say, make, and do. This would be a good thing for 3D printer companies to look into. For example, if after every product was made, a blueprint of the product was sent wirelessly to the company that manufactured the printer, then a person, or even a computer system, could closely monitor the blueprints and watch out for “red flags”. The printer from which it was sent could have something similar to a computers IP address, so that you would be able to trace the item back to the individual or company.
When looking at the whole picture of 3D printers it is nearly impossible to say with one hundred percent certainty that 3D printers are ethical or unethical. While there is bad in 3D printers there is also good. It depends on what the 3D printer is being used for and who is using it. That’s what determines whether or not it is ethical. In the near future there will most likely be more advances in the technology and making of laws to monitor 3D printers. Unfortunately when creating a new piece of technology as groundbreaking as this, there is bound to be ethical problems raised. More technology leads to more power; but more power, even if sometimes used for good, can also be used abusively.