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The Risks of Revolution: Ethical Dilemmas in 3D Printing from a US Perspective



Additive manufacturing has spread widely over the past decade, especially with the availability of home 3D printers. In the future, many items may be manufactured at home, which raises two ethical issues. First, there are questions of safety. Our current safety regulations depend on centralized manufacturing assumptions; they will be difficult to enforce on this new model of manufacturing. Using current US law as an example, I argue that consumers are not capable of fully assessing all relevant risks and thus continue to require protection; any regulation will likely apply to plans, however, not physical objects. Second, there are intellectual property issues. In combination with a 3D scanner, it is now possible to scan items and print copies; many items are not protected from this by current intellectual property laws. I argue that these laws are ethically sufficient. Patent exists to protect what is innovative; the rest is properly not protected. Intellectual property rests on the notion of creativity, but what counts as creative changes with the rise of new technologies.
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The Risks of Revolution: Ethical Dilemmas in 3D Printing from a US Perspective
Erica L. Neely
Abstract: Additive manufacturing has spread widely over the past decade, especially with the
availability of home 3D printers. In the future, many items may be manufactured at home, which
raises two ethical issues. First, there are questions of safety. Our current safety regulations depend
on centralized manufacturing assumptions; they will be difficult to enforce on this new model of
manufacturing. Using current US law as an example, I argue that consumers are not capable of
fully assessing all relevant risks and thus continue to require protection; any regulation will likely
apply to plans, however, not physical objects. Second, there are intellectual property issues. In
combination with a 3D scanner, it is now possible to scan items and print copies; many items are
not protected from this by current intellectual property laws. I argue that these laws are ethically
sufficient. Patent exists to protect what is innovative; the rest is properly not protected. Intellectual
property rests on the notion of creativity, but what counts as creative changes with the rise of new
Key words: 3D printing; additive manufacturing (AM); ethics of technology; intellectual property;
In 2006, two open-source 3D printers came out: Fab@Home and RepRap. (Mertz 2013) Since
then, a community of hobbyists has emerged that parallels the community surrounding personal
computers in the 1970’s. Much as with the personal computer, public imagination eventually
caught up, and people have started paying attention to the promise of this extraordinary
technology. Thus while it is not a new technology, additive manufacturing (or, as it is more
commonly known to many, 3D printing) has come into its own in the last decade.
One of the things to note about additive manufacturing is that it works differently from most of
our other manufacturing techniques. Standard manufacturing is subtractive: it takes a raw
material and “subtracts” whatever is unnecessary for the object desired. For instance, this occurs
when material is punched with a shaped die we cut away the unwanted material and our object
remains, just as a child might cut dough with a cookie cutter. Additive manufacturing works in
an opposing manner: in its basic form, additive manufacturing builds up objects, layer by layer,
from raw materials.
As Huang, Liu, Mokasdar, and Hou (2013) discuss, there are a number of different technologies
for additive manufacturing. One common version works akin to an inkjet printer. When we
print a document, we send a file to the printer which causes the printer head to move back and
forth across the paper, depositing ink in the right spaces to create text, pictures, or whatever else
the file dictates. A 3D printer works similarly: a file tells the printer where to deposit materials,
but the print heads generally contain either a liquid material or a powder which is heated to
barely over its melting point; the material solidifies soon after being deposited. By making
multiple passes, the printer can deposit layers of material, thus gradually building up a three-
dimensional object.
There are thus three main elements to additive manufacturing. First, one must have a file,
generally from a computer aided design (CAD) program, to serve as a plan for creating the
object. Second, one must have the raw materials for the object, such as powdered plastic or
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metal, to put into the printer. Third, one must have a 3D printer capable of handling the raw
material, since different printers are able to handle different materials.
While theoretically a printer could build an object out of almost any material, at the moment
there are some strong limitations on what they can do. For instance, as Berman (2012) notes, the
array of materials that we can print in is currently much more limited than the materials we can
use in traditional manufacturing. Thus, a great deal of the research involved with additive
manufacturing is in trying to extend the process beyond plastics, which it handles fairly well, to
metals (Harris 2012) and other substances. However, the promise of 3D printers is staggering:
they would allow anyone with access to the right hardware and software to create objects in their
home, without a need for centralized production.
The flexibility of 3D printing is the key to its revolutionary potential. One advantage 3D printers
have is that they allow us to manufacture things we otherwise could not. For instance, Stemp-
Morlock (2010) discusses objects which involve printing with multiple materials; when dots of
hard and soft materials are printed in special patterns, the material actually gets thicker when
stretched. Furthermore, there are geometries that we cannot manufacture with traditional
methods due to tooling constraints but which can be created through additive manufacturing; a
tube with an interior honeycomb structure would be an example of such an object. Similarly,
particularly in fields such as bioprinting we are seeing the use of 3D printers to create directly in
biological materials, something which is utterly impossible for traditional manufacturing.
(Fischer 2013; Thilmany 2012)
Another advantage of 3D printing is its ability to provide customization of manufactured items.
One of the major limitations of our traditional factory-based model of manufacturing is lack of
customization: using centralized manufacturing we can make many copies of the same design
cheaply, but we cannot customize them efficiently. This is not terribly surprising, since much of
the cost in this kind of manufacturing is in creating the dies that are used; the money is recouped
by using those dies thousands of times. It is thus not cost-effective to create a truly customized
product, although companies do try to offer some degree of customization by making parts that
can be assembled in various configurations. (Berman 2012) However, with 3D printing, it is no
more expensive to create a completely customized version of an item than the standard model;
the only difference will be in changing a few of the file parameters. (Petrick and Simpson 2013)
In terms of design, consumers have two options when 3D printing an object. One option is that a
consumer could visit a site like Thingiverse ( and download plans
that someone else has created; she then could use those plans to print an object on her own
device. Another option is that she could both design and print an object herself. In either case,
the 3D printer has removed the need for another agent to do the direct manufacturing it puts the
manufacturing power in the hands of the end user. If she desires an object, she can manufacture
it; this is true even without having much specialized knowledge (at least if she relies on someone
else’s plans) and with only a relatively small investment in equipment. Moreover, she can make
the number she needs, as and when she needs them, to the specifications she desires.1
1 To be fair, there are a number of limitations on our current ability to do this some objects are simply too large
and/or expensive to manufacture at home, some materials cannot currently be used in additive manufacturing, and so
forth. I discuss further limitations toward the end of this paper, but my point holds for an ever growing number of
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While hugely promising from a technological standpoint, 3D printers also raise some ethical
questions; these will only become more pressing as the technology spreads. I will focus on two
pressing ethical dilemmas raised by this technology. First, I will consider safety issues, touching
briefly on the issue of being able to print dangerous objects such as firearms at home and moving
on to a more detailed discussion of providing consumer protection from poor designs; most of
our traditional controls on products rely on manufacturing assumptions which will no longer
apply. Second, I will discuss concerns about intellectual property arising from technology which
would allow a person to scan an item and create a copy of it using a 3D printer. Since
manufacturing regulations vary, I will focus on the United States as a case study; however, the
general outlines of my argument apply more broadly.
Ultimately I will argue that our safety constraints will need to be modified in order to protect
consumers adequately; as a society we generally believe consumers deserve protection, which
should not change simply because we have a new technology. I believe that current intellectual
property protection is sufficient to safeguard the creative aspect of companies’ designs; I argue
that the new technology forces companies to become more innovative rather than granting them
wider protection. I conclude with some thoughts about future directions for 3D printers, both in
terms of promise and limitations.
Issue One: Safety
One important ethical issue for 3D printing involves how to ensure the safety of 3D printed
products.2 Currently our product safety regulations depend on centralized manufacturing.
Products are tested and certified as safe; factories are then inspected regularly to ensure that their
products are (within acceptable margins) identical to the product that passed the original safety
inspection. This relies on having a centralized location to inspect and on the idea that, if
functioning properly, the machines will make identical copies of the original product.
This model will not necessarily hold in the future, however, since one of the main appeals of 3D
printing is the ability to manufacture what you need at home; the manufacturing machinery is
thus dispersed throughout the population. Moreover, the quality of the printed products can vary
greatly, even if created by the same plans, because the machines vary. If there is a shop with a
single 3D printer, then it may be possible to inspect that one piece of equipment; it is not clear
how enforcement would occur for home users. Thus while it might be possible to regulate 3D
printed items if they were centrally created, it is more difficult to regulate items if they are
produced by home users.3
objects that a person could desire; it does not seem absurd to think that this will be possible for at least a great many
objects in the future.
2 Note that one can also consider safety questions that relate to a product and its use; those sorts of issues are less
likely to be affected by changes in manufacturing process, however, and thus will not be considered here.
3 Indeed, this is one of the current problems facing 3D printers; while there is great potential to use them to create
spare parts, for instance, those parts must conform to relevant safety standards. (Petrick and Simpson 2013) Just as
we cannot regulate the safety of “do-it-yourself” activities that people undertake at home and thus there is always
the risk that an overly ambitious person might injure him or herself with a circular saw so too we will have
difficulty regulating 3D printed objects produced by home users.
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Rather than regulating physical objects, we could turn to regulating the software instead. 3D
printers function by manufacturing an object according to the specifications provided in a design
plan. These plans are frequently shared online; indeed, there are a multitude of sites which
promote the sharing of plans among creators. One way of addressing product safety would be to
try to control the sharing of created plans; we thus would attempt to prevent unsafe plans from
being distributed or sold.
However, there are concerns with this approach. We have not been terribly successful at
regulating information online. In the United States, attempts to use the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act in order to restrict the pirating of music and film online have met with a lot of
resistance; there are still many sites that traffic in the illegal distribution of such files. Indeed,
Daniel Castro (2013) discusses this issue in the case of “the Liberator,” which is a fully 3D-
printed gun. When the United States government requested that its plans be removed from
websites, some sites complied; however, the plans were still available elsewhere, such as on The
Pirate Bay.
Our ability to stop the distribution of files thus seems to be fairly poor, particularly when
combined with jurisdictional concerns. Since the internet is transnational, it is difficult to
regulate its content. In the absence of international treaties, we are probably limited to
attempting to regulate content on sites hosted within our country’s borders. Since users can
simply go to other sites, this is unlikely to be effective.
Stepping back from the legal and pragmatic issues, there are wider philosophical questions about
whether we should try to regulate such plans or whether such attempts are overly paternalistic.
For instance, one could claim that consumers have the right to download plans and try them out
without government interference; essentially, this is an expression of individual autonomy.
While some plans, if followed, may cause a threat to personal well-being, we allow risk-taking in
other areas of life; if people can pursue extreme sports without government prohibition, why
impose regulation on personal manufacturing?
One possible objection to this would be that we regulate the creation of certain types of items,
such as firearms, already. Hence we do not believe that people have a right to any type of object
without restriction. The philosophical justification for controlling the printing of guns and their
components stems from a more general limitation on autonomy. Colloquially, we claim that
your right to swing your fist ends at my nose; more formally, your autonomy does not extend to
infringing on the autonomy of others. Weapons raise concerns due to their potential to cause
harm to others. Yet this is less an issue of safety, one might argue, than one of security: we are
not concerned that the firearm might be unsafe for the user, but that it threatens the security of
Surely, one might argue, this kind of concern does not apply to the vast majority of 3D printed
items which are not security threats of this kind. Yet these problems are not immune to safety
concerns, since one can ask how competent are we at determining the safety of potential designs
and products. At the moment, individuals do not need to be able to judge the safety of most
4 Note that concerns about security and 3D weapons extend beyond issues of 3D printing guns (Jensen-Haxel 2012)
to larger-scale issues such as using 3D printers to create biological or chemical weapons (Mattox 2013).
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manufactured goods themselves; there are centralized processes for testing objects, as well as
procedures for recalling objects if something slips through the testing process. These processes,
however, will not work well in the home printing environment.
The potential for 3D printers lies to a large extent in their flexibility while current technology
constrains the size and materials of objects in home printing, in the future we will likely have far
fewer restrictions. At that stage, a person could conceivably print a chair or a car seat or a
pressure hose for their scuba diving equipment; these are not restricted items in the sense that
firearms are, yet they are subject to regulation: chairs should not collapse under small amounts of
weight, car seats need to adhere to stringent guidelines to protect children, and scuba hoses need,
at the very least, not to collapse under high amounts of pressure.
These regulations, however, apply to goods manufactured for sale to consumers, not those
created by an artisan for his own use; if a woodworker builds a chair which collapses when he
sits on it, he has not harmed anyone other than himself. Perhaps, then, this should be extended to
3D printed goods: if a person creates something to her own specifications, she is essentially
accepting the risk that she may have designed poorly. This would be one way of extending
autonomy rights to the situation at hand.
One problem, however, is that often a person is not creating something to her own design; she is
using a design developed by someone else in order to create her object. This design may have
been created by someone with a good understanding of engineering or it may have been created
by someone with very little understanding of engineering. Creating an unsafe design is not, in
and of itself, unethical; many conventional products likely had design flaws to begin with, which
is what testing and design revisions are expected to correct. However, distributing an unsafe
design raises ethical issues.
Clearly there is ethical fault if one knowingly attempts to pass an unsafe design off as safe; in
this case, the person is being deceitful. However, in some cases it seems likely that a person will
design something which appears to be safe, distribute it thinking that is safe, but simply be
incorrect about its safety.5 How do we deal with this sort of situation?
One response would be to say that a consumer bears all of the risk; essentially by choosing to
download and print a particular design, she consents to any possible harm. However,
philosophers generally hold that consent is only valid under certain conditions, such as being
uncoerced and informed. There is a question of whether the consent given is, in fact, informed.
At the moment, I suspect that it is much of 3D printing is experimental in nature, and the
communities of users likely realize that there is a degree of risk inherent in trying out various
However, the situation is different once this form of manufacturing becomes prevalent. In this
case, the designs are not taken as experimental, but as a basic way of receiving consumer
products. In general societies have not assumed that consumers are capable of determining the
risk of a manufactured product. For instance, in the United States, the Consumer Product Safety
Act (1972) states that
5 In our normal manufacturing processes today, this is what leads to product recalls.
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[the] complexities of consumer products and the diverse nature and abilities of
consumers using them frequently result in an inability of users to anticipate risks
and to safeguard themselves adequately.
In essence, this argues that products and the people who use them are sufficiently varied that we
cannot assume that users are able to assess the risks of particular products. If this is the case for
ordinary manufactured products, it should also hold for 3D printed ones.
Of course, selling 3D printed products is not necessarily a problem. If the products are still
being centrally manufactured in factories which use 3D printers, say, then all of our current
procedures will work well. We can fairly easily ensure that consumers are not exposed to any
greater degree of risk than they are at present, since the main change comes in the type of
machine used to create the object; we have not changed the method of distribution, in this case,
but merely the kind of machine.
Problems arise when what is being distributed is not an already-manufactured product but rather
a design consumers use at home in order to print a product themselves. In this case, applying
safety standards will be more difficult because, currently, designs are not typically subject to
government inspection manufactured goods are.6 However, since as a society we have
concluded that consumers cannot reasonably be expected to assume all the risk for manufactured
goods themselves, presumably that holds also for products which are 3D printed at home using
an acquired design.
A possible reaction would be to argue that government oversight is unnecessary because design
communities will, in essence, self-regulate by rating different designs; Castro (2013) offers some
thoughts about the promise of self-regulation. A user could then depend on the ratings, with the
belief that a community would ultimately reject (or vote down) those with failings. While it
might be possible that such a system could work, I have some reservations about its ultimate
effectiveness. One problem is that almost any ratings system can be circumvented; it is difficult
to ensure that ratings are given in good faith by unbiased reviewers.7 Moreover, since different
people have different criteria for designs, it is not clear how meaningful the ratings would be; a
product may be wonderfully functional but a reviewer may penalize it for its aesthetics or vice
versa. This could perhaps be solved by having different ratings for different features; there
would thus be a score card for each product, not a single rating. However, unless those people
who do the rating had some kind of knowledge as to how to test the products, safety ratings
might still be unreliable.
The biggest issue, however, involves trust. Even if those doing the ratings within a particular
community are experts in their field, how do others know it? Under our current manufacturing
practices, standards and inspections are carried out by people with certain qualifications who are
verified to have those qualifications. On the internet, anyone can claim to be a Ph.D. in
6 This is not entirely true if, for instance, one is designing a bridge in such a case the plan is going to be thoroughly
reviewed. However, most products manufactured for home use require the inspection of finished products, not
7 See, for instance, the controversy over ratings on
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engineering with 20 years of experience. Yes, it will be difficult to maintain the deception but it
is not impossible, at least in public imagination. As such, I believe that it will be necessary to
involve a standards body of some kind, whether governmental or through a professional
organization; a plan could be certified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
(IEEE) or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) or whatever body is
appropriate for the particular design.8
While we cannot prevent all risk to consumers, if we have established a certain level of risk as
unacceptable in our society, then we cannot ethically ignore the ramifications of moving to a
system of manufacturing which may cross that threshold. If 3D printers are to replace traditional
forms of manufacturing, then the risk level to ordinary consumers increases dramatically unless
there is some way of ensuring the safety of particular designs. While I do not wish to stifle the
innovative potential of 3D printing and design, some measure of consumer protection must be
extended, whether in the form of government regulation or certification by professional bodies.
One question this raises, of course, is whether all plans would have to be certified, or whether
plans simply have the option to be certified; the latter possibility allows people to choose plans
that have not been rated if they wish to take that risk. I believe that the best blend of autonomy
and safety is to require that plans which are commercially available be inspected by some
authoritative standards body. For one, this solves a pressing issue of who would pay for this
inspection if the plans are being sold, then any cost of inspection will be part of the company’s
overhead in developing the plans; the cost can then be passed along to the consumer. In practice,
a plan which is freely available is unlikely to be submitted for certification because there is little
financial incentive to do so. Unless the author of the plans is using something like a shareware
model, where users are not required to pay for plans (but are encouraged to), it is not clear how
an author would recoup money spent on certification. Requiring all plans to be certified thus
seems overly restrictive one of the core strengths of the 3D printing movement is the degree of
innovation which it encourages; requiring all plans to be certified risks stifling a large part of the
revolutionary potential of the technology.9 Having some plans be certified raises the potential
that people will choose plans unwisely, but it seems a more reasonable balance of autonomy and
safety concerns. We can ensure that people have expert opinions available to them if they
choose to exercise their autonomy in a way that ignores or overrides those opinions, that is their
Issue Two: Intellectual Property
Another ethical issue involving 3D printers concerns intellectual property. At the moment, it is
fairly difficult to reproduce most objects that have been created in a factory; to do so would
require a similar manufacturing set up, which means that companies are most likely to face a
8 Or perhaps there could be some neutral body like Consumer Reports or Underwriters Laboratories who did
standards tests for plans.
9 Assuming it were possible to enforce such a rule, that is my suspicion is that uncertified plans would still be
shared, just less openly.
10 Note that there will still be some safety issues due to the fact that different machines produce slightly different
objects using the same plans, since some of them manufacture to higher standards. This, too, would need to be
addressed eventually, perhaps by certifying particular combinations of plans and printers: we could say that if you
print plan X on printer Y then it meets the necessary standards.
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threat of unauthorized reproduction from other companies, not from individuals. However, this
changes with 3D printers and scanners.
There are two relatively easy ways to recreate an object using a 3D printer. First, if you have a
copy of the relevant CAD file, you can simply print it out using your own equipment. This is
something companies can address by protecting their files; if a person has an illicit copy of the
file, then that can be treated as theft, just like for any other file. Unfortunately, there is another
method of reproduction that avoids this sort of obvious theft. Using a 3D scanner, a person can
scan an object and create their own plan for how to print it. This file can then be saved and used
to reproduce the original object.
While this method does not involve stealing a particular file from a company, many are still
concerned with whether this infringes upon the intellectual property rights of the original
company. If so, then this technology has opened the doorway for a plethora of law suits,
although pursuing those law suits might be tricky; trying to find individuals printing single
copies in their homes is likely going to be impossible unless those individuals then distribute
either the copies or the plans they have made. One of the complications of this is that there are
different forms of intellectual property protected by law, and of course the law varies by country.
I will focus on the United States as an example of the difficulties, following the discussion by
Weinberg (2010) of types of intellectual property and their likely protection; I will then consider
the philosophical issues in play with respect to intellectual property.
There are four kinds of intellectual property that could be relevant: copyright, patent, trademark,
and trade dress. Copyright is probably the kind of intellectual property which is most familiar to
a general audience, since it exists automatically and pertains to photographs, texts, and other
common forms of creative expression. With respect to an object, copyright applies to the artistic
or decorative elements of an object; an object itself is only subject to copyright if it is intended to
be a sculpture or purely decorative. As such, assuming the item is not a sculpture, the
decorative element of an item could be copyrighted, but the rest of the item is not; if you altered
your plan to omit the copyrighted element, then the object could be legally reproduced.
The patenting of an invention is a process that has to be undertaken by the inventor or his/her
agent; it must be applied for, and the invention must exhibit some degree of originality and not
be obvious. Many manufactured or produced objects are not patented, although particular parts
of them may be. As such, you will not necessarily be violating a patent by scanning a common
object, unless that item or a part of it has been patented. In the United States, patent protection is
all embracing, however; whereas copyright law contains an exception for fair use, patent law
does not. Thus those objects which are protected by patent will likely be protected completely.
Trademark refers to a manufacturer’s mark, and exists mainly to designate something as
authorized; it exists to protect the consumer from illicit copies. Assuming that a person is
creating something for home use, trademark protection does not apply since presumably she will
be aware that she 3D printed it there is no way to deceive herself, so she does not require the
consumer protection of trademark. If the object is being distributed, and thus there is some
concern about deception, that can easily be addressed by simply omitting the trademarked image
or symbol; the rest of the object can be printed without infringement.
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Trade dress refers to the packaging of a product being an indicator to the public of its origin; the
classic example would be the iconic silhouette of a glass Coca-Cola bottle. Once again, this is
unlikely to apply to a person printing something for home use. However, it may be more tricky
if the object is going to be distributed; this could be a way to protect certain design elements, if
they are taken to be crucial to the brand’s image. The matter is complicated by the fact that trade
dress cannot be claimed to be inherent in a design; it has to come from a secondary source. For
instance, if there is a marketing campaign to associate a particular design image with a company
in the consumer’s mind, then this is an attempt to create trade dress. As such, a company cannot
simply design a product and claim trade dress at the time of design; it would happen after the
In the United States, therefore, intellectual property rights may not be threatened simply by
scanning an object and recreating it; unless it is protected by patent, it is not clear that any of the
other forms of intellectual property protection would apply. Other places may provide more or
less protection. For instance, Bradshaw, Bowyer, and Haufe (2010) note that, in England, there
is an exception to patent protection for non-commercial personal use; hence even a patented item
would likely not be protected from this form of reproduction.11
While a company can protect their own CAD files and seek to have them removed if they appear
on websites, there will be enforcement issues; reputable sites may remove illegal plans, but the
plans will undoubtedly still exist on other sites, just as illegal copies of films and music do.
Moreover, if a new plan is created by someone else via a 3D scanner and freely distributed, then
it is less clear whether the company has any legal right to stop this. We may ask, however,
whether this distribution is wrong in a philosophical sense; to do so requires us to consider why
we protect intellectual property.
In general, our desire to protect intellectual property seems to stem from a belief that intellectual
effort should be rewarded, just as physical labor is. If you create a sculpture, then part of what
you created is the idea behind it, not just the physical form; as such, we hold that mental labor
should be protected as well as physical labor. Just as I cannot steal your physical sculpture
without causing moral harm, I also cannot create a copy of your sculpture, as you have put
intellectual labor into the design.
One of the key motivations behind this protection seems to be to reward creativity and
innovation. Yet, of course, what counts as creative or innovative changes over time the use of
perspective was hugely innovative when it first arose, but it is a standard artistic method now.
Similarly, as technologies change, the standards for innovation change as well; the first home
personal computer was hugely innovative, but to make an innovative home computer now would
require additional creativity.
As such, it may be that we have reached a point where designing a physical object is not
sufficient to count as particularly creative. If the object is particularly artistic, we might
recognize that. If creating it involves new manufacturing techniques that cannot be easily
11 There may be other exceptions to patent protection under UK and European law, such as reproduction for
educational use. However, a full treatment of the laws in other countries is beyond the scope of this paper.
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copied, then that will almost certainly be eligible to be protected. Yet it may simply be that, as a
society, we do not think that manufacturing a common object is deserving of protection; a person
or company must do more to count a putative invention as being innovative.
Companies, then, would need to focus their efforts elsewhere to keep consumers having the
initial idea would not suffice. It might be possible to market it better than competitors, or to
instill one’s brand with cachet; people will pay extra for a purse with a Chanel logo on it, or a
phone with an Apple logo on it. Similarly, it might be possible to have a better finishing process.
Right now, goods come out in a rougher form than in traditional manufacturing processes; it
could be that post-production processing adds value that is not easily duplicated, resulting in a
kind of hybrid manufactured product. Or companies may move to designs which are not easily
replicated by additive manufacturing processes; perhaps this is where the future of innovation
lies, at least for corporations.
Philosophically, this is where my sympathies lie. As times change, so too do criteria for
innovation; we must adapt laws and ethical understandings to reflect current abilities. Thus
while I anticipate a future of legal wrangling over intellectual property, I believe our current laws
do not need drastic extension. Typing is no longer a specialized skill requiring experts with
training; so too for creating objects using certain technologies. If the only thing that makes your
object distinctive is that no one else had the technology to create it, then it becomes outdated as
the technology spreads. Truly distinctive innovation can be protected by patent; the rest is fair
Concluding Thoughts
While I have focused on the problems I see looming in the future of 3D printing, many
opportunities also arise from the technology. For instance, small companies and individuals are
already using them to innovate in new ways; the ability to print prototypes and try out inventions
is a boon to many small inventors. Hence 3D printers can spark creativity, not simply be used to
copy the designs of other people.
Similarly, there is a vast potential of uses for these devices, particularly in the field of medicine.
Researchers are currently working on organ fabrication (Fischer 2013), printing up copies of
tumors for surgeons to investigate, without having to operate on living patients or rely on
cadavers (Banks 2013; Thilmany 2012), and creating custom prosthetics (Banks 2013).
Furthermore, there are many other potential creative uses. People have created 3D models of
calculus visualizations for blind students; they also modeled the flooding from Hurricane Katrina
in real time to better plan rescue and evacuation attempts. (Raths 2014) The future possibilities
seem almost boundless.
Having said that, there are a few limitations which must be addressed. One promising aspect of
3D printing is that it may have a positive effect on our environmental impact, since it allows us
to cut down the supply chain by printing objects as they are needed; similarly, additive
manufacturing is less wasteful of raw materials than subtractive manufacturing. (Huang, Liu,
Mokasdar, and Hou 2013; Nowak 2013) Nevertheless, long-term environmental impacts have
not been studied, and must be considered. Similarly, many 3D printers are limited in the size of
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objects they can print, as well as what materials they can use; while 3D printing has expanded
from plastics to certain kinds of metalworking and even into using biological materials there
are still many other materials we cannot currently work with. (Berman 2012)
Despite these drawbacks, 3D printers will likely be key to the future of manufacturing. As such,
we must consider the ethical issues inherent in the adoption of this new technology. It is striking
that one of the first 3D printed items to receive a lot of media attention was a gun; the possibility
of printed weapons seems to have captured public imagination, and we certainly must address
the security ramifications of this technology. Yet most items that are 3D printed will not face
these kinds of security issues nearly as much as they will face safety issues a fact which is
frequently overlooked but must be addressed. Similarly, we face threats to intellectual property,
stemming from the ability to copy items in a new fashion.
With respect to both of these issues, I believe that the key is balance. The safety issue must
balance autonomy and consumer protection; the rights issue must balance intellectual property
and innovation. Neither of these conflicts is new. What is new is the pressing nature of these
questions in a novel arena, one where current thought and law does not easily apply. I have
argued that with respect to safety, we may have to move away from regulating objects and
towards certifying specific plans. Intellectual property, however, seems adequately protected;
the times are changing, and companies must do so as well. Neither companies nor philosophers
can afford to become complacent in the face of such revolutionary new technology.
Ethical Impact Statements
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of
the authors. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the
A version of this paper was presented at the CEPE/ETHICOMP 2014 meeting in Paris, France. I
am grateful for the helpful comments received by people present at that presentation, as well as
the peer reviewers and editor of this journal. My thanks also to Clif Flynt, Rebecca Newman,
and Bill Roper for answering certain questions on engineering practice.
Banks, J. (2013) Adding Value in Additive Manufacturing. IEEE Pulse 4, 22-26. doi:
Berman, B. (2012) 3-D printing: The new industrial revolution. Business Horizons 55, 155-
Bradshaw, S., Bowyer, A., & Haufe, P. (2010) The intellectual property implications of low-cost
3D printing. SCRIPTed 7(1), 5-31.
12 It seems odd to include an informed consent statement when there are no studies with human participants involved
in this paper as I stated in the previous sentence but it seems to be required, so I have included it. Either that
sentence or this footnote (or both) should probably be removed upon publication.
Final Draft Copy
Castro, B. (2013) Should Government Regulate Illicit Uses of 3D Printing? Washington, D.C.:
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... In addition, Brean (2013) argued that existing patent law needs updating to protect copyright holders but also will enable further innovation. On another area, Neely (2016) posited that suppliers using 3DP to manufacture products will still have to comply with product safety laws, but the applicable legislation does not protect consumers making products themselves, using AM. Therefore, Neely called for professional bodies like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to develop standards for designing products made by 3DP. ...
... 3DP requires a data file, either the original CAD file or data generated by a 3D scanner. Therefore, using a company's CAD files illegally would be a breach of copyright (Neely, 2016). Brean (2013) argued that printing a protected item is a patent infringement, but when consumers do this, law enforcement is complicated. ...
... Furthermore, the liability for products defects are unclear (Bogers et al., 2016;Chen et al., 2015;Ford, 2014). Consumer's contributions to designs or even printing their products could result in problems with warranty and product liability (Neely, 2016). An example of such an issue would be when consumers do not follow the product manufacturer's speciation or parameters or use different production equipment (Bogers et al., 2016;Holmström et al., 2016). ...
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Additive manufacturing (AM), also called 3-dimensional printing (3DP), emerged as a disruptive technology affecting multiple organizations’ business models and supply chains and endangering incumbents’ financial health, or even rendering them obsolete. The world market for products created by AM has increased more than 25% year over year. Using Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation as a conceptual framework, the purpose of this multiple case study was to explore the successful strategies that 4 individual managers, 1 at each of 4 different light and high-tech manufacturing companies in the Netherlands, used to adopt AM technology into their business models. Participant firms originated from 3 provinces and included a value-added logistics service provider and 3 machine shops serving various industries, including the automotive and medical sectors. Data were collected through semistructured interviews, member checking, and analysis of company documents that provided information about the adoption of 3DP into business models. Using Yin’s 5-step data analysis approach, data were compiled, disassembled, reassembled, interpreted, and concluded until 3 major themes emerged: identify business opportunities for AM technology, experiment with AM technology, and embed AM technology. Because of the design freedom the use of AM enables, in combination with its environmental efficiency, the implications for positive social change include possibilities for increasing local employment, improving the environment, and enhancing healthcare for the prosperity of local and global citizens by providing potential solutions that managers could use to deploy AM technology.
... With what seems to be endless possibilities, it is not hard to overestimate the impact of additive manufacturing on different areas as politics, ethics, economic, technology, law, environment, business and society in general. There still is a high level of uncertainty; most experts agree that, although since the introduction of AM in the early 1980s 3D printing has developed very quickly, its biggest changes and implications are yet to come bringing simultaneously benefits and risks (CAMPBELL et al., 2011;JIANG et al., 2017;JOHNSTON et al., 2018;NEELY, 2016). ...
... It will be difficult to ensure safety and assign legal liability; this consequently raises concerns about the reliability of manufactured products. The development of an in-space 3D printing technology will affect space missions (KURFESS & CASS, 2014;NEELY, 2016;PIERRAKAKIS et al., 2014;SCHOLES, 2015). ...
... As an impressive technological change that will revolutionise manufacturing, change business and transform lives, affecting a huge range of areas -some research already discuss the development of an in-space 3D printing technology that will affect space missions -3D printing will also support and challenge criminal investigations by providing new ways to fight crime and unleashing new kinds of security threats (BAIER et al., 2018;BAYENS et al., 2017;CHASE & LAPORTE, 2018;MCGUIRE et al., 2016;NEELY, 2016;SCHOLES, 2015;TIRONE & GILLEY, 2015;WALTHER, 2015;YAMPOLSKIY et al., 2015;ZELTMANN et al., 2016). ...
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The present study is a horizon scanning report based on the British model Sigma Scan. It explores possible future issues and trends in 3D printing and its potential impact on society, particularly with regard to new security threats that its spread is expected to cause. This exercise allows for an examination based on the best predictions of how the future of this disruptive and, at the same time, enabling technology is likely to be, in order to better understand the uncertainties that its development will bring. This report addresses the potential implications of the development of 3D printing, in particular for crimes, the likely early indicators of the development of this technology, the simultaneous developments that can serve as inhibitors and drivers, the potential crime preventers and promoters, and the evidence that indicates the possibility of the predicted events. Keywords: 3D printing, additive manufacturing, disruptive technology, enabling technology, security risks.
... In addition, problems with process predictability and repeatability result in increased costs due to build failure and quality issues (Baumers et al., 2016). Neely also points out that there might be product safety related constraints, considering that while in conventional manufacturing products are tested, certified and factories inspected, in AM the main appeal is the ability to manufacture in dispersed locations (Neely, 2016) 6 . Asides of these product related bottlenecks, also production related ones exist. ...
... She suggests that this could be overcome by regulating software instead of physical objects. As AM machines manufacture objects according to specifications provided in a design plan, product safety could be addressed by controlling the sharing of created plans, prevent unsafe ones from being distributed or sold(Neely, 2016). ...
Additive manufacturing (AM), casually also referred to as 3D printing or rapid prototyping, is one of the key elements of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In AM, parts are created by adding material based on a digital 3D drawing or model, instead of subtracting it as in conventional manufacturing processes. AM could drastically impact supply chains, as the technology allows for more concise, shorter, and localized physical and information flows. A decentralized production setup close to the place of consumption would alter supplier relationships, transportation patterns, inventory policies, and packaging processes. This chapter describes this vision of the AM supply chain, explains the technology's advantages as well as remaining bottlenecks, and lays out various technologies and materials that are used under the umbrella term AM. Scenarios for the application of AM are derived and markets and trends described. The chapter concludes with an outlook that in the future, companies will likely have to decide whether they are competing based on the principle of economies of scale with low cost and high volumes or based on economies of one with end‐user customization.
... Moreover, the high upfront and maintenance costs involved in high-quality medical 3D printing raise questions on whether 3DP is poised to further expand healthcare inequity vis-a-vis less affluent societies [186]. ...
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Medicine is a rapidly-evolving discipline, with progress picking up pace with each passing decade. This constant evolution results in the introduction of new tools and methods, which in turn occasionally leads to paradigm shifts across the affected medical fields. The following review attempts to showcase how 3D printing has begun to reshape and improve processes across various medical specialties and where it has the potential to make a significant impact. The current state-of-the-art, as well as real-life clinical applications of 3D printing, are reflected in the perspectives of specialists practicing in the selected disciplines, with a focus on pre-procedural planning, simulation (rehearsal) of non-routine procedures, and on medical education and training. A review of the latest multidisciplinary literature on the subject offers a general summary of the advances enabled by 3D printing. Numerous advantages and applications were found, such as gaining better insight into patient-specific anatomy, better pre-operative planning, mock simulated surgeries, simulation-based training and education, development of surgical guides and other tools, patient-specific implants, bioprinted organs or structures, and counseling of patients. It was evident that pre-procedural planning and rehearsing of unusual or difficult procedures and training of medical professionals in these procedures are extremely useful and transformative.
... Previous authors have advocated for the need for guidelines and recommendations for the use of embryo and fetal remains and collections (Champney, 2019;Fourniquet et al., 2019;Jones & Nie, 2018;Kegley, 2004;Markert, 2020;Neely, 2016). This paper supports the previous recommendations and further contributes to the suggested guidelines, incorporating the insights gleaned from the narrative review. ...
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Human fetal and embryos collections (FECs) peaked in the late 19th century, an era before informed consent, and hence have unclear provenance. These collections are not only historical artifacts, but prized resources for education and research. This study aimed to determine, via a narrative review, the present location, status, and profile of reported human fetal and embryonic collections. Twenty-seven articles that reported on collections appropriate to the study were selected from an initial search pool of 120 articles. The reported collections were in: Australia (n = 1), Germany (n = 6), Japan (n = 1), Spain (n = 1), and the United States (n = 5). The largest collection is reported to contain 45,000 prenatal remains and the smallest, three remains. The purpose of establishing majority of the collections was for education and research. Eight collections contain both embryos and fetuses, one collection contained embryos, exclusively. Another collection contained only fetuses and one neonatal cadaver. The provenance, where mentioned, specified gynecologists and obstetricians as the main source of remains (n = 5). Except for the Kyoto Collection, information regarding informed consent from the next-of-kin was lacking. This paper draws upon the three themes of purpose, provenance, and profile and highlights the need to establish agreed international guidelines for the most appropriate ethical and sustainable practice with respect to establishment, procurement of remains, access, and maintenance of these collections. Nine domains for these guidelines are recommended: consent, privacy, commercial gain, digital and emerging technologies, commemorations and memorials, destruction and disposal, dignity of donors, global database and collaboration, and sustainability.
... Until now the intellectual properties and designs are not defined how they should be handled. Neely [20] states that the current safety regulations optimized to centralized manufacturing would make it difficult to enforce in the new, AM way of manufacturing. In combination with a 3D scanner, it is possible to scan items and reproduce copies. ...
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The wind energy industry showed rapid growth in the past decade, pushing designs to the physical limits. In the last few years, the exponential growth of the wind turbine sizes capped, and the performance upgrades are reached with optimization processes. The first wave was on major parts, but with time advancing the “cost out” strategies are pushed to minor components. A major problem is service costs and the continuous search for missing spare parts in the market. The main aim of this study is to identify when is the best entry point for the additive manufacturing (AM) technology by the hydraulic manufacturer wind turbine companies. From the commercial application for expensive prototypes, it has evolved to economical home use applications. The newly available machines allow printing parts with competing precision to machining equivalents. The material selections range from plastics to metals with mechanical properties equally good or better. This project aims to provide a comprehensive review of the implementation of AM for hydraulic systems in wind turbines. Application screening was done by desk research and on AM technologies. Scientific research has been found on the topic for benchmarking, viability, and cost models. It has been found that there are still missing data for the mechanical properties of the available materials. The result of the decision-weighted matrix shows that the business could gain a competitive advantage by the AM implementation in terms of resources savings and productivity. Although from the technological and market perspective it is justified to initiate before further action the business should review its organization viability.
... Outside the healthcare setting, incremental advancements in three-dimensional printing technology are yielding more affordable and compact printing systems at an astonishing rate. This rapid evolution indicates three dimensional printers may eventually become household items, much like conventional inkjet printers (27). With these ambitious aspirations however, come fears of the power of such technology being widely accessible. ...
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Introduction: The disciplines of 3D bioprinting and surgery have witnessed incremental transformations over the last century. 3D bioprinting is a convergence of biology and engineering technologies, mirroring the clinical need to produce viable biological tissue through advancements in printing, regenerative medicine and materials science. To outline the current and future challenges of 3D bioprinting technology in surgery. Methods: A comprehensive literature search was undertaken using the MEDLINE, EMBASE and Google Scholar databases between 2000 and 2019. A narrative synthesis of the resulting literature was produced to discuss 3D bioprinting, current and future challenges, the role in personalized medicine and transplantation surgery and the global 3D bioprinting market. Results: The next 20 years will see the advent of bioprinted implants for surgical use, however the path to clinical incorporation will be fraught with an array of ethical, regulatory and technical challenges of which each must be surmounted. Previous clinical cases where regulatory processes have been bypassed have led to poor outcomes and controversy. Speculated roles of 3D bioprinting in surgery include the production of de novo organs for transplantation and use of autologous cellular material for personalized medicine. The promise of these technologies has sparked an industrial revolution, leading to an exponential growth of the 3D bioprinting market worth billions of dollars. Conclusion: Effective translation requires the input of scientists, engineers, clinicians, and regulatory bodies: there is a need for a collaborative effort to translate this impactful technology into a real-world healthcare setting and potentially transform the future of surgery.
Three-dimensional (3D) printing is increasingly used to produce customised objects and is a promising alternative to traditional manufacturing methods in diverse fields, such as dentistry and orthopaedics. Already in use in other medical specialities, adoption in ophthalmology has been limited to date. This review aims to provide an overview of 3D printing technology with respect to current and potential applications in ophthalmic practice. Medline, Embase and internet search were performed with “3D printing”, “ophthalmology”, “dentistry”, “orthopaedics” and their synonyms used as main search terms. In addition, search terms related to clinical applications such as “surgery” and “implant” were employed. 3D printing has multiple applications in ophthalmology, including in diagnosis, surgery, prosthetics, medications and medical education. Within the past decade, researchers have produced 3D printed models of objects such as implants, prostheses, anatomical models and surgical simulators. Further development is necessary to generate optimal biomaterials for various applications, and the quality and long-term performance of 3D models needs to be validated.
Im Jahr 2012 veröffentlichte das Wirtschaftsmagazin The Economist eine Ausgabe mit dem Schwerpunktthema »The third industrial revolution«. Auf dem Cover der Zeitschrift ist ein Mann vor einem Personal Computer zu sehen, der nahtlos in eine Fabrik übergeht, aus der verschiedene Produkte hervorspringen. Dieses Bild fasst wie in einem Brennglas zwei Erwartungsmuster zusammen, welche den Diskurs um die Zukunft der Produktion prägen: nämlich zum einen die Verschmelzung von digitaler Informationsverarbeitung mit stofflicher Herstellung und zum anderen die Personalisierung und Dezentralisierung der Fertigungstechnik (The Economist 2012).
At present, additive manufacturing processes represent an economic market with a value of several billion euros/year. After creating a balance sheet of the application fields and economic markets allowing the economic activities of additive manufacturing to be located, it seems significant in this chapter examines how society “is impregnated” with the contributions of technology and with what assimilation and inclusion bring into the collective imagination. Additive manufacturing processes, governed by action, the real component of a "ubiquitous revolution", represent, in most developed states, a factor of technological progress, a real form of technological utopianism often with a top‐10 position among emerging technologies. The chapter presents 3D printing as a breakthrough technology with a dedicated ecosystem. The expression “technological convergence” refers to a voluntary encounter of innovations in the domains of microelectronics, computer science, energy‐matter interactions, digital control, materials and so on.
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In the late 1970s 3D printing started to become established as a manufacturing technology. Thirty years on the cost of 3D printing machines is falling to the point where private individuals in the developed world may easily own them. They allow anyone to print complicated engineering parts entirely automatically from design files that it is straightforward to share over the Internet. However, although the widespread use of 3D printers may well have both economic and environmental advantages over conventional methods of manufacturing and distributing goods, there may be concerns that such use could be constrained by the operation of intellectual property (IP) law. This paper examines existing IP legislation and case law in the contexts of the possible wide take-up of this technology by both small firms and private individuals. It splits this examination into five areas: copyright, design protection, patents, trade marks, and passing off. Reassuringly, and perhaps surprisingly, it is concluded that – within the UK at least -private 3D printer owners making items for personal use and not for gain are exempt from the vast majority of IP constraints, and that commercial users, though more restricted, are less so than might be imagined.
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Thirty years into its development, additive manufacturing has become a mainstream manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing build up parts by adding materials one layer at a time based on a computerized 3D solid model. It does not require the use of fixtures, cutting tools, coolants, and other auxiliary resources. It allows design optimization and the producing of customized parts on-demand. Its advantages over conventional manufacturing have captivated the imagination of the public, reflected in recent mainstream publications that call additive manufacturing “the third industrial revolution.” This paper reviews the societal impact of additive manufacturing from a technical perspective. Abundance of evidences were found to support the promises of additive manufacturing in the following areas: (1) customized healthcare products to improve population health and quality of life, (2) reduced environmental impact for manufacturing sustainability, and (3) simplified supply chain to increase efficiency and responsiveness in demand fulfillment. In the mean time, the review also identified the need for further research in the areas of life-cycle energy consumption evaluation and potential occupation hazard assessment for additive manufacturing.
This article discusses the advancement in bioprinting technology that would enable three-dimensional printing of living organs for transplant. Today, artificial or replacement tissue is commonly grown on collagen scaffolds that contain biological starter cells. The goal here is the growing of a biocompatible piece of tissue to repair or replace a patient’s own damaged body part, such as bone, cartilage, blood vessels, or skin. In future, bioprinting technology will allow making living organs for transplant. The method is much the same as additive manufacturing, in which a printer deposits a material, layer by layer, until a three-dimensional object is made. For bioprinting, the material used is likely to be living cells taken directly from the patient’s body and infused into an ink or gel to keep them alive. After printing, the material is incubated in a cell culture that mimics human body conditions until it fuses or becomes otherwise usable for implant.
This article discusses how kinematic mechanisms created by Franz Reuleaux are now being made available by Cornell University for students and researchers. The university’s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering owns the largest set of cast iron and brass models of machines designed by Reuleaux more than 130 years ago. Cornell librarians have helped develop the Kinematic Models for Design Digital Library, or K-MODDL, to allow Internet users to view the models close up. The Cornell Reuleaux Collection contains numerous kinematic mechanisms for rotary and reciprocating engines using both steam and internal combustion. It also includes a dozen working clock escapement mechanisms, from the early verge and foliot escapement to the gravity escapement employed in London’s famous Big Ben. K-MODDL will make the collection available to educators, researchers, and students well beyond the Cornell campus. Those with access to a 3-D printer will be able to build a reproduction of the real thing to see up close how the mechanism works.
Additive manufacturing (AM) represents a new paradigm and offers a range of opportunities for design, functionality, and cost. EWI organized an Additive Manufacturing Consortium (AMC), bringing together technology leaders to address the large number of needs for technology maturation (MRLs and TRLs) for metals AM. By combining the attributes of EWI with the collective human and equipment capabilities of AMC members and partners, a distributed capability called the National Test Bed Center (NTBC) is in place for metals additive manufacturing processes. Closed-loop feedback control sensing systems and intelligent feed-forward schemes must be developed and integrated into systems to better control the manufacturing cycle. Real-time feedback control is also required for an R&D environment, and is being developed in several universities and institutes around the world.
Recent advances in so-called ‘additive manufacturing’ pose significant, new challenges, in scope if not in kind, for military ethicists. While the problem of dual-use technologies (i.e. technologies that can be used for both good and malevolent purposes) is not new, the possibility of the rapid, uncontrolled replication of highly sophisticated tools of violent action – tools that heretofore have been largely inaccessible to laymen – could vastly expand the number of persons able to commit violent acts, or even wage war, far beyond traditional boundaries. This article explains the nature of additive manufacturing and identifies the challenges it poses for militaries and governments with the de facto responsibility to keep war-making tools out of the wrong hands. In light of the industrial revolution occasioned by the advent of additive manufacturing and the revolution in military affairs that it portends, it proposes a research agenda for military ethicists. In particular, it argues that military ethicists must now expand their scope of inquiry in a way that accords due prominence to the nexus between these technologies and jus ante bellum issues of conflict avoidance.
Before the Industrial Revolution, goods were produced by local artisans and craftsmen relying primarily on locally available materials and selling primarily to local customers. These artisans conceived of and then made products, and they sold these products in their own small shops or out of their homes. In this environment, the customer was directly linked to the producer; there was no middleman and no supply chain. The Industrial Revolution ushered in an era of innovation in production methods, mining methods, and machine tools that enabled mass production and allowed the replacement of labor with machines and of traditional energy sources such as wind, water, and wood with coalpowered (and later gas-powered) machines. In the past 200 years, the elements of production have been refi ned, but the underlying economics have remained: competitive advantage goes to the company or companies (organized into a supply chain) that can produce the highest quality part at the lowest cost. Fixed costs—infrastructure and machinery—became separate from variable costs—those expenditures that increased on a per-unit production basis, such as labor and materials. Economies-of-scale production models meant that high-volume production reduced the contribution of the fi xed-cost portion of the cost equation, thus reducing the per-unit cost. Simply put, high throughput and effi ciency yielded higher profi ts ( Pine 1993 ). Today we are entering an era many believe will be as disruptive to the manufacturing sector as the Industrial Revolution was—the age of 3D printing and the digital tools that support it ( Koten 2013 ). At a EuroMold fair in November 2012, 3D Systems used one of its 3D printers to print a hammer. The Economist (2012) used this example to compare the traditional supply chain design-build-deliver model with the emerging 3D printing model:
It takes only a few minutes for the NovoGen MMX to print out a chunk of human liver cells. It?s a small chunk, only 4-mm wide and 20 cell layers thick, which wouldn?t do much good in a human patient. But at a cellular level, this tiny swatch of machine-made flesh has all the essential ingredients of an original organ: tight hexagons of hepatocytes and fatty stellate cells and endothelial cells gathered into nascent capillaries. It produces cholesterol, albumin, and detoxifying P450 enzymes. After it is printed, the ensemble can survive for almost an entire week?nearly triple the endurance of classic two-dimensional (2-D) liver cultures.
Having already made a big impact in the medical sector, three-dimensional (3-D) printing technology continues to push the boundaries of cost efficiency, convenience, and customization. It has transformed some aspects of medical device production. However, expectations of the technology are often exaggerated in the media, so we spoke to leading researchers in the field about its practical applications and what can be expected in the near future.
With stories about everything from a three-?dimensional (3-D)-printed tracheal implant used in an infant to a 3-D-printed replacement for 75% of a man?s skull, a media firestorm is swirling around this seemingly new technology, but what exactly is 3-D printing? How is it being used today, and what is its true potential in the biomedical arena? Renowned robotics engineer Hod Lipson, coauthor of Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing [1], and director of the Creative Machines Lab at Cornell University?s Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering in Ithaca, New York, spent some time with IEEE Pulse in a wide-ranging conversation about the past, present, and future of 3-D printing and its implications for biomedical engineering.