3D Printing and the future of production
Joseph S. Diedrich has been a columnist at The Washington...
MADISON, Wi., June 2, 2013 – Although Christopher D. Winnan’s e-book “3D Printers: The Next Technology Goldrush” is not always polished, the book provides an exhaustive amount of information and covers the topic of additive manufacturing technology and the societal revolution well.
Perhaps the most revolutionary thing about additive manufacturing is the possibility that it could completely overturn the prevailing production status-quo. Writes Winnan, “3D printing might not be cheaper than a factory, but it could be cheaper than a factory and its distribution network. The cost of keeping small piles of stock far from the factory is immense, and this alone makes 3D printing cheaper.”
Moreover, instead of traditional manufacturing’s proclivity for homogeneity, additive manufacturing allows for what Winnan describes as “mass customization.” Uniqueness in everything from toothbrushes to cars becomes more practical when the cost of altering a design is insignificant.
Considering the current size, structure, and price of 3D printers, they are—at least for the time being—most suitable for the production of small, personalized items and constituent parts. The idea of melting down an old, defunct part of an appliance (of a washing machine, for example) and printing a replacement part from it with little or no waste is especially intriguing.
Unfortunately, the government cannot keep its hands off. Winnan discusses how an additive manufacturing institute in Ohio was created with funding from “a $1 billion Obama administration initiative: the NNMI (or National Network for Manufacturing Innovation). The Obama program has charged the NCDMM (or National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining) with managing the new institute. This last part makes it clear to all that although a public-private partnership, this institute is going to be headed by the U.S. military.” While the program has thus far focused on medical applications, the fact that the military is involved should be enough to make anyone cringe.
Intrinsically bound with the additive manufacturing process is the concern of intellectual property. 3D printers print from downloaded files subject to copyright protection. Winnan points out that, “some organisations are already seeking other ways of protecting intellectual property, with ideas including Digital Rights Management (DRM) built into 3D printers as well as monitoring of the internet for violations.”
Like the music industry a decade ago, it is quite possible that the additive manufacturing industry will try every trick in the book to protect intellectual property, much to its own misfortune.
“Copyright is sadly touted as a protection for the artist creating the material, but the truth is that copyright protects the profits of those who produce and distribute the material,” Winnan remarks, drawing attention to the public’s misguided viewpoint. “It remains an important method of controlling the marketplace and the flow of profits.”
While Winnan’s insight on copyright is correct, he erroneously associates it with capitalism. On the contrary, intellectual property and capitalism are antithetical. From that fallacious association, he launches into a diatribe against the free market.
“The usual ‘machines will replace workers, so what about the jobs?’ question is an obvious point, brought up countless times for every technological advance. So what happens to the people who lose their jobs on production lines? They cannot all become 3D-printer repairmen.” No, but this concern is nothing new, nor is it valid. What happened to all the rowers upon the invention of the sail? I am reminded of Henry Hazlitt, who once sardonically wrote, “Why should freight be carried from New York to Chicago by railroads when we could employ enormously more men, for example, to carry it all on their backs?”
Ironically, it is precisely the free market that has been responsible for the dramatic reduction in the cost of 3D printers. The forces of capitalistic competition will ultimately make the technology commonplace.
Over the course of the book, Winnan discusses everything from 3D printer manufacturers, strategies for how to profit from the technology, current goods being produced by 3D printers, future goods that might be practically produced (including houses!), legal issues, crowdsourcing, and 3D scanning, and more. The e-book was published in 2012 and is available here.
Joseph S. Diedrich also writes for the MacIver Institute, The College Fix, Young Americans for Liberty, LibertyBlog.org, Musings of a Superfluous Young Man, and in Young American Revolution magazine. Find him on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter @JSDiedrich.
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