Quite a headline isn't it? It is both bold, and quite infuriating! What are the negatives of 3D printing? Is it all doom and gloom?

The headline actually comes from an article on the Architectural Review website, fully titled 3D Printing Will Destroy The World Unless it Tackles the Issue of MaterialityPlease go ahead and read the article. In a nutshell, the article essentially accuses 3D printing of being environmentally unfriendly, slow and generally pointless.

I want it now!

The first issue the article raises is that 3D printing is both time and resource intensive, compared to traditional manufacturing. Speed is very relative when looking at 3D printing. Yes the printer may "print at a snails pace", but this is a very naive argument. I know of no other process where I can manufacture something to the same quality as a desktop 3D printer in the time it takes to 3D print an object. No tooling, middle men, and no transportation is required, so that argument is flawed. For mass produced items, currently a 3D printer is going to be slower when mas producing items. However in the future there will be locally based 3D printing farms, able to produce 1000s of items in an hour, and do I believe this will happen.

3D print figure negatives of 3D printingMiniature 3D printed in 2 hours.

Environmentally friendly?

The second issue in the article argues further negatives of 3D printing, stating that 3D printing largely uses oil based plastics to produce the 3D prints. The article is correct, you can use oil based plastics, however plant based plastics are just as easily sourced, and most 3D printers can use either type of plastic. PLA plastic, derived from corn starch, is one such plastic.

Power consumption is also hinted at as a negatives of 3D printing, but the article has no data to back this up. But let's look at the obvious arguments here. 3D printing uses electricity, which may appear at first to environmentally unfriendly. But the production of electricity is becoming evermore sourced from renewable and eco friendly sources. Then there's distribution to consider. Transportation is eliminated when 3D printed parts are printed on site. This alone could be considered very environmentally unfriendly. Formula 1, renowned for pushing advances in technology, has its self openly stated that 3D printing is the future of F1 . Formula 1 teams see manufacturing by 3D printing at the race circuit as a key advantage in both speed and time.

3D Printed XWing negatives of 3D printingReady for the rubbish dump?

Environment, sustainability and society?

The final arguments for the negatives of 3D printing from the article revolve around the impact which accessible, cheap desktop 3D printers have on the environment, sustainability and society as a whole. We've already mentioned the false claims made with regards to the environmentally friendliness of 3D printing, so by claiming that 3D prints will simply clutter our rubbish dumps, is rather unfounded.

Recycling failed prints into filament for 3D printers is one area of development to boost the eco credentials of 3D printing. So perhaps ideas such as this could actually reduce landfill waste?

The sustainability of 3D printing is perhaps one area which will develop and become more focused in years to come. Sustainability is a huge focus for society in general. 3D printing will become more sustainable and responsible as the technology advances.

The final argument in the article looks at how society could embrace 3D printing. Will 3D printing move beyond 3D printing novelty items to produce useful and desirable items? Hobbyists may well be using 3D printing to create novelty items. But why do people do this? Intrigue, fun and experimentation would be my guess. Eventually we will develop ideas and processes to ultimately produce useful and desirable items. I believe we're at the first step of 3D printing. Having fun and creating pointless, novelty items is all part of the process. People need to familiarise themselves with 3D printing. They need to make errors, break things, but smile at the same time. We should focus on the positives of 3D printing. Talk about how 3D printing saved a child, gave a duck a leg, or simply how it could put a smile on your face!