CHAPTER 10 Bigger than the internet: 3D printing

I’ve been mildly obsessed with 3D printing since I first learned about it. Also referred to as ‘additive manufacturing’ or ‘digital fabrication’, it’s a process where a three-dimensional, solid object is created by placing down successive layers of material fused together by laser (digital light processing) and a multitude of other methods that are evolving rapidly, almost daily. Most people have now seen some footage of one of these printers in action, probably printing a useless plastic widget or a gun. You know a technology has hit the mainstream agenda when it appears on 60 Minutes. Old media still has a place.

As far as usefulness is concerned, the technology is now starting to reach an inflection point where things get radical, blowing the minds of even the most ardent technologist. 3D printers can create complex moving mechanical parts, often in a single build process, but more radically, they’re entering the realm of the biotechnology used to build human organ replacements, synthetic bones and computer-added tissue design. Add to this the ability to print various forms of computer technology, including microchips, circuit boards and capacitors, and the mind boggles. Yes, all of this is a bit like history repeating itself: making things happen with simple scanning and clicks of buttons on desks. The more important questions about 3D printing are, ‘What won’t they be able to do?’ and ‘How do we make money in a world where ...

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