General Question

phaedryx's avatar

What if you could copy a physical object as easily as you copy a digital file now?

Asked by phaedryx (6104 points ) June 10th, 2012

I was reading an article on 3D printing today and thinking about all of the things already at thingiverse for the makerbot.

Now imagine if you had a 3D scanner on your smartphone that allowed you to scan objects and print them off. You could share these files with other people and other people could share with you. Let’s say a 3D printers cost about what ink-on-paper printers cost right now and could use a variety of materials.

How would that change your life? How would that change society?

Need to replace a broken part? Print a new one. Kid is bored with legos? Print some new pieces for him. Daughter needs help with a science project? Print some planetary models. Want something that doesn’t exist anywhere? Create it and print it off. Like something that your neighbor has? Print one for yourself.

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11 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

PirateBay already has a section for plans of things you can print called Physibles.

6rant6's avatar

I’m guessing “handmade” would become a giant marketing concept.

We wouldn’t have to stockpile things in the garage.

Society would have to penalize the production of anything non-recyclable.

Since the haves and have-nots would become indistinguishable, we’d need another standard to see if you were better off than the Jones: how many slaves you own, or how many people come to visit you, or how many of the outer planets you’ve visited.

wundayatta's avatar

If it was that easy, the world would be stood on its head, energywise. Nothing would cost anything. We could make whatever we could imagine just by sending the plans to the printer. We could copy people. The world would become very confusing until people sorted this out.

King_Pariah's avatar

I’d say screw you GW! I’m making my own minis!

jerv's avatar

Why imagine? Read all about what it might be like.

That is a link to download a free copy of Makers by Cory Doctorow in your choice of formats. Just trust me ;)

flutherother's avatar

You wouldn’t even need a physical object to copy, you could have a library of object templates to be used as required. The greatest impact would be from readily available food, water, medical supplies and petrol. The world’s population would increase more rapidly than ever and we would all be rich. Things would be wonderful for ten or twenty years at most.

dabbler's avatar

The biggest difference between 3-D scan/copy and copying digital files is that the material of your 3-D object is not scanned in any of the common techniques and the copy is rendered in the material that is available for printing. I.e. the copy won’t be identical unless the original was made out of the same stuff as you have on hand to print with.

However, I think this technology has the potential to be a game-changer in manufacturing. A lot more things could be made locally and by small shops.
One big exception is electronics which still need to be made in hi-tech clean-room conditions for the most part. There is some development of printable circuits but that is useful only for the most simply applications.

marinelife's avatar

You would have a Star Trek replicator.

jerv's avatar

@dabbler Very true… for now. But just as we now have color printers, they will eventually make multi-material fabricators. However, for now, we have to settle for making metal things the way I do at work; using the “lost wax” casting method, only using an SLA (a plastic object made on a 3D printer to tolerances within 0.002”) instead of wax when forming the ceramic mold. I mean, I don’t see any of these printers handling Inconel 718 or 6–4 Titanium anytime soon.

dabbler's avatar

@jerv Yes metal has it’s challenges but shapeways will do stainless steel and aluminum dust for you (and silver too but since that’s so soft you wouldn’t use it for machine parts).
Airbus prints metal plane parts and even a whole wing is in the planning.

I saw something that said some of the unmachinable engine and ducting parts of the f-35 are printed but I can’t find a citation at this point. They previously would make them in multiple sections that bolt together but the single piece takes more pressure and is lighter.

mattbrowne's avatar

It’d be the end of garbage dumps. We’d be forced to switch to a cradle-to-cradle society much quicker, because of the increased need for certain raw materials.

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