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Jan 05 2015

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3D printing…is there nothing it can’t do?

Well…plenty, yet. But that’s likely to change as existing patents expire.

So much quotey goodness in this article…

3D printing will revolutionise war and foreign policy, say experts, not only by making possible incredible new designs but by turning the defence industry — and possibly the entire global economy — on its head.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already invented “4D printing” — creating materials that change when they come into contact with elements such as water.

One day, that could mean things like printed uniforms that change colour depending on their environment.

eing able to take printers to a warzone promises a radical shake-up of combat and the defence industry, says Peter W Singer, an expert in future warfare at the New America Foundation.

“Defence contractors want to sell you an item but also want to own the supply chain for 50 years,” he says.

“But now you’ll have soldiers in an austere outpost in somewhere like Afghanistan who can pull down the software for a spare part, tweak the design and print it out.”

This could lead militaries to cut out private defence companies altogether. And by combining 3D printing with assembly line robotics, those that remain will be enormously streamlined.

That sort of disruption carries huge political implications in places like the United States where defence firms are purposefully spread around the country and support millions of jobs.

But all of that may pale in comparison to the security risks that 3D printing could trigger by revolutionising economies.

If anyone can print retail goods, economies that rely on cheap factory labour to make things like clothes and toys may find themselves in deep trouble — with all the security consequences that go with that.

“If you want to know where the big threat of 3D printing is, think about how reliant China is on its low-cost merchandising sector,” says Chausovsky.

The first major patents to run out were in 2009 for a system that used plastics known as “fused deposition modelling”.

But the next big ones, that expired in the first half of 2014, are related to “selective laser syntering” that prints metals such as aluminium, copper and steel, and with much greater definition.

And rather than working with solid lumps of metal, engineers can create complex new shapes that use much less material without losing any strength.

“You can’t drill a curved hole,” says Chausovsky. “With 3D printing, you’re creating products that would never be possible with traditional methods.

The full implications are still hard to imagine.

“It’s the first time in a very long time that there’s been such a radical shake up in industrial engineering,” says Stevens at BAE. “We’re not just improving things — we’re re-writing the rule book.”

Bring it on!!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/01/05/3d-printing-is-there-nothing-it-cant-do/

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