Should 3D printing be regulated?

There has been lots of hype around 3D printing - even our boss got sucked into it and we are now proud owners of 3D printer - currently collecting dust in a dark corner of our office. 

The subject of 3D printing, the benefits, the risks and the challenges faced is a constant debate in our office. I for one think it should be regulated. Obviously, we cannot control the ‘dark side’ but we can at least try to ensure the printers, the blueprints and the power doesn't fall in to the wrong hands. 

This of course, is all arguable. There are many great benefits to 3D printing, all of which are discussed in Episode 6: Vagina Canoe - The Wonders of 3D Printing. 

Head, shoulders, knees on toes

Revolutionising the medical industry, 3D printing has paved the for cost effective and easy printing of prosthetics. Amputees now have access to highly customisable prosthetics which, many years ago, may have seemed a long and tedious affair. 

Manufacturers and socially aware entrepreneurs are using their skills and 3D printing to actually do some good for the less privileged,  Dr Hong Sheng Chiong has developed a 3D printed eye test that can be used with a smartphone camera or dedicated app. The Junior Eye Doctor has created a group that offers open source, 3D eye related medical gear. 

From my perspective (and since I am the one writing this article), 3D printing brings treatment to the untreated. For those who don't have the luxury of free healthcare (NHS) or access to significant funds, 3D printing allows for easier access to tools, prosthetics and in some cases, medical drugs.

Sex, drugs and erm, babies? 

This came up in our research and subsequently, was briefly discussed in the podcast. With 3D printing so accessible, you now no longer have to visit the local sex shop, you can merely download the deigns and print a whole range of sex toys at home! Imagine, believe and achieve. Your weirdest, wackiest and bravest designs are all available from the ‘Black Hello Pussycat’ through to the ‘Justin Bieber Sex Toy’. Yes, there is a toy for the ‘Belibers'. If you don’t believe me, just check out www.makerlove.com. For the intellect, ‘Freaky Freud’  is also available for your pleasure. 

Moving on, for some parents to be, an standard ultra sound simply isn't enough. If you are eager to meet your little bundle of joy or want an alternative way to announce your impending pregnancy, there is always 3D babies. All that is needed is an image from your ultrasound. The more you have, the better the resemblance. Rest assured, there are 3 colour tones to choose from. 

Whilst sex and babies are all very good and pleasant, the dark side of 3D printing hovers close by. Drugs. Yes, thats right. Drugs. OK, maybe I am dramatising this but… the first 3D printed drug has already gained approvals for the american FDA. Benefits? Well, similar to prostethics, the vision is that eventually, your medical drugs could eventually be customised to suit you i.e. height, age, weight. Instead of a one side fits all, the drug, is customised, can have greater benefits. The mention of drugs in the podcast got quite heated -  yes, many benefits but again, what happens if the blueprint and machine gets in the wrong hands? Are we going to see a nation of Walter Whites taking over our streets? Note - for those not in the know, Walter White is the main character in Breaking Bad.

The really dark side - guns!

So here is where we got all rilled up in our podcast. Without wanting to reveal too much (you will just have to listen to it), the subject of gun control and 3D printing is heavily debated internationally. 

Yes, there are many positives to 3D printing, some of which I have briefly mentioned in this article. However, the argument for regulating the industry all stemmed from this. The first 3D printed gun is already available, achieved by Cody Wilson from Texas, aptly named ‘The Liberator’. 

According to one source, the designs were made readily available online with over 20,000 downloads before they were made to remove the blueprint. My concern? Well….if you can buy 3D printers from most high street stores then what if a suppressed psychopath is finally given the tools to go on a rampage? I rest my case.  

To quote Warren G, REGULATORS!!! MOUNT UP!