[LINK] 3D printing: logistical saviour or piracy agent?

thoughtmaybe.com community at thoughtmaybe.com
Tue Feb 7 16:15:26 AEDT 2012

          3D printing: logistical saviour or piracy agent?


          Brad Howarth

February 7, 2012 - 10:46AM

*What if people could print spare parts and consumer goods on site? 3D 
printing is developing fast.*

The advent of 3D printing is enabling consumers and businesses to create 
everything from intricate metal jewellery to customised plastic iPod 
cases, but the ease with which designs can be turned into objects holds 
open a door to a new wave of digital piracy.

3D printing involves the gradual layering and bonding of materials such 
as plastics, ceramics and metals to build up a 3D object. It has been 
used in manufacturing for rapid prototyping, where its convenience has 
outweighed its high cost.

Now the technology is poised to go mainstream in the production of parts 
and consumable items. The German 3D printer manufacturer EOS, for 
instance, is now able to create metal objects as robust as cast parts, 
and often as strong as forged parts. More than half of its printers are 
sold for production manufacturing, rather than prototyping, with strong 
interest from the aerospace industry due to the complexity and 
lightweight nature of printed parts.

Mashable today *reported* 
the case of an elderly British woman who recently received a transplant 
of a jaw bone produced by a 3D printer.

According to Jackie Fenn, vice president at the analyst firm Gartner, 
recent falls in printer prices are creating a whole new industry.

"It is starting to spawn a whole set of small bureaus that can complete 
customised individual items," Fenn said.

Eventually some designers might stop manufacturing and sell their 3D 
designs directly to buyers to print out themselves.

"Rather than Canon manufacturing thousands of replacement lens caps and 
shipping them off to photo stores, they could just sell the design, and 
have you make one in your 3D printer or at the local bureau."

Cheap 3D modelling tools mean people can easily create their own 
designs, and created opportunities for companies like Paris-based 
Sculpteo, a printing bureau for customised plastic objects. Co-founder 
Clément Moreau believes mass customisation through 3D printing would 
become mainstream in three to five years.

"Every plastic object on Earth is a very good candidate, from doorknobs 
to the buttons of a jacket," Moreau said.

Similarly New York-based Shapeways operates a marketplace where buyers 
can purchase personalised objects or upload their own designs.

Spokesperson Carine Carmy said that while the service started by 
printing hobbyist objects such as model train accessories and abstract 
art, it is now used to create commercial objects such as customised 
smartphone cases. There are more than 4500 shops on the site, but unlike 
other e-commerce sites, if buyers can find what they want, they can 
design it themselves.

Carmy said one-off items could be printed in materials such as sterling 
silver at a fraction of the cost of other processes.

"It's an entirely new economy that we are creating. Designers can focus 
on design and not on fulfilment."

Carmy said Shapeways had strict terms of service precluding users from 
printing objects that infringe copyright. She said her company would 
investigate any user suspected of infringing, but added that piracy was 
something the design community still needed to contend with.

"Product design has yet to be affected by technology in the same way 
that the music industry has, and so I think it is still an open question 
that we will have to answer with our design community and our customers."

Similarly Moreau said Sculpteo had no intention of becoming a platform 
for piracy.

"Some of our competitors are not so afraid of this, but we fully respect 
copyright and as far as we can we enforce our users to respect copyright."

According to Bruce Arnold, a lecturer in the School of Law at the 
University of Canberra, the potential for object piracy is currently 
limited by the need for a skilled designer to copy the original object 
into a 3D model. While 3D scanning technology is in development, it will 
only enable a printer to create the appearance of an object, not its 

"For some purposes, appearance is everything; for other purposes 
functionality is really important," Arnold said.

Just as with existing counterfeiting options, Arnold said that many 
consumers would still prefer to buy the original item. But for some 
designers, he said protection may be better achieved through instant 
prototyping and continuous product change rather than intellectual 
property law.

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