About a decade ago, engineers began using 3D printers to make functional models. Architects soon used these printers to make models of the buildings that they designed using CAD programs. Today 3D printers can make pretty much anything that can be designed on a computer. 3D printers even can make their own parts.
MIT has been opening labs with 3D printers around the world. This allows people in developing countries to utilize this cutting edge technology to solve local problems. Neil Gershenfeld, who heads this program, believes that in the next twenty years everyone will have one of these printers in their homes. Currently, a 3D printer can be purchased for less than $2,000.
With all of these positives, 3D printers have a dark side. 3D printers can be used to copy products that have copyrights, trademarks, and patents and creates infringement issues. There is also the more pressing issue of gun manufacturing. A law student from the University of Texas had published specifications to build guns on 3D printers. These guns can be made of plastic and are illegal under the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988. The State Department had the specifications removed under arms trade control. However, the specifications are still likely available from other sources on the Internet. There is a bill, Undetectable Firearms Modernization Act, before both the House and the Senate to combat individuals from manufacturing undetectable weapons and ammunition taking into account the proliferation of 3D printers. The New York City Council is trying to pass a law to make it illegal to make guns using 3D printers unless the person is a licensed gunsmith. As new processes are being patented to use high-grade metal in 3D printing manufacturing, there is growing concern that 3D printers will not only be able to manufacture plastic guns, but also metal ones.