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3D Printing controversial technology still in its infancy

3D Printing controversial technology still in its infancy

Turning computer models into physical items 


printing is an industry that changed the world many centuries ago and it continues to evolve with the latest application – 3D printing.

Middle East Business shed light on the future of printing in the Middle East in our second issue (see As it is our role to keep you updated about the latest technologies, we now offer a snapshot about the industry that might well change the world anew.

Many of us have wished, at one stage or another, to have a magic machine that prints out our internal ideas by simply connecting a wire to our brains. It seems we’re not very far from this dream thanks to the 3D printer.

3D printing is a ‘new but old’ revolutionary technology. It was created by Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute in 1982. In 1984, Charles W. Hull created the first working 3D printer at 3D Systems Corp. The way this technology operates is completely magnificent – it ‘creates’ by 3D scanning the object to be copied, then forms multiple layers of material until a new object is created. Moreover, 3D printing, dubbed as ‘additive manufacturing’, serves a variety of sectors including architecture, construction, industrial design, graphics, automotive, aerospace, medicine and others.

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However, its uses in medicine are the main focus for this article. 3D printing is considered as a game changer that enables doctors to find solutions to difficult medical conditions at hospitals on several levels: surgery, transplantation, bio-print, and other medical operations. 3D printing allows doctors and scientists to synthesise human organs and tissues for transplantation into the human body. It also allows medical specialists to fabricate 3D bio-prints, which can help them to detect infectious disorders beforehand. For example, according to an article published on a 3D printing industry website entitled, ‘High Powered Lens Aids 3D Printed Disease,’ Dr. Steve Lee, at the Australian National University’s Research School of Engineering, and Dr. Tri Phan, from Garvan Institute of Medical Research, have found a modern way to synthesise high-powered lenses that can change a Smartphone into a high-resolution microscope.

Another use of this technology in medicine is human organs. As reported by Lakshmi Sandhana, on Gizmag website in an article entitled, ‘3D-printed Liver-like Device Can Detoxify Blood,’ Shaochen Chen, Professor at the Nanoengineering Department at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) states, “The concept of using 3D printing to encapsulate functional nanoparticles in a biocompatible hydrogel is novel. This will inspire many new designs for detoxification techniques since 3D printing allows user-specific or site-specific manufacturing of highly functional products”.

Professor Chen explains that by using 3D printing technology, doctors are able to synthesise a 3D liver and transplant it into a human body – a remarkable accomplishment in medicine. With liver transplants, it can often take a long time for doctors to find a liver based on a patient’s blood type compatibility.

However, by using 3D print technology, ‘creating’ a liver is possible. Furthermore, a 3D printed liver is designed and modified by scientists to transplant and function naturally, in the same way that a natural liver functions in the human body; filtering blood, metabolising, and transporting remedies.

This amazing technology is now accessible to those who can afford it – but has raised eyebrows in certain sectors.

When considering property and privacy, 3D printing is locked in an endless debate – for or against – the technology. The right to property or possession is a natural right for all individuals to have and practice. On the other hand, the practice of this right should have its limits, ensuring that nobody breaks the privacy of another. Discussing 3D printing in light of property and privacy impacts upon three areas: domestic, copyright and trademark. Applying this abstract idea to concrete examples will help clarify this matter.

Domestically, through an article written by Carole Cadwalladr, a British writer, entitled “Meet Cody Wilson, Creator of the 3D Gun, Anarchist, Libertarian”, she interprets the quarrel between property and privacy of individuals.

She conveys, “It’s a gun. It works. And any nut with access to a 3D printer can print one in the privacy of their bedroom and then … well, you get the picture. The plans include a metal shank so that it‘ll show up in an x-ray scanner, but it is the work of moments to remove it”.

Cadwalladr discusses the quarrel between property and privacy of individuals. If anyone possesses this technology without laws and regulations on the way he uses it, a tremendous mess will be created for society. Possessing a 3D printer does not mean anyone should be able to hack others’ privacy. Therefore, governments need to create laws to regulate owners of 3D printers.

Nevertheless, the matter does not stop here. Hacking individuals’ privacy can take another form.

Copyright exists so that an individual’s privacy is protected legally from hacking. It means a right that only the creator of a work should have it. For instance, Leonardo Da Vinci painted Mona Lisa, one of the world’s most famous portraits. If someone uses a 3D printer to create a 3D printed Mona Lisa, it is an illegal action unless there is an official permit allowing such a duplication. The third element in terms of property and privacy is trademark.

Crocs are an international footwear brand that is trademarked. Crocs can be reproduced with the use of a 3D printer. Industrialised 3D-printed Crocs need a permit from the owner of Crocs’ trademark, to protect the privacy of the trademark either locally or internationally. Though anybody can get a permit for 3D printing to any trademark, there is still another path – illegal 3D printing of any trademark without requesting a permit from the owner of the trademark. Changing the name of a trademark after printing any trademark would hinder judges from accusing the users of 3D printer of hacking the privacy of the owner of a trademark. At this stage, it is necessarily to think of rules and guidelines that can be implemented effectively for protecting individuals’ privacy from 3D printers and their users.

To conclude, the 3D printer is a double-edged sword with two sides, positive and negative. Our article shows the positive applications in the medical sector and the potential scientific advantages. We also provide details about its negative applications, where users can use it to hack individuals’ privacy or create illegal or dangerous items.

A controversial technology, it is therefore a matter that requires governmental and judicial involvement, particularly to control the uses of 3D printers by creating appropriate laws and policies to control how the way this technology is used now … and in the future.

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  1. Pingback: Center East Enterprise Information: 3D Printing - NewsFlog

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