Does 3D Printing Threaten Traditional Manufacturing?

Someday soon you may be able to create replicas of 3D objects by taking their photo and feeding the data to your at-home printer. Will that be the end of the manufacturing-based economy? 

What's the Latest Development?


When a Google executive once described 3D printers as having a China on your desktop, the reference was likely made to the country's manufacturing capabilities, not its tendency to violate copyright protections. Yet some worry that at-home printing technology, combined with software that makes blueprints from scans of 3D objects, may threaten the age-old economic arrangement whereby manufactures sell goods to customers. Imagine using your smartphone to snap a picture of a lamp you like from a local shop, then feeding that photo into your 3D printer and voila! Out comes your new lamp.

What's the Big Idea?

The technology needed to make perfect copies of 3D objects by taking photos of them has not been perfected, though the app currently sells for .69 cents. But manufacturers may be worse off for that. Neil Gershenfeld, head of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT, said that traditional manufacturers currently treat 3D printers like toys. "By the time they are threatened," says Gershenfeld, "it’ll be too late." Dr Adrian Bowyer, maker of the RepRap printer, has published the designs for his machine, hoping to prevent a societal division between 3D printer "have" and "have nots".

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

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