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Solution-Making Machines: 3D Printers and the Problems They Can Solve

3d printed stuffA company in China reportedly used giant 3-D printers to make 10 houses in one day. By building each wall with layers of “printed” cement and construction waste, this 10 x 6.6 meter machine was able to create a neighborhood of full-sized, detached single family homes in less time and money than it would conventionally take.

But that raises the question: could 3D printers be used to end homelessness or stop climate change?

Sally Kohn, a political commentator from CNN, posted an article discussing how 3D printers could potentially be used to end all of these social issues that the world faces today. We’ve already seen what 3D printers can do in the medical world from 3D printed skulls to 3D printed robotic hands.

But that’s not all. As Sally Kohn notes in her article, 3D printers can also solve many more problems, including:

  • Hunger: Could there someday be a 3-D printer making nutritious food in every village around the globe? Maybe, but the technology is still too expensive right now, and a lot of the new design work is happening more in high-end settings (3-D printed caviar, anyone?). But the tech will soon be less expensive and more widely available, so let’s keep our fingers crossed.
  • Homelessness: The world’s first 3D printed multistory house is already underway in Amsterdam, a feat on par with the Chinese firm building 10 houses a day. Of course, homelessness has many more complex factors to consider than just a lack of housing. But the ability to create “affordable housing,” even more affordably than conventional housing techniques, would not only help homeless people but also low-income individuals.
  • Disease: Remember our announcement about the world’s first 3D printed organ? It’s hard to believe, but bioprinting is becoming one of the coolest uses for 3D printers these days. A foundation has already offered a $1 million prize to whomever comes up with the first 3D printed fully-functioning liver—which will be a sign of hope to the approx. 17,000 Americans waiting for a liver transplant.
  • Pollution: There are so many causes to climate change that we should be dealing with, and one of them is pollution from industrial production. Instead of having to throw out entire products when one piece needs replacing, 3D printers can make it easier to replace parts. By producing and assembling even the most complex of products locally rather than shipped from across the continent, we can reduce our carbon footprint thanks to these machines.
  • Money: HOLD IT RIGHT THERE! Don’t you know printing money is illegal, even if it is in three dimensions? But this is Kohn’s point about 3D printers and money: It wasn’t so long ago that the cost of information was dramatically reduced thanks to the Internet; music has been drastically changed thanks to Spotify, and everyone has a cell phone in their pocket these days. Now imagine a 3D printer in every home, making plates and cups and toothbrushes and hammers and nails and much more. Even the World Bank has considered the implications of 3-D printing for reducing poverty and sharing prosperity. The cost of producing these basic amenities will certainly be reduced over time and that’s something to think about for sure.

It’s obvious that 3D printers are the coolest new technological advancement that we’ve seen in the 21st century—so far. Let’s hope that 3D printing will be as revolutionary as the Industrial Revolution was in the past.

Photo credit: Katie L. via Edudemic

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