The post-scarcity dream of making anything we need relies on the proliferation of 3D printers. While you can make them yourself at the moment, the problems are speed and materials. For a DIY and sharing society we need to figure out how to recycle materials already at hand into 3D printer ink, some way off right now. For car manufacturers robots are indispensible. They boost production numbers and efficiency by huge amounts. Using 3D printer for plastic components is a growing trend, harder stuff is now following. The typical industrial development and deployment arc of technology is extending with a huge round of investment in Desktop Metal.
Desktop Metal are a start-up based in Burlington, Massachusetts. Founded in 2015 they’ve raised a total of $97 million in equity funding. Half of that sum comes from the latest round. Investors include GV (Google), BMW and Lowes. The money will be used to develop existing technology and scale production.
“Just as plastic 3D printing paved the way for rapid prototyping, metal 3D printing will make a profound impact on the way companies both prototype and mass produce parts across all major industries.” – Ric Fulop, CEO and co-founder of Desktop Metal
Additive manufacturing renders objects from digital bits into reality. The cute assortment of figurines and consumer goods are but a warm up for the deployment of large-scale production printers. Will we be able to harness the productive power of these new machines effectively if our economic model still relies on consumption?
The Dystopic Twist
Innovation is very exciting, especially if you’re getting paid from it or unhappy with your present. The incessant worship of technology as our saviour and the persistent fear of artificial domination is a migraine waiting to happen. Paying heed to the sceptics is worthwhile when building advanced tech to ward off hubris. Autofac is a 1955 short story written by Phillip K. Dick where the titular self-replicating machines supply goods to the human survivors of an apocalypse. The bots are useful for a time but then humans decide they want to get on with rebuilding rather than surviving. Unfortunately Autofacs feed and generate themselves the consumptive needs of people, they do this to the point of excess.
Internal programming leads the autofacs to consume every resource they can in order to produce what they perceive their master/slave humans need. Science fiction is able to bound ahead of time. To write one simply take a technology and iterate its progress over the course of generations. 3D printing, artificial intelligence and robotics are the trio of technologies that once unified will represent a hyper-rational entity with awesome power. A dangerous concept if we don’t start thinking of the ethics. In the mean time, and hopefully in the future, 3D printing developments will continue to find positive uses. Making work less of a burden, improving medical treatments and creating consumables in any shape we want.