Beyond the Pistol Print-Out
This week a 25-year-old law student made international headlines when he used a 3-D printer to “print out” a functional .38-caliber pistol.
It was a demonstration that not only sparked a lively debate on gun control, but also threw a spotlight on a vibrant, fast-developing manufacturing technology that could change the shape of the future.
In this video, former teacher Bre Pettis explains the newest versions of Makerbot, the most well-known brand of 3-D printers.
- 3-D printers are sophisticated machines that seem straight out of science fiction. They hardly seem related to the primitive stone tools used by hominids on the African savanna millions of years ago. Watch our video “The Birth of Technology: Inside the Stone” to see what these tools have in common. How does the video define “technology”?
- Technology is the application of scientific knowledge for the making and usage of tools and machines, or a system or method that can be applied to solve a problem or perform a practical function.
- The video identifies the use of stone tools as perhaps the first milestone in technological development. 3-D printing technology may be the latest. Re-read the definition of technology above. If students were creating a timeline with stone tools at one end and 3-D printing at the other, what other technological milestones would they list? What technologies have helped people “control and adapt to our natural environment”?
- These are just a few!
- control of fire
- development of agriculture
- development of metal tools
- development of the wheel
- control of natural energy
- development of moveable type
- development of steam power
- control of electricity
- development of computers
- control of nuclear power
- development of space exploration
- development of telecommunications
- These are just a few!
- The National Geographic News article and New York Post video list different materials used in 3-D printing. Can students name some of these materials? What are some materials they would like to see used in 3-D printing technology?
- The video hints at the differences between the two most popular materials used to manufacture products on a 3-D printer. The most popular, accessible, and affordable material is PLA, a corn-based, renewable plastic. Engineers and serious hobbyists may use ABS, a hydrocarbon-based, professional-grade plastic.
- The article lists more exotic materials used in some 3-D printing experiments. Some 3-D printers may use metals, while a group of researchers in Australia are using living cell tissue to “print” nerve endings.
- Probably inspired by Star Trek, one of the most popular hopes for 3-D printer technology is a “food replicator.” This isn’t as far-fetched as it seems.
- Both the article and the video outline a wide variety of uses for 3-D printing technology. Can students name some of the uses? Can they think of others?
- The article focuses on the promise of 3-D printing in the aviation and transportation industries, where companies could make lightweight, detailed, custom parts for a lower price with less waste. It also notes the researchers experimenting with living-tissue “printing,” hinting at the technology’s use in the medical community.
- The video also notes the promise of medical use, focusing on how a a 3-D printer was able to manufacture an artificial hand for a child.
- Other possible uses:
- The National Science Foundation has explored the use of 3-D printers in classrooms, allowing students to design and fabricate components for science, engineering, and math projects.
- The National Geographic Channel has suggested using a 3-D printer technology on space missions, where astronauts could manufacture necessary tools directly on the satellite or space station, avoiding reliance on costly and time-consuming cargo-delivery from Earth.
- Engineers in remote locations could “print out” bridges, buildings . . and even moon bases.
- People could design and manufacture their own bicycles and other transportation devices.
- People could design and manufacture their own clothes.
- As the student who “printed out” a gun demonstrated, the technology could change the way individuals and communities think about security and defense.
- A “molecular assembler” is a combination of 3-D printer technology and nanotechnology. A molecular assembler could guide chemical reactions, allowing scientists and engineers to create entire molecular structures.