Gartner released a report last fall suggesting that the worldwide shipment of 3-D printers would grow by nearly 50% last year and they expected the increase to continue into 2014. By next year, shipments may likely double what they are in 2014. 3-D printing is a rising trend and competition by producers of 3-D printers will continue to drive prices down and sales up.
As the printers become more available and technology continues to advance, organizations will be using them for product development and manufacturing. With 3-D printers, entire homes can be built in a day, and they could even be used to put houses on Mars. The technology is advancing quickly and making unbelievable manufacturing feats a reality. This new source of products into the world (products that include guns that can pass through metal detectors) needs to be controlled to keep us safe. Getting that control is a challenge.
Beyond plastic guns
Naturally, as 3-D printing technology advances and is used more and more for product development and manufacturing, thoughts move to weapons and security concerns increase. The military is already using 3-D printers for prototyping and manufacturing. It was almost a year ago when the first test of a 3-D printed gun got people’s attention. But the issue goes beyond plastic guns to military parts, drugs and chemical weapons.
3-D printing risks
3-D printing allows for the manufacturing of lightweight parts for aircrafts. Counterfeit parts can compromise equipment and put personnel at risk and with 3-D printing, making those parts just got a lot easier for saboteurs to get counterfeit parts into the supply chain. Special tools are necessary to determine if materials are counterfeited, but as soon as the technology is there for the tool, criminals will be finding new ways to thwart them.
Further, with 3-D printing, it also becomes easier for other countries to replicate U.S. equipment and weapons. A crashed drone or airplane becomes an even bigger security risk if the enemy has the means to recreate it. And what about files, blueprints and specifications that can be accessed online? If cybercriminals can get their hands on the plans, they can build the equipment with 3-D printers.
3-D printing is amazing technology that can actually reproduce a human ear. As brilliant as that may be, if scientists can make ears, what’s going to stop terrorists from making toxic chemicals like chlorine gas? The ability to print prescription drugs personalized to a patient’s DNA sequence also comes with the ability to print illegal drugs or worse.
When it comes to security, there is debate on whether it’s better to regulate the printers themselves or the product they’re printing. With 3-D gun designs freely shared online, does open source design need to be regulated? With security concerns ranging from personal safety to national security, one thing is for sure, as 3-D printing gains speed, so must our conversation about how to regulate it and maintain security
What are your thoughts on 3-D printing? Is it an amazing feat of human ingenuity or a security nightmare, both? How do you think security should be handled going forward?