Once again, another day seems to bring another new report on an innovation in 3-D printing. The technology hasn’t become truly commonplace just yet, but its proliferation appears to increase with every new use discovered. But just as more industries adopt the technology for its functional simplicity and ability to reduce production costs, there also lurks the possibility of unforeseen consequences to long-standing institutions.
Creating a Monopoly
One such concern is the threat of a monopoly over manufacturers. Although the number of companies exploring the technology seems innumerable, two companies – 3D Systems and Stratasys – control an overwhelming market share of printer manufacturing. Over the past decade, the two companies have engaged in seemingly endless acquisitions of smaller manufacturers. Although some credit the push by these two companies as being instrumental in the recent prevalence of the technology, it also raises the concern that smaller manufacturers will be left with one of two choices: allow their companies to be acquired or watch the companies flounder.
Replacing Manual Labor
Another equally pressing concern comes from those in industries traditionally done by hand. The worry amongst these industries – such as model-makers – is the idea that they will be entirely replaced by an assembly line of machines. Though this concern is often dismissed as alarmist, it does hold a basis in reality: the automobile industry does the majority of its once-by-hand assembly through machines, and a series of jobs that traditionally required human interaction are being outsourced to machines in large numbers.
Will Science Fiction Become Fact?
Only time will reveal the true impact of 3-D printing technology on the world at large. The problem with adopting a new technology with seemingly limitless potential is the ambiguity of when and where its applications will stop. Such is the stuff of science fiction. But if that genre has taught us one indisputable truth, it’s that technology is merely a tool with no moral compass of its own. Rather, it is the use of the tool that reflects the motivations of its users.