As news reported last week that an American student printed off a gun using 3D technology, and actually managed to fire it, a 3D printing copyshop in London opened its doors for the first time this week. 3D printing has been the revolutionary technology of the last year, with items such as weapons, art works, machinery spare parts, and even whole cars being made.
The 3D technology has remained a purely private at home affair however, until now. The newly opened shop iMakr store in Clerkenwell, London proves such how easy it will be for customers, who have created their very own designs, to have them made into a three dimensional item. The store not only sells 3D printers, but services as well, and the owner, Sylvain Preumont said he wanted to educate customers in the use of 3D printing. “Any school metal workshop can produce a gun, but 3D printing can do far more things. The technology was pioneered by large corporations, has been picked up by techies and is ready for the third wave: ordinary people.”
Dr Greg Gibbons, who is an expert in 3D printing at Warwick University, said it may be soon possible for customers to be able to walk into a 3D copying shop and have their own jewellery, artworks or machine parts printed. He said: “We will see 3D print shops like we would have photocopy shops in the past. They would have four or five different machines with several different types of material. Customers could go in with a computer-aided design [CAD] file or a dishwashing machine part to be scanned and leave with a three-dimensional copy.”
With the news of the American student – Cody Wilson, copying a 3D image of a gun last week in Austin, Texas with a secondhand 3D printer, and managing to fire it by adding a metal firing pin, there are some people who are naturally cautious about the new technology being so readily available to the public.
But Marcus Fairs, who is the editor of Print Shift magazine, which highlights the advantages of 3D printing, said the gun should not obscure the real technological developments in 3D printing. “It takes something shocking to make people realise that technology that has been under people’s noses is transformational,” he said,
3D printing is also known as additive-layer manufacture, as a complex structure is built up by adding subsequent layers until a solid object is formed. Some objects lend themselves well to 3D printing, but others not so, due to price and time constraints.
Andy Millns is a director of Inition, which is a London-based 3D printing company, and has made many different types of items including models of buildings, sculptures based on data from survey results and social media activity and replicas of sculptures from the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Millns said: “We won’t be printing out cutlery because it would be more expensive and less attractive than mass-produced versions. But 3D printing liberates development from traditional prototyping which is very expensive. 3D allows designers to work more independently.”
At present, it appears that it is the niche and one-off products that are capturing the 3D market, and it is not particularly suited to large scale manufacturing.
Nick Allen, who works at 3Dprint UK of south London agrees: “It’s a slower and more expensive way of manufacturing items and the product is far lower quality than something mass produced. It’s great for key rings but very expensive for most things. I do prototypes and one-offs and that’s where it is strongest. It’s a very useful tool but it will not revolutionise manufacturing.”
As did Gibbons, who said that he thought 3D printing was more important in “high-value” low-output manufacturing such as the space, aerospace and niche car industries.
As for the 3D printed gun, two British newspapers have asked 3D printing companies to build the gun for them but so far all who have been asked have refused.