The 3D Printer: Friend or Foe?

3D printing can be used to create all kinds of objects – from the mundane to the potentially dangerous3D printing, or ‘additive manufacturing’, has been around for several decades, but in recent months there has been a huge surge of interest in its capabilities. This is mainly because of its use in the production of the world’s first working ‘homemade’ plastic gun, showing that although this technology can achieve amazing things, it also has a darker side.

So what exactly is 3D printing, and how does it work? Although additive manufacturing in plastic is the focus of most people’s attention, in fact a range of different 3D printing technologies exists, using a variety of materials from wood to ceramic. Regardless of the material, the basic principle for all the technologies is the same. The process uses digital models created by computer aided design (CAD) software as printing guidelines to create solid 3D objects. As the name additive manufacturing suggests, this works by laying down successive layers of materials in different shapes on a platform of some kind. 

by Hazel Davies