Perils: A World of Crapjects

As 3D printing lowers the cost of engaging in a production run, it will bring both opportunities and perils. For one thing, it is likely to encourage the production of substandard goods—what some may see as frivolous production. Surely, the world is awash in low-quality mass-produced goods today. But several aspects of 3D printing and open fabrication could reinforce this trend.

A world of physical spam? Source: Flickr user MaskedRetreiver

First, the diffusion of 3D printing will present a fairly steep learning curve for both pro-am designers and consumers. Learning how to 3D print often involves making many useless, substandard objects. Even if most will eventually move on to more carefully selected designs for production, the broader perception of 3D printing is often likely to be associated with flawed, low-quality, disposable outcomes. Much of what comes out of 3D printers will be “crapjects” (a contraction of “crappy objects”)—unwanted waste created by unskilled designers and fabricated using inferior materials with poor surface resolution.

Additionally, there is the scenario of “physical spam,” where people simply use 3D printers with abandon, producing a large number of objects of infinitesimally small value. This may be reinforced by future 3D printers that can easily recycle feedstocks, greatly lowering the perceived ecological or economic impact of overproduction. Still, the  novelty of rapid fabrication may wear off as the high expectations we’ve developed around mass-produced objects’ strength and durability, surface texture, and luster prove hard to leave behind.

Next: Opportunities: A World of Totems

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