3D Printing: Technology’s Next Double-Edged Sword

by Rupert Pumpkin on February 9, 2015 - 5:00pm

In today’s modern society, most consumer products are produced in factories located in foreign countries like China.  But what if I were to tell you that now you could produce the same products in the comfort of your own home. 3D printing is an additive process in which an object is created from a digital file by laying down layers of material until the entire object is created (“3D Printing”). 3D printing has revolutionized the manufacturing industry by allowing the average consumer to produce fully customizable products using 3D modeling programs. However, in recent years, developments in 3D printing has opened up new possibilities in various fields and consequently led to many ethical concerns. The ethical dilemma I choose to explore is the morality of further developing 3D printers by scientists and engineers. I will be exploring this dilemma from a teleological, utilitarian perspective “whose aim [is] to bring the greatest happiness (or pleasure) to the greatest number” (Merril, 11).

One of the biggest concerns regarding 3D printing is the potential for personal manufacturing of copyrighted objects and thus violating the Intellectual Property (IP) laws. The National Crime Prevention Council estimates that the U.S economy alone loses 58 billion dollars due to copyright infringements each year (“Intellectual Property Theft: Get Real”). Therefore, if we accept that IP laws have and will always be broken due to the illegal reproduction and/or distribution of music, movies, clothing, electronics etc. then it would seem inevitable that further developing 3D printers would not pose a threat to the constantly infringed IP laws. Likewise, from a utilitarian perspective, further developing 3D printers would allow the middle-class or majority population to produce fully customizable products at a fraction of the current costs.

Another major concern regarding 3D printing is the possibility for personal manufacturing of illegal weapons such as virtually undetectable plastic guns or high capacity magazines. However, some people would argue that the cost of purchasing a 3D printer far outweighs the cost of a traditional handgun. Furthermore, in certain countries and states such as California, although firearms are legal, high capacity magazines are prohibited (“Gun Laws in the United States by state”). However, in the case of California laws regarding high capacity magazines, these items are easily and legally obtained in neighboring states such as Nevada (“Gun Laws in the United States by state”). As you can see, there are many ways a 3D printer could be used to facilitate harmful behavior however they can also be used to save lives.

In the biomedical field of study, 3D printers are being used to grow artificial organs such as kidneys, pancreases and lungs. For instance, “in 2013, researchers in China were able to print a small working kidney that lasted four months using a Regenovo bio printer” (Russon). From a utilitarian point of view further developing 3D printers would have the potential to accelerate the process of receiving an organ transplant and improve the quality of life for mankind.

In conclusion, from a teleological perspective, I believe that it is morally right for scientists and engineers to continue developing 3D printers because the advantages far outweigh the risks. I believe this is the correct solution to this ethical dilemma because whether or not 3D printers exist in 5 years; copyright laws will still be broken and people who are determined to harm others will still find ways to do so.


Works Cited:

n.p. “What is 3D printing?” 3D Printing. Genesis Framework, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. 


Merril, John C. Overview: Theoretical Foundations for Media Ethics. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.


n.p. “Intellectual Property Theft: Get Real.” National Crime Prevention Council. NCPC, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.


n.p. “Gun Laws in the United States by state.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2 Feb. 2015. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.


Russon, Mary-Ann. “3D Printers Could be Banned by 2016 for Bioprinting Human Organs”. International Business Times. IBTimes Co. 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015.
















Really good article, I myself am in the 3D animation program at Champlain college Saint-Lambert. I have had the pleasure to work with 3D printers, and must say it’s really fun stuff. However I would like to point out something about the 3D printed firearms which you mentioned in your article. At the moment no one has come up with a stable enough design which keeps the firearm together after just one shot. they are virtually one shot weapons, and the government is closely monitoring any uploads bieng made onto sharing websites. There is actually a really awesome documentary on Netflix about this called "Print the legend" if you’re interested. Also I feel you could have addressed more the possibilities this could offer to the general public. 3D printers will do so much more than just gizmos or heart transplants, with time 3D printed items will be in everyone’s hands if things go right in the industry for it. Many call it the next industrial revolution and the following article explains that very well. http://www.csc.com/innovation/insights/92142-3d_printing_and_the_future_... Do it yourself manufacturing is definitely a cool prospect and i think you should definitely check it out.

This is a very interesting topic with the possibility of advancing human evolution rapidly but is plague with many moral dilemmas which will surely torment many generations to come. Although there are many uses to embryonic stem cell research, the ones address in this comment are not the most relevant ones. Although it leaves the possibility for genetic discrimination of unborn fetuses, the main purpose is to cure illnesses. Which one of the most controversial issues will be who will this technology be available too. It surely won’t be available to the entire public and become a common usage. Thus, this technology will be only accessible to the rich and it will be yet another advantage that they will have over the majority of the population. If we look at the rationalism perspective, this is just part of human evolution. Adjusting to alleviate medical problems that disturbed the previous generations. But morally is where this issue is being debated and you made strong arguments in your post. You need to be more mindful that embryonic stem cell research will have a great impact on certain division of the population which is the larger issue.

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