As an emerging technology, 3D printing is subject to intense scrutiny and the opinions of the public.
Public perception shapes the trajectory of additive manufacturing technology, from its acceptance and integration into various industries to its influence on regulation and ethics changes. A positive public opinion can be a driving force behind the growth, innovation, and responsible use of 3D printing.
Why Is Public Opinion Important for 3D Printing?
The public perception of 3D printing is crucial for several reasons:
- When individuals and businesses believe in its value and potential, they are more likely to invest in 3D printers, materials, and services. Public interest and support often lead to increased funding for research and innovation in the 3D printing industry.
- A positive image of additive manufacturing can encourage educational institutions to include it in their curricula. This helps train a skilled workforce to support the long-term growth of the industry.
- Public opinion can also influence the regulatory environment surrounding 3D printing. Governments may enact regulations, safety standards, and intellectual property protections based on public concerns and expectations. The more specific regulatory certifications for additive manufacturing, and the more additive manufacturing companies awarded them, the more trustworthy and reliable the industry will become.
- For consumer-oriented 3D printing applications, such as customised products or healthcare solutions, trust is paramount. Positive public perception builds consumer confidence in using 3D-printed goods and services.
The freedoms or constraints impacting additive manufacturing are based on public perception. Positive breakthroughs, or publicised scandals and panics, impact government and investor attitudes. The narrative that is crafted around 3D printing directly impacts its opportunities for development and expansion.
This narrative is multifaceted and dependent on many aspects. The additive manufacturing industry must account for all potential angles in order to grow and maintain a positive public image.
People feel excited and optimistic about the innovations created as a result of additive manufacturing technologies. According to Sculpteo’s State of 3D Printing Report 2021, 87% of business users believed that additive manufacturing has already had a ‘great improvement’ on the speed of innovation.
Additive manufacturing is seen as a revolutionary technology, with the potential to transform industries from healthcare to aerospace. The ability to create quick prototypes, custom components, and production parts is seen as a cutting edge advancement.
Excitement and optimism regarding 3D printing stem from its potential to innovate industries and individuals, solutions to complex problems, and create a more sustainable and innovative future. These positive sentiments drive interest, investment, and research in the field, contributing to its ongoing development and growth.
3D printing is seen as having the potential to reduce waste by only using the necessary materials, which aligns with sustainability goals. Across the world, additive manufacturing is seen as a more eco-friendly alternative to traditional manufacturing.
It is argued that additive manufacturing is much more sustainable and environmentally friendly than traditional, subtractive methods — ‘in contrast with traditional manufacturing processes, 3D printing releases less carbon dioxide because of less energy usage compared with the traditional pattern of factory manufacturing’.
3D printing often relies on plastics and other materials, and the consumption of these resources can contribute to environmental issues. Concerns include the depletion of fossil fuels (used to create plastics), increased waste, and the potential for toxic emissions during printing. These may negatively impact the current perception of additive manufacturing as environmentally positive.
The increased reliance on electricity and components from printers may compound this; electronic components are a crucial part of 3D printers, and like other electronics, they contribute to electronic waste (e-waste) when discarded. This can lead to toxic substances like lead and mercury leaching into soil and water. Electronics also contain valuable non-renewable resources including gold, silver, copper, platinum, aluminium, and cobalt.
Consumers and Hobbyism
Among consumers and hobbyists, 3D printing is a source of fascination and creativity. It allows individuals to bring their ideas to life and produce custom objects for personal use. Many consumers and hobbyists are excited about additive manufacturing due to its potential for creativity. Some consumers are drawn to 3D printing’s potential for reducing waste through on-demand production, but the steep learning curve associated with additive manufacturing can create a perception of being specialist or exclusive.
Online communities and forums dedicated to additive manufacturing allow hobbyists to share knowledge, tips, and troubleshooting advice. This sense of community can enhance the overall experience and encourage more people to adopt the technology. However, affordability is a critical factor for this audience. Entry level 3D printers are now available at relatively low prices, but concerns about material and maintenance costs persist.
Health and Safety
The lack of comprehensive regulations and industry standards in 3D printing can raise concerns. People may worry about product safety, especially in sectors like healthcare and aerospace, where precision and reliability are critical. Despite this, a handful of additive manufacturing companies have attained regulatory approval or certification for certain products or industries, such as ISO:13485 and ISO:9001 standards.
Some 3D printers emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and ultrafine particles during operation. The health effects of long-term exposure to these emissions are a source of concern. Understanding and ensuring the safety of 3D printing materials, especially those designed for contact with food or medical devices, is essential.
As bioprinting advances, ethical questions arise concerning the creation of human tissues and organs. Opinion can also be influenced by other ethical considerations of additive manufacturing, such as the production of weapons or other controversial items through the technology. The public may grapple with the morality of what 3D printing technology can achieve, or to whom these advancements will be available.
Industrialism and Automation
The use of 3D printing, much like the use of AI, can impact employment in many industries. Ethical, practical, and economic considerations may arise regarding job displacement and workers’ rights. The adoption of additive manufacturing in industrial settings can disrupt traditional manufacturing processes. This disruption can be viewed both positively, as a way to increase efficiency and reduce costs, and negatively, as a threat to job security in traditional manufacturing sectors.
Questions about worker’s rights and fair labour practices in 3D printing facilities can influence public opinions. Concerns may include working conditions, wages, and job stability in this evolving industry. There may also be a shift in the types of skills and expertise required in the workforce. Public perception may vary based on how individuals view their own preparedness for these changes.
However, the potential for additive manufacturing to enable small businesses and entrepreneurs to compete with larger corporations can be seen as positive by the public, depending on economic interests. As 3D printing technology advances, there may be a shift in the types of skills and expertise required in the workforce. Provided that preparedness is enabled through education and retraining, this could be seen as a positive development.
What Can 3D Printing Do to Improve Its Public Image?
Improving the public image of 3D printing involves addressing misconceptions, promoting its benefits, and ensuring responsible and ethical use. Here are several strategies that can help enhance the public perception of 3D printing:
- Educate the public about what additive manufacturing is and what it can achieve. Highlight its diverse applications, from healthcare to aviation. Raise awareness of its potential to revolutionise industries and lives.
- Emphasise the quality and reliability of 3D-printed products. Showcase examples of high-quality items, such as medical implants or aerospace components, to demonstrate that 3D printing can meet stringent industry standards.
- Collaborate with regulatory bodies to establish safety standards and certifications for additive manufacturing, especially in industries like healthcare and automotive, where safety is paramount.
- Highlight the sustainability aspects of 3D printing, such as reduced waste and localised production. Showcase how it can contribute to a more environmental manufacturing process.
- Promote ethical considerations in additive manufacturing, such as respecting intellectual property rights and ensuring that the technology is used responsibly. Address concerns about the 3D printing of firearms and other potentially dangerous items.
- Offer accessible resources and courses for individuals interested in learning about 3D printing. Encourage schools to integrate additive manufacturing into their curricula to familiarise students with the technology.
- Collaborate with artists, designers, engineers, and other professionals to showcase the creative and innovative aspects of 3D printing. Highlight how it enables unique and customised creations.
- Share success stories of companies and individuals who have benefited from 3D printing. Illustrate how it has transformed businesses and industries.
- Work with the media to feature positive stories and developments in additive manufacturing. Encourage accurate and balanced reporting on the technology.
- Invest in research and development to create more sustainable 3D printing materials and processes. Showcase initiatives aimed at further reducing the environmental footprint.
- Ensure compliance with all relevant regulations and standards. Work closely with regulatory agencies to demonstrate commitment to safety and quality.
Public perception of additive manufacturing’s environmental impact is crucial as it influences consumer choices, regulatory decisions, and industry practices. By actively addressing these concerns and promoting sustainable practices, the 3D printing community aims to balance the excitement and optimism surrounding the technology with responsible environmental stewardship.
Consumer and hobbyist perceptions of 3D printing are vital as they represent a significant user base. This audience is curious about the future of additive manufacturing. They wonder how it will impact the healthcare, aerospace, and automotive industries. Addressing their needs, concerns, and aspirations can contribute to the technology’s continued growth and positive reputation.
Conclusion — The Future of 3D Printing
Public opinions about additive manufacturing are diverse and multifaceted, reflecting a complex interplay of factors and needs. From recognising the exciting revolutions coming to healthcare to concerns over 3D printed guns, public perception of the technology is shaped by a wide range of considerations.
These opinions and perceptions matter because they play a role in the pace of investment, adoption, and acceptance of additive manufacturing. By encouraging education and awareness and taking proactive steps to address concerns, the additive manufacturing sector can work collectively to shape a future where 3D printing enriches our lives while respecting our values and priorities.
It’s crucial that the entire industry hears and addresses any concerns. Having a stance on potential workforce shifts or environmental downsides can guide the responsible development and deployment of 3D printing whilst keeping public opinion onside.
Additive manufacturing has the potential to be a force for good, offering innovative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. How society embraces and guides this technology will determine whether it lives up to its promise and becomes a tool for positive change in the years to come.