Teetering piles of plastic forking at the sky, invisibility cloaks, post-apocalyptic scenes crammed with McDonald’s Hamburglars and skeletons – all made of plastic.
It’s funny what you come across on a Feed.
With London at my fingertips, I set out to clue myself up at the Science Museum’s 3D Printing is the Future exhibition. What I ended up with however, was a glimpse at a worse case scenario.
Sounds ominous doesn’t it.
Setting out to demystify the masses, the exhibition met eyes with an explosion of colourful objects lining the wall, all designed and printed with the latest in 3D technology. Everything from toothbrushes to toys, headphones to fake hands – it represented a mere scratch in the surface of what 3D printing is capable of.
We’ve long been able to let our imaginations run riot on screen and paper, but now being able to create whole, physical objects; actual things that you can print out and hold in your hands, opens up a whole new world of opportunity.
But how exactly does it work?
If you were to hold a piece of paper printed with text up to the light, you’d see that each of the words is slightly raised. Essentially 3D printing is just an elaboration on that. It’s thousands, millions even, of layers built up and built up in minute detail to create touchable, workable objects.
And this isn’t just printing the plastic rubbish you find in crackers. This is complex.
3D printers have the ability to get intricate. Car engine parts can be created from the click of a button, whole bikes can be built in one fell swoop and mind-boggling machine components are but a breeze.
And then I stumbled over the invisibility cloak. That’s right. A real life Harry Potter-esque creation. I’d love to be able to explain precisely how the 3D printed invisibility cloak worked, but even after reading the explanation a good three times, I’m still no closer to grasping the facts (have a go making sense of it for yourself, with this eloquent explanation).
Whether it’s revolutionising the medical world, by using human ‘inks’ to print new body parts – like a spare ear or a patch of bone for a damaged skull – or designing and printing your perfect pair of shoes – medicine, manufacturing and creativity have already come face to face with the reality of what 3D is capable of.
But whilst it opens up exciting avenues for innovation and progress, like this amazing children’s book, where characters can be printed into life, parts of the 3D dream bother me.
A couple of months ago, a media maelstrom grasped onto 3D printing’s ability to make guns. Well, anyone with a lathe has the ability to make a gun; for me it’s the loss of intellectual property rights and huge wastage that rings alarm bells.
I thought about overflowing recycled paper bins. Unwanted, crumpled up and chucked away. I wondered how exactly that will work for 3D printed rubbish. What happens when we’ve all got 3D printers sitting in our offices, homes and schools? Will we be chucking away truckloads of plastic that’s taken straight to land fill sites? And what happens when those are all full? Will we be building towering landscapes of junk?
With lots to mull over, I strolled back across Hyde Park, stopping into the new Serpentine on my way.
I was presented with an exhibition by the infamous Dinos brothers, that bought my plastic premonition to life.
Their Hell landscapes are huge structures, encased in massive walls of perspex. Each one of them is made up of thousands and thousands of miniature plastic figurines, depicting a post-apocalyptic world. McDonald’s characters intermingle with Nazis. Skeletons spear dinosaurs and vultures peck at corpses. It was both disturbing, disgusting and thought-provoking.
But what effected me most, wasn’t how sad the T-Rex’s battle to the death was, but rather the towers of plastic. Rubbish, weapons and gruesome figures tumbled over one another, in a gross display of brutality.
Could this be a glimpse of a 3D printed graveyard of the unwanted?
Probably not, but it scared me enough to really think about how 3D printing might change the future landscape of our world.
And not just for the better.