As 3-D printing in various media and materials becomes more ubiquitous, we're starting to see some things emerging that directly challenge some norms and understandings of what craftsmanship and engineering are and can/will be. For instance, today we bring you a violin magnificently printed by German firm EOS to the specs of a Stradivarius, challenging the way we think of artisanal craftsmanship. Likewise, Thingiverse brings us two 3-D printed components of an AR-15 assault rifle, challenging the scope of our legal framework.
As for musical instruments, the Stradivarius replica isn't the first we've seen--for instance, MIT's Media Lab presented us with a smooth sounding rapid-prototyped flute earlier this year. But this violin was laser sintered to the unique and complex specifications of a Stradivarius--making it a working replica that closely mimics the hand craftsmanship of the original, even if it is made of an industrial polymer rather than wood.
It doesn't sound half bad, either.
Perhaps more to the point of 3-D printing pushing boundaries, a couple of posts now up on Thingiverse, a site for sharing fabrication and digital design projects, don't just challenge conventional notions of craftsmanship or IP ownership, but of the very way we've structured our laws. Two separate posts show how one can quickly print both a five-round magazine and a lower receiver for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle--a rifle that is legal to own for law-abiding citizens in the U.S., but that is nonetheless an assault rifle (ArmaLite's AR-15 rifle became the military's M16).
That's not to say there's anything strictly illegal about any of this. But it does raise some questions about how 3-D printing is going to impact the world as it becomes more ubiquitous. There's no doubt here at PopSci that consumer grade 3-D printers are going to change the world, as average folks can create things that they need on their own tabletop printers, offering a new way for companies to deliver goods to consumers and for homegrown inventors to create their own objects and implements.
But when it comes to things that people aren't supposed to have access to--either because they are protected by intellectual property laws, or they are illegal to possess--3-D printing also takes us into a murky area. For instance, there is a legal process one is supposed to go through before obtaining a working AR-15, specifically certain components of the rifle. To quote KingLudd on Thingiverse:
It's illegal to buy a lower receiver outside of legal channels, but is it illegal to whip one up on your printer (the question of whether a lower receiver made of ABS plastic is actually safe notwithstanding)? A five-round magazine is perfectly legal, but what happens when someone starts cranking out high-capacity magazines that wander into legally dubious territory? (To his credit, KingLudd poses these questions himself on Thingiverse and asks where the line should be.)
Of course, the same questions could be asked of the skilled machinist who simply cranks out all of these components in a machine shop. But 3-D printing makes this sort of thing far more accessible, bringing the capacity to create complex objects to just about anyone. Download a CAD file, click print, have a coffee while your object--whatever it may be--comes together. Right here on this very blog we have mused that the pentalobe fasteners Apple uses to keep people from tinkering with the iPhone 4 will soon be rendered obsolete, as we'll all easily be able to print out the unique tool that fits them. Of course, we, and our friends at iFixit, like to think of that as a good thing for iPhone hackers who should be able to do whatever they like with an object they have purchased.
But what about the assault weapons hacker, or the forger of IP-protected components? If you can copy the handiwork of the Stradivaris, what can't you copy? What if you could just print all the components of an iPhone from a downloaded file without ever paying for the phone?
Clearly that's not the same thing, but these are interesting questions all. As 3-D printing moves us, layer by sintered layer, to new highs in tabletop innovation, customization, and manufacturing (let alone dream projects like these), we're going to have to grapple with such legal (dare we say moral?) issues at some point. And as the technology proliferates, both in terms of the media it can create in and in its availability to the average individual, it's going to be much more difficult to manage the availability of anything--from an expertly designed musical instrument to an AR-15--at the level of production. Because production can, and will, happen everywhere.
"even if it is made of an industrial polymer rather than wood." That.. I cannot explain how much the person who wrote this article must have never even SEEN a musical instrument...
I have played piano, clarinet, ukulele, mandolin, and a bassoon fluently for quite a while now, these being in order of when I learned them. NONE of them can be made of plastics and still sound the same.. If anyone has played clarinet for any amount of time you know the difference it makes going from your plastic to your wood clarinet makes an immense difference in the tone quality.. Something that really clicked with me a while ago is that it is completely true, music is dieing thanks to the world wanting to go faster and faster, smaller and smaller. When we go from vinyl to MP3 you lose so much quality.. I do not call this progress, this is people not caring what they listen to. Just an interesting tidbit that I wish I could remember the source, because I'd like to look more into it, but it would take almost 8 gigabytes of memory to store ONE song from a vinyl and keep its quality. Isn't it wonderful that average MP3s are around 5MB?
This article reads as if all you need is a 3D printer and you will get your pirated hardware.
"What if you could just print all the components of an iPhone from a downloaded file"
If everything you need can be made from cheap plastic, then yeah, you're able to copy it, but then again, if all you're copying is cheap plastic, it will probably be less expensive to simply buy the part from a more efficient mass production scheme.
Otherwise, all you will get is something that looks a lot like what you want to copy, but will not function in any way like the original.
Cool technology, but I don't really see how we will be printing out our own commercially available products any time soon.
FWIW the author needs to do a little more background on his firearms knowledge...an assault rifle is selectable between automatic and semi-automatic...an AR-15 is a semi-automatic sporting rifle very legal to own here for most US citizens of age. Rifles with automatic fire capability require special documentation and license for personal ownership in the US - but neither are illegal with the proper paperwork.
"High capacity magazines" are not illegal either...in most states with a notable exception being the People's Republic of California...uses include home protection, hunting and target shooting.
Additionally, there are advancements in the 3-D printing universe that make some fairly robust plastics as well as sintered metals that could work, albeit they are most likely still much less robust than the typical injection molded polymer or stamped/cast/forged metals used in a rifle. Specifically a barrel would be very difficult to print with the tolerances required not to just blow-up...a lower receiver on the other hand may work for a few rounds or many--depending on it's 3D manufacture.
Moral possibilities are always murky...one could make plastic weapons this way that are not easily identified in Airport scans either...determined wingnuts will find a way no matter what the technology is available...the key is not to hamper the average citizen from access to something that a few choose to exploit.
your missing the point, yes all these things are legal with paper work and in there lies the problem. If i am a criminal that doesn't want to/or can't get the paperwork to buy these "restricted" componenets i can make them, then buy the barrels, bolt, and upper reciever that i don't need paper work for, and build a weapon i'm not supposed to have. The legality of making restricted or illegal parts does make this a grey area, one i have a hard time seeing regulated.
The last paragraph of zupatan's post pretty much covers the sentiment that you are projecting. He doesn't miss the point. He outlines it clearly in with a reasonable out look (i.e. "Moral possibilities are always murky... the key is not to hamper the average citizen from access to something a few choose to exploit).
Popsci does an article about the first ever 3-D printed aircraft taking flight. It was an umanned vehicle with all of it's airframe components made from parts made from a 3-D printer.
These devices are not magical print-anything-you-want machines. They are useful for printing specific items that could be used to expedite the manufacturing/production process. These things could replicate the assembly line processes that produced the war machines of World War II (in terms of production) minus the need for multiple personnel and complexed machinery needed to build component parts. Could make production cheaper too.
Actually, most paperwork in regards to the lower receiver is to restrict the TRANSFER of the serialized component, not the ownership. And that burden is stricly on the person releasing possession of the receiver. No state that I am aware of requires the owner to have documentation to own a rifle. They save that for handguns.
I'm surprised this topic hasn't gotten more attention on PopSci.
@zupatun... You all are missing the point.
Almost every product is covered by some kind of law or intellectual property rights.
So it kind of IS illegal to own a printed gun, a gun part, or even a printed lawn chair. (some chairs even have patents)
Not to mention Strativarii.
How difficult do you think it would be to mimic wood's acoustic properties in the print media?
I actually started thinking about all this after seeing the replicators on Star Trek TNG. It sure took PopSci long enough to catch up.
Please don't miss the point here. This article is not about polymer instruments sounding the same as wood instruments (nowhere in the piece did I suggest they sound exactly alike; this is about mimicking the craftsmanship and components, not the sound), nor is it about AR-15s, nor is it about the CURRENT capabilities of 3-D printers and their (generally) plastic outputs.
It's about the FUTURE of 3-D printing. The very near future in many cases. If you think you can only 3-D print (right now, today) in ABS plastic, then you've missed the point (and several good stories on this site) entirely. 3-D printers now create things in a variety of materials, including metals and metal alloys. And more materials are coming online all the time (cement, various glasses, plastics/polymers beyond simple ABS, etc). So while you can't 3-D print finished products in many materials in 2011, the day is coming when you will be able to print all kinds of components to different products. And that gives rise to a lot of legal/ethical issues as they pertain to intellectual property, prohibited items, etc.
That's what I got from it. Hence I agree with zupatun's last statement of his post. The future is uncertain as to how events will really play out. There are just possibilities. With these possibilities there will be uses for both good and evil, such as is with any technical creation of multiple forms of exploitation.
In order to shape the final outcome of whatever future such devices have in our society we must be proactive about handling their use in the hopes that they are not deemed dangerous enough to society to outlaw their proliferation. We must also be cautious as to not tread on the civil rights of the people in the shear interest of protecting a creation from a particular illegal use.
They should make it so that when 3-D printers are available to the public, they should be connected to the internet. They should only be able to connect to very specific websites that sell goods. People should also be forced to login with a user name and a password. They can set up something where they can buy whatever items they want with a credit card or debit card, then their printer can print it out for them. There can also make a mode that isn't connected to the internet so people can design their own things to be printed out.
i ahve to disagree its like giving people hammers saying "you can only make doors with this, only using company x's nails to make it" to regulated.
i think he did, conclusion is correct but how he got there is a little off. I think he misunderstood the article thinking that they were talking about creating illegal products like a nuclear weapon, but what the article was talking talking about was creating restricted components. Current laws restrict the sale of restricted products, even the production of restricted products for sale, but not the production of restricted products for personnal use. Like a miltia/or a violent-subculture group that creates weapons liek the AR-15. The Article also covers IP rights infringement so it is a two-fold story. Zupatun makes the conclusion that article is saying its illegal to make Ar-15 components and that it's not true, that these componenets are not illegal. this statement is true these parts are not illegal but restricted. His statement makes it sounds like this article is anti weapons/firearms while the article actually poses a question to the legality of producing restricted componenets and AIP protected technology. I just wanted to make sure that he saw the purpose of the article.
People...I work in prototype manufacturing, I own a 3D printer and I am a certified machinist. Reading these posts just tells me that you people have no idea what your talking about...and I urge you to maybe LEARN the subject before you voice an opinion. Cuz i assure you just because you read a couple articles about it on popsci or some other media does NOT mean you have the knowledge required to have an intelligent conversation about it
@rkstr.. An intelligent conversation about which subject?
Intellectual property rights?
The disruptive impact of new technologies?
What exactly do you think we don't understand about this article?
rkstr, feed us dolts, we await your fodder, "OH great certified machinist at the prototype ,3D printer owner"
We await your robust informative verbage! We have read your whine, now its time give us the cheese!
Your response sounds like you are highly biased towards the technology that you utilize.
The article raises a moral and ethical question behind the use of these devices. It has nothing to do with what they're used for, or the content of what's being produced. It just included that knowledge for educational purposes.
The article is postulating the good and bad that could come from such a product. Of course, if you were waiting for a article post on a subject you seem to know more about than everybody else, thank goodness they took the time to stop writing about space, engineering, biology, chemistry, and physics. You'd have no place.
The question is what happens when someone else post on this board that knows more on the subject than you?
3d printer are going to be highly Disruptive tech and will change everyones life.
I'm very much into the open source movement which is why I love 3d printers. but I can easily see them leading to the down fall of the large super companies of today like the megafauna of the past.
mean large companies of today live only throught the Monopoly of information and the tools to make things.but 3d printer are but the free spread of information and tools which will drive the growth of teck in ways not seem today. an at the same time mean things like IP laws are going to have to weaken if not go away altogether.it's funny because in a way it would be getting back to the basics of the free market system.
this won't be quick and the big compains will fight all the way but the time is just right for 3d printers to come into being.
there is no stopping it from coming only slowing it.
Just copying the shape of the Stradivarius will create an inferior product. But that is just due to the material it's made from. But with some work, then I'm sure a Violin could be made that is as good, if not BETTER than a Stradivarius. And these can be made cheaply and quickly. Certainly, simple products with an easy geometry will continue to be made with traditional techniques, but some rare things that involve more complex geometry and assembly techniques, will greatly benefit from 3D printing. I look forward to people making things that could never be made with common techniques. What about a violin without square corners at all? Actually, this is already being done. Check out some the items for sale at Shapeways.
First off, with respect to the legality of printing these, it's easy to make a law that says you're not supposed to print anything that you're not legally authorized to buy. Legal issues solved. Of course, it's hard to actually enforce such a law. For this reason, it seems clear that the sale and possession of 3-d prototyping machines will start to be regulated. As it is, no criminal is going to spend thousands of dollars a prototyping machine and mess with lots of complicated software when he could buy a lower receive on the black market for $50 bucks. However, as these machines become cheaper and simpler, you can bet that governments will try to regulate them. I think, in the end, such efforts will not be successful.
BTW, I have thought about mass produced musical instruments before. When you look at the work that goes into many of these things, such as all the joints and valves on a saxophone or a tuba, it's it's clear that less expensive ways need to be found, such as molding, stamping, and laser cutting. I think you will see some of the parts being made out of plastic and the acoustic portions, like the bells, being made out of metals. However, it is inevitable that cheaper processes will be used to make these. It's no wonder that musical instruments cost so much these days. But I think that one day they will be quite cheap.
A note about the firearms point in particular--
especially for rifles, there is not a federal requirement (some states have more strict laws, though) requiring one to have any paper documentation to own an AR15 (or any other rifle), either in part or in whole. In many states (such as NH, which I'll speak of because I'm familiar), only commercial sales of rifles require paperwork/background checks.
Private sales of firearms do not require any of the above, provided that the firearm in question does not fall under special consideration under FFL (machine guns, silencers,short barreled rifle/shotguns). This is mostly refering to rifle/shotguns. Im a little less familiar with private handgun sales, and if I remember I think there are some restrictions on private sales of those.
By extension, I wouldnt see any issue legally in reproducing a rifle, specifically an AR15 which I believe the design of which is now public domain. Many private machine shops already produce the lower reciever in question fairly regularly, as well as frames for many other firearms.
As far as moral questions, and putting felons and 'prohibited persons' aside, I would see this as possibly a second ammendment issue (unless it crosses into patent law). I dont know that any interpretation of the 2nd ammendment has addressed the source of the arms, whether by purchase or by individual manufacture. I would be interested to see if one could constitutionaly compel a private citizen, who is legally able to own a firearm, to purchase a firearm that is in his state legal to own without regulatory oversite (no licensing, background check, or paperwork required) rather than manufacturing it himself.
An important distinction being made here is for PRIVATE/INDIVIDUAL use, and that is also the requirements placed on free sale by federal regulation (gun control act of 68 I think it was). Commerical manufacture and sale is a different beast.
I bet similar articles appeared when color printers or copiers allowed printing images of paper currency. Nothing changed. Pointless points.
House keys seem like a better target than rifles but you can already copy those and the Chinese can copy anything 3D a lot cheaper.
Color copiers are required to imbed a code in the copy that identifies the machine. That way counterfit money can be traced to the copier.
It may be impossible to stop someone from "printing" an AR15 lower receiver, but it is illegal since current laws already require an ATF license to manufacture serialized parts, and I'm absolutely positive they would love to make an example of someone. Volunteers?
3-D printers have come a long way since the first experimental printers that were developed in laboratories. There is software available to interface the printer with a PC. There are instructions for making a 3-D printer from scratch or kits with the pieces ready to assemble. You can buy just the print head and driver board if you like.
BUT, a lot more development needs to take place. For instance; you can print and object from certain materials, but what is you wanted to use a variety of materials in a complex object or what if the object has a complex coloring scheme. Think about producing an accurate rendition of a human head.
Current printers can make a detailed rendition in one color. But, to look real, it has have many different colors and shadings as well as the translucent appearance of skin and eyes with clarity and depth. That hasn't happened yet. They can't print anything as complex as a head of hair The machines also can't print copies quickly enough for mass production. If people build their own 3-D machines, who knows what might be invented.
That is not true. You only need licensing if you intend to sell the component.
As long as it isnt an NFA firearm no licensing is required to manufacture. An AR-15 reciever is not by itself a NFA firearm, it would have to be assembled into either an automatic configuration or a shortbarreled version to be considered as such. Below is an exerpt from a 2007 letter from the ATF firearms technology branch chief that was posted online regarding this question:
"Also, for your information, a nonlicensee may manufacture a semiautomatic rifle for his or her own personal use. As long as the firearm remains in the custody of the person who manufactured it, the firearm need not be marked with a serial number or name and location of the manufacturer. However, if the firearm is transferred to another party at some point in the future, the firearm must be marked in accordance with the provisions set forth in 27 CFR § 478.92 (formerly 178.92)."
and the actual regulation:
"With certain exceptions a firearm may be made by a nonlicensee provided it is not for sale and the maker is not prohibited from possessing firearms. However, a person is prohibited from making a semiautomatic assault weapon or assembling a nonsporting semiautomatic rifle or nonsporting shotgun from imported parts. In addition, the making of an NFA firearm requires a tax payment and approval by ATF. An application to make a machinegun will not be approved unless documentation is submitted showing that the firearm is being made for a federal or state agency. [18 U. S. C. 922( o), (r), (v), and 923, 27 CFR 178.39, 178.40, 178.41 and 179.105]"
Actually, I think that you may have it backward. I believe the real threat that is holding back music are the ones that cling to old "this is the way its been so it must be better" types.
Researchers have already made a Strat "clone" out of wood. Of course, most believed that the there is no possible way a clone would sound anywhere near the original, but a double-blind test showed that while some experts couldn't tell the difference at all, others actually thought the clone sounded better.
Who is to say a violin necessarily must be made of wood? Polymer-based materials may sound horrible now, but can you say for certain that this will always be?
Not everyone has to be an audiophile to like, or even appreciate music. Can you tell the difference between a 4gb and 8gb sound file? I bet you can't.
The problem with this is that 3D printers would be so incredibly convenient in the average household that restrictions would almost be as much of a moral question as having no restrictions at all. Why is anyone allowed to say that you can't print out a functional power supply for your computer when a capacitor just blew out in your old one and you are rapidly approaching a critical deadline that you have to meet on, say, something like a college midterm paper? I realize this would cause many complications with business and industry, but imagine how powerful an economy would be if the country could print anything it needed from the average household.
the problem is that plastic is a petroleum product and that it will not be around very long just like gasoline. Even if they use the corn based type it is sensitive to sun light and well that limits where it can be used and for how long. Plus I like what real natural wood does for music; it helps it to resonate much better than plastic ever could.
it will force the builders to have costs that more accurately represent the materiel cost of the devise. no more paying 5g's for a cd that took 45 cents to burn. no more paying 100x+ the build cost for something just because the devise is perceived as "worth it". the current way prices are set are based on how much profit not on how much the object is worth.
or maybe a better kind of world where people don't try to control ideas. where patents don't exist and information is free to use no matter who you are. a very Google like philosophy where anyone can make anything if they have the raw materials and the knowhow
All manufacturing entails negotiating the murky area of intelectual property rights. If the item you wish to make is someone elses design, or a modification of someone elses design and may be covered under a patent or trademark protection it doesn't matter whether you are printing it, machining it out on a mill or lathe, or shaping it out of material using a file. This is much ado about nothing. The only thing new this brings to to the issue is that people might make files that can then be copied and "made" by people with little skill.
As for the legal quandry regarding a weapon. The AR-15 mentioned is completley legal according to US federal laws. Making one for personal use is not prohibited (by federal laws). Selling it or giving it away is more tightly controlled (but still legal with proper paperwork). State laws may vary.
The issue it brings up is should mere possession of an item be illegal? Many people parrot the line that "guns are bad" but really think about it - are "guns" bad, or is it the improper use of them?
Technology like this may force us to concentrate our policing (laws, law enforcement, and prosecution) on the actual improper useage rather than on feel good social engineering. We will eventually have to address this issue. The genie is out of the box and he isn't going to go back in.