Three-dimensional (3D) printing is often considered as an instance of disruptive technology that promises to change the way people think about materializing products for consumption. A study has been undertaken to identify existing weaknesses in 3D printing and to suggest areas to be newly configured and modified, which would eventually provide more teeth to this disruptive technology.
The authors take inspiration from the emerging domain of the Internet of Things (IoT) and see how some of its advantages could be fused with 3D printing in order to make it simpler to design and develop models, and share the results. A social network of 3D printing is suggested as a better path for the evolution of this technology.
The mapping of potential weak areas in the current state of the art of 3D printing is done by studying the practices adopted in two communities--one is predominantly an academic research community and the other is a community of artists. The authors find serious deficiencies in practices and usage behaviors in 3D printing, as well as in the documentation processes and knowledge sharing efforts.
Having identified the weak areas, the research work proceeds to materialize an alternative approach by incorporating additional hardware changes to existing generic 3D printers. The main aims are to (1) identify configuration-related aspects associated with 3D printers; (2) generate contextual information for the purpose of real-time visualization; and (3) share 3D printing process details to a wider audience reachable via existing social networks like Twitter.
To test the efficacy and efficiency of this modified sociable technology, the authors rely on the feedback of participants who were exposed to their newly constructed prototype of a sociable 3D printer. The positive responses affirm the authors’ hypothesis that extending IoT facilities and integration with social networks would result in a new Internet of practices involving 3D printing.
To criticize any part of this research work is undoubtedly a very difficult task. However, I do feel that the professional background of the participants involved for validating the newly constructed prototype is inadequate for the purpose of arriving at a generic conclusion. From the videos available in public domains like YouTube, and their popularity (view count), it is evident that the services of 3D printers are also keenly sought by professionals who want to reverse engineer costlier, patented, or even unlawful products--the details of which necessitate concealment of activities from the public.