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Imagine: 3-D Printers That Manufacture Things!

By James Donahue

There is another revolution occurring on the job market and it has the potential of destroying industrial manufacturing jobs all over the world. They have just invented inexpensive three-dimensional computer printers that can conjure any shape from spools of plastic and leather.

Billed at first as costly toys for the wealthy that were capable of making solid plastic objects out of anything the artist might imagine this new wave of printers, small enough to fit in a briefcase and costing no more than $2,000, is capable of manufacturing anything from leather wallets to lamps to circuit boards.

Manufactured by Glowforge, a start-up company located in Seattle, the machines are promoted as 3-D laser cutters that come with software making it easier to operate than the older machines have been. Dan Shapiro, co-founder and chief executive of Glowforge, noted that laser cutters used in industrial manufacturing can slice through everything from steel to plastic and wood.

Can inexpensive computer-operated machines be made that compare with the costly machines described above? Indeed they can.

The Other Machine Company of San Francisco has just begun manufacturing a device that acts like a re verse 3-D printer. Dubbed the Othermill, the machine cuts at blocks of wood, metal or plastic and makes objects designed via computer art. To date it has been used for milling sculptures and forms for pouring chocolate candies. But its potential is limited only to the imagination of the artist.

Both Other Machine and Glowforge appear to be aiming for home hobby markets, but the very existence of such "desktop" manufacturing machines gives us a glimpse of a future manufacturing world that is unlike anything the world has ever experienced.

The day will soon come when there will be no jobs for the unskilled and low-paid worker. All workers will be required to have special training to operate these machines. And the market for creative artistry may be wide open for new and innovative ideas in manufacturing. Either this, or home hobbyists with their hands on such machines will be compelled to design and manufacture the things they need and use right on their home machines at merely the cost of materials.

All of this leaves open the question of what to do with all of the world’s masses in search of employment? Perhaps there is a better way of dealing with this problem? Is the time right at last for a transition to a one-world government that operates on a socialistic system? Progress like this may be forcing us into this kind of a dynamic change.