18 February 2023

3D printing and other technologies in our life….


3D printing and other technologies in our life….


Topic by Ana

Essay (short) by Lawrence


What does 3D printing got to do with philosophy? The Wikipedia article on the subject notes that additive manufacturing is synonymous with 3D printing. 3D printing is the process of using dedicated machines for creating objects with computer aided designs by adding such materials as plastics (this is a very simple and simplistic description). Compare this with subtractive manufacturing, which as the name implies, creates objects by removing part from a block of material. We are all familiar with the flint arrowheads and spear heads from prehistoric people.


So where does philosophy come into all this? To be fair the present technology of 3D printing has advanced enough that individuals can have access to such machines at home or at a scale that can be used for business ventures. In industry 3D printing is advanced enough to be employed in all sorts of manufacturing stages of a product.


The manufacturing model so far has always been to creating machines or gadgets that perform a function or set of functions and we buy that gadget. But many times the gadget has so many functions that we will never use many of these functions or impossible to learn how to use these functions let alone know they exist. Will 3D printing and other modern technologies imply we can build gadgets that we as individuals want with the functions we want and no more?


I would safely claim that the vast majority of people on this planet do not take full advantage of the features on their mobile phones or personal computers or even toaster. And that despite such social media platforms as YouTube or TikTok where people post videos on how to use most gadgets ever invented so far.


It may be argued that at the Philosophy of Economics level 3D printing and other technologies might help with maximising the use of scares raw resources with little or no waste. It might further be argued that the relative ease of manufacturing gadgets or part their off will imply less energy consumption than the subtractive manufacturing processes. This might certainly affect the theory of the firm but will this technology overcome such theories as the demand-supply curve and diminishing returns.


At the business level we already know that 3D printing and additive manufacturing already makes sense. Many customised parts of other products or cross border manufacturing is being achieved by sharing computer files rather than having to set up dedicated production lines. This also means that the best people a company needs to design products need not work and live at or near the manufacturing plant.


One of the trends in the 1990s was to miniaturise machines to table to size to make personalised products: from tailor made medicines to fresh mozarella cheese to short run printed books (even if these were a bit larger than a table top). I do not know what happened to the first two ideas, but short run printed books are today very popular and very accessible even with mobile phone designs.


At the personal level, today people need to be familiar with many technologies just to be eligible to work in any work environment. Of course, this does not mean we need to be experts in all systems but we certainly need to know how to use common applications and common gadgets such as computers, mobile phones and maybe office printing machines. And if we don’t we know how to learn quickly.


Another philosophical issue about these new technologies is what will be the unintended consequences of such technologies? Will manufacturing lead to overall cheaper gadgets? And will gadgets become even more user friendly or made to customer specifications by making the manufacturing the manufacturing easier to perform. The computer company, Dell, already had the idea of making customer specific computers for businesses and individuals who knew what they were buying. But this idea begs the question, how will companies make a reasonable profit with these new technologies. Today many companies make excessive profits by manufacturing in developing countries or China.


I have already mentioned the huge number of functions common gadgets have today. But can we go a step further? From having hardware to perform a number of functions to having hardware evolve to meet new functions. With some trepidation we can update parts of our computer hardware by changing the hard disk to changing the RAM chip size of the computer. Even though the latest software trend is to fill PCs with bloatware or full are full of bloatware that older machines cannot handle. Bloatware involves from applications that are supposed to be useful on mobile phones but are not, to basic software such as word processors that occupy a lot of memory just to show the bling imbedded in them but offer few new factions.


To make old machines cope better with new functions requires that parts can be changed easily and maybe are idiot proof without compromising the function of the machine. Will manufacturers be willing to give users such unfettered access to their machines?  Today we’re probably at the stage that it can be done in most cases, but it is not easy, and certainly not for the faint hearted.


Our topic certainly highlights the philosophical issue of knowledge and epistemology: our survival depends as much on our evolving knowledge as much on our interaction with our environment. But will new technologies be slowed down with the reluctance of having to change our present model. And can the average human being cope with such evolving knowledge base? It is hard enough today already trying to open a child-proof bottle of pills.


And what can we use a 3D printer for at home?



Best and take care

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PhiloMadrid meeting Skype 8:00pm TUESDAY 21st February: 3D printing and other technologies……..

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