3D printing is a manufacturing technique in which a stream of material is precisely extruded to form layers and build up a three dimensional object. It is one of the most useful emerging technologies and has been quoted to be potentially larger than the internet by The Financial Times and other famous news sources. Companies all over the world are finding applications for the manufacturing technique in industries such construction, automotive, education, medicine, and art.
While most countries are hard at work trying to promote the use of 3D printing by coming up with regulatory policies and adding the technology to their school and college curricula, Pakistan has taken the very easy route of banning the import of 3D printers into the country. The main reason behind this is that 3D printers may be used to make weapons and ammunition, which might prove detrimental to national security. Anyone wishing to import a 3D printer must first get a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government. This proves that like other technologies with vast potential, such as cryptocurrency, our legislators and other powerful institutions find it hard to wrap their heads around the positive impacts 3D printing could have on Pakistan’s economy. This article aims to highlight why the ban on 3D printers should be lifted.
Guns can be made in other ways
The very first reason that 3D printers should be allowed in Pakistan is that the mere assumption that a whole firearm can be manufactured by using consumer quality 3D printers is a little ridiculous. The vast majority of 3D printers on the market use plastic to manufacture 3D printed parts, the likes of which can not sustain the intense heat and pressure generated by a gunshot. Furthermore, the other, more viable ways to make guns, i.e using machining tools such as lathes, etc., are widespread in Pakistan. There are places where you can go and buy a fully functional gun for a few thousand rupees. The sheer idea that a bad actor would choose a 3D printer to manufacture his/her own firearm out of meltable and pliable plastic seems a bit absurd.
3D printing has the potential to make education much more interactive for students by providing real life models for whatever they may be studying in the classroom. For example, a biology teacher can print out a model of an animal cells and let students interact with it to gain a better understanding of its different components and their functions. This hands-on approach will make it more fun for students to learn and will keep them more engaged in study material. Similarly, a 3D printer may inspire students to take up STEM subjects based on how they work and the different engineering principles behind them.
3D printing is already bringing about huge changes in prototyping due to its speed and versatility. 3D printing allows engineering and design teams to forego traditional prototyping techniques such as wooden models or CNC machining, which can be time-consuming and expensive due to the materials wasted. It instead directly takes in 3D CAD files to produce an ultra-realistic representation of the designer’s idea quickly and efficiently. This cuts down on development time and allows designers to test multiple product designs at a fraction of the cost as before.
Manufacturing is another area with huge potential for 3D printing. As mentioned previously 3D printing avoids wasting materials because it is an additive manufacturing technique. Its also very flexible so the same 3D printer can be used to make an almost infinite number of products and designs, whereas a traditional assembly line is tailored to one product only. 3D printing is also a very quick process, and 3D printing units are independent of each other so manufacturing can be scaled up or down instantly. 3D printing is a very automated process, so it cuts down on labor costs as well. Quality standards for 3D printed products are very high and consistency is also insured due to a limited human factor. The reduction in material wastage is beneficial to the environment, and the saved material is easily reusable can be used to print even more products.
A 3D printer breaks down a design into layers, which can easily be printed on top of each other, while other techniques typically cut away at a solid piece of material or join several parts until the desired shape is achieved. Therefore, 3D printers make it possible to bring very complex designs into production due to their layer by layer approach.
One of the most ambitious applications of 3D printing is using the technology to construct entire buildings. Recently, this ambition became a reality with the completion of the world’s first 3D-printed commercial building in Dubai. Companies have popped in countries like Dubai, Germany, and the US who have developed their own techniques to manufacture buildings by extruding a concrete like mix and letting it harden to build up walls and other parts of a building. NASA even held a design challenge to build a 3D printed habitat for space exploration and settlement in 2019, which led to multiple successful designs.
PERI GmbH, a construction company in Germany, has recently completed a residential building in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of the country. The single family house consists of 2 floors and offers 160 square meters of living space. The building was built to such a high standard that it cleared the German construction code, one of the strictest construction codes in the world.
Pakistan is facing a severe housing shortage of over 10 million housing units at the moment. Many projects, such as the Prime Minister’s Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme, have been started to fix that issue, but building houses using traditional methods takes a long time and is very labor intensive. Using 3D printing to build houses and even apartment buildings or commercial buildings can drastically reduce the amount of time and money required to fulfill this housing shortage.