3D printers, an often mentioned solution for jump starting a space based manufacturing industry, might just be in the midst of revolutionizing Earthbound manufacturing as well.
At least, this is the thesis presented by independent journalist James Corbett, who took a recent look at the technology for his December 17th, 2012 Corbett Report podcast. According to Corbett, this is not some "pie in the sky fantasy of something which is going to happen in some vague nebulous future." This is instead an existing technology already in use by major manufacturers to create current and very complex technology.
To support his point, Corbett has referenced documents and videos from a variety of sources, including the BBC, a recent TED Talk from Lisa Harouni, the CEO of Digital Forming (a company which focuses on the software side of the 3D printers) and a variety of other sources. Each source is referenced and listed with web links on the podcast site for those who prefer to verify research independently.
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As outlined in the November 15th, 2012 Extreme Tech article "NASA 3D prints rocket parts — with steel, not plastic," even rocket parts can be manufactured using 3D printers and Corbett dealt with both the untapped potential and the expected consequences of this new technology.
The podcast tackled issues relating to property rights, the ecological benefits of using "additive" technology, the potential for lost jobs as traditional manufacturing is superseded and even the problem of "gun control" in a society where almost anyone can build complex weapons and tools on the kitchen table.
Corbett is one of the new generation of independent, online journalist who aren't tied to an existing "mass media" outlet and use this freedom to generate in-depth content using open-source information. It's quite possible that people like him will end up becoming the future of media in much the same way as the 3D printer will likely become the future of manufacturing.