The Victoria & Albert’s museum RapidResponse Collecting display is a section added in order to respond to vital momentsin present history through the use of design and manufacturing. The exhibitionpresents a range of different objects, including the Refugee Flag, Burkini, theOculus Rift and other revolutionary designs and technologies. Nevertheless, thedesigns which I decided to bring attention to are the first 3D-printed Gun madeby Cody Wilson and the 3D-printed handlebars used by Bradley Wiggins. Nowadays with thedevelopments which are going on in both design and manufacturing worlds as aconsequence from the latest technologies, it is important to analyse andevaluate the important factors of such advancements. These factors are how itaffects social, cultural and political events, thereby investigating the ethicsbehind such inventions is crucial.
Each one of the objects from the RapidResponse Collecting can be considered as a pioneer from its category. Notnecessarily created to have a practical purpose but created in order to fill orbring attention to a gap in a world of problems. In this essay, 3D-printing asa form of manufacturing will be investigated to determine the advantages anddisadvantages which it brings to the present and future of industrial design,engineering and other creative sectors. While there is an infinite amount of possibilitiesof what can be created using this technology, it is important to determine the ethicsbehind giving this opportunity to a wide range of people. 3D-printing is a formof additive manufacturing. In order to print something there needs to be a CAD(computer-aided design) file of the object desired to be printed. This fileobtains X, Y and Z coordinates of the body and the printer’s programme usesthis information to create a number of layers depending on the thickness of thematerial being used. 3D-printers are only limited by its size and the materialsit allows to print.
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However, these limitations are constantly being solved,thereby continuously reducing the need of hand-made products. Thistechnology has existed for around 30 years. Chuck Hull developed a process called’stereolithography’, a process that created solid objects by printing layers oflight curable liquid, meaning a material which would turn solid once active ina chemical reaction.
Hull soon realised that this practice was not limited toliquids, but any material which has the capacity of alternating its physicalstate. Itwas only in the past 5 to 10 years nonetheless, that 3D printers startedbecoming a widespread product. While before 2010 this equipment was limited toindustrial applications, due to a vast decrease in price, it has since begun tobe a product purchased by the masses.
This gave many people the capacity ofcreating things which before was never thought possible. However, whether thiscapacity has a positive outcome socially, culturally and politically, ornegative, will be discussed in this essay using the examples of the first3D-printed gun and the 3D-printed handlebar. The first 3D-printed gun, also known as ‘TheLiberator’ was created by Cody Wilson, a graduate law student at the Universityof Texas.
The gun was produced in order to bring attention to the issues thatcome with 3D-printing and new open source developments as a whole. This objectis composed of 15 different parts printed in ABS plastic, a material intentionallyused due to its strong characteristics and therefore the fact that it cantolerate the impact of firing several bullets. The only part of the weapon whichis not 3D printed is the firing pin, which in the case of the V&Aexhibition is a nail, an item that is effortlessly acquirable in multipleplaces.
The gun parts in the exhibit were printed in London using the opensource design by Defence Distributed (Cody Wilson’s Organization), in that way demonstratinghow straightforward it is to be produced. “You can print a lethal device. It’s kind ofscary, but that’s what we’re aiming to show. .
.. Anywhere there’s a computerand an internet connection, there would be the promise of a gun” (Cody Wilson,2012 Forbes). While the point Wilson is making matches with the existingconcern behind this technology, the way by which he executed this idea is controversial.Through successfully developing a fireable printed gun and then sharing it atan open source, a danger which was previously non-existent is formed. Two daysafter its release the gun had already been downloader 100,000 times.
Thelevel of simplicity in making this gun is one of the factors that creates an ethicalissue with ‘The Liberator’. The CAD file for the gun is available in a range ofdifferent websites. While it is still necessary to have a 3D-printer to makethe final product, as mentioned before, nowadays purchasing one has becomecommon. With the prices being as low as £200, having a 3D printer at home is anormality. Apartfrom the clear side of the controversy, which is giving people who do not orshould not have the authorization of owning and using a gun, this power. It alsocreates a simple solution for people who are not obeying the law.
While in theUnited States of America, the right to buy a gun is protected by the Second Amendment,this same law is not applicable in every other country, thereby creating theissue of how the 3D printing would be managed and restricted across differentborders. Even though it is possible and simple to purchase a firearm in the USAand in other countries such as Russia, there are still laws which make theprocess safer, such as background checks and identity confirmation. However, assoon as this project was uploaded to an open source website, it becomes availableto those people which the background check is attempting to avoid; people withconvictions, people with certain mental problems, people with a drug history,etc. Furthermore, in the United Kingdom and many other countries, it isprohibited for a citizen who is not part of the army or police force to obtaina personal weapon.
Therefore, making this available for personal use without anysort of qualification and verification disobeys the laws of every country inthe world. By stating “You don’tneed to be able to put 200 rounds through it…
It only has to fire once. Buteven if the design is a little unworkable, it doesn’t matter, as long as it hasthat guarantee of lethality.” (Cody Wilson, 2012 Forbes) Wilson demonstratesthat the real intent behind this project is not to create harm, but it is toprove that anyone can have access to weapons and that gun control laws are ‘meaningless’. Ethically there are many issues withthis project and Cody Wilson’s argument. From a political standpoint, gun lawsexist in order to protect a country’s population.
It helps prevent robberies,murders, mass-shootings, etc. While some countries’ policies contradict others,there is always some law attempting to stop those events from happening. Inrecent times, the murder rates are at a rise and this is mainly attributed tomass-shootings and crimes in major cities. Undoubtedly, there is the argumentthat allowing people to possess a gun gives the opportunity of self-protection,however, by attempting to decrease the number of weapons available, the need ofprotection is not as needed. Froma social point of view, there is also a dispute on whether such developmentsshould be allowed to occur or not. While in countries which it is legal to owna personal weapon the demand for a 3D printed gun would not be as high as incountries with strict gun laws, the same issue is still present due to the factthat it makes it available for kids, teenagers, felons, who in reality representthe majority of people who download the gun file.
On the other side of the spectrum of the3D-printing world there is Sir Bradley Wiggins’ handlebar used to break theHour Record, setting a mark of 54.526km. The object was printed to fit exactlyto Wiggins’s measurements and positions. While harmless when compared againstCody Wilson’s gun, it caused controversy in the media and cycling world nonetheless.
The reason being how inaccessible this technology is for other cyclists and peopleattempting to dispute against Bradley’s title. TheBolide HR Handlebar developed by Pinarello Lab is 3D-printed using titanium,one of the latest developments in printing technology. It uses titanium powder andfuses it into a solid by the focus of a laser beam. Also knows as direct laser sintering,this innovative process was developed in Germany. Due to its recent inventionthe machinery necessary to make this possible is still highly expensive and outof reach for most people. However, the argument used in agreement of this kindof method being used more frequently in the cycling world is that the athletesattempting to break such world records are usually standing behind a brand andtherefore have the purchase capacity of utilizing such manufacturing technique.”When it came to the handlebars, we needed them to be as good in terms ofaerodynamics, but we also needed them to be a perfect fit for the rider.
We’vealready seen our design working well in trials and Sir Bradley is cyclingfaster than ever.” (Pinarello, 2015). While this goal was achieved usingtitanium 3D-printing, seemingly, the target for the handlebar project was to achievesomething structurally efficient while making it custom fit to Wiggins andtherefore 3D-printing was the simplest and more effective way of doing it.Since more ‘traditional’ building techniques involve carbon fiber and lesstechnologically advanced procedures, it could be considered less sustainableand even more out of reach to the general public than the printing method. Froma social point of view, it is debatable weather this should be acceptable ornot. While such technologies would be available for other athletes andcompetitors, it does not take into consideration the fans who are watching andadmiring.
Kids and even adults all over the world dream of achieving timesnearly as close as professional riders. By setting an outstanding time using amachine who is yet to be affordable to the masses, this act gives a false senseof hope to amateurs watching. Structurally,the entire bike is made to perform as the most aerodynamic bicycle evercreated. “Because the handlebars hit the airflow first it’s absolutely criticalto perfect that part of the design – 3D printing allows us to make shapes that optimizethis aspect that would be very hard to achieve using other manufacturingtechniques.” (Pinarello, 2015) In terms of manufacturing it seems as if the Pinarellohad no other option in terms of achieving the desired goal. In regards to theaerodynamics of the bicycle, the handlebars are critical and one of the mostimportant components. By using less materials and time in order to develop thispart, Wiggin’s team were able to make the bike simple but advanced at the sametime, thereby allowing Bradley to not waste energy due to undevelopedcomponents. Part of the controversy is developed by the question: Should theequipment used by the cyclist be part of the challenge of beating thecompetition or should technology be used in order to minimize how much theequipment interferes with the athlete’s capabilities? That is an argument, notonly with cyclists but in a range of other sports which is weather everycompetitor should use the same equipment.
If an athlete’s team is greatlyinvolved in the creation of the apparatus, the competition becomes anengineering and design one instead of a sportsman’s abilities and expertise.While this competition for what team has the better gear can be positive interms of pushing the development of new technologies and items available to thepublic, it proposes an inaccurate understanding of which athletes are the mostprepared and who is the most capable. Fundamentally,the Vitoria & Albert Museum purchased the first 3D-printed gun and BradleyWiggins’s handlebar not to encourage the production of such objects but tobring attention to how manufacturing processes can have an effect on the worldsocially, politically and culturally. Firstly, from a political point of view,such advancements can challenge the way a competition is established and moreimportantly even the way a countries’ policies are set.
In the case of thehandlebar, it obliges cycling associations such as British Cycling to evaluatehow acceptable such advancements are and also how reasonable it is to havesophisticated gear. Likewise, with Cody Wilson’s printed gun forces governmentsto establish laws that were previously unthinkable. Due to the fact that thisdanger was formerly non-existent due to the lack of the domestic capabilities,it generates a concern that should not be on-going. Secondly, culturally,allowing for such manufacturing process to be available worldwide to everyperson who can afford it causes a conflict with the way matters usually occur.Using Bradley Wiggins as an example, in sports as a whole there is generally amanner things are traditionally done. By allowing such opportunities, cyclingand other sports are altered and become a manufacturing competition. Finally,from a social standpoint, there are a different factors to take intoconsideration.
Most importantly it is how can a technology such as 3d-printingbe regulated and administrated so it limits the type of consumer (people with afelony charge, drugs history, etc.) it is selling to and what its consumers areactually printing. On the other side of the social argument it is how far thistechnology will go and at what point it will start substituting the need forhuman presence during manufacturing. Ultimately,3D-printing is a technology which enables the creation of an infinite amount ofdesigns and promotes innovation with an easier means of production. While ithas a vast amount of advantages and gives opportunities which previously werenot available to most, it also provides the capabilities of creating itemswhich are ethically provocative . If used while keeping the ethics of social,political and cultural consequences in mind, it is a revolutionary product thattriggers the invention of many others, however for such tools to thrive in thismodern society it requires adequate regulations and guidelines that preventimmoral objects to exist.