Beware the dark side of 3D printing

Three-dimensional (3D) printing has been the rage as a "killer" technology for at least a decade now. It can do many things, from making human organs in the healthcare industry to producing spare parts in manufacturing and for toy companies churning out playthings for consumers.

With the 3D-printing industry going mainstream, the cost of a 3D printer has come down considerably. At only a few hundred dollars, almost anyone can own one to make a prototype of anything one fancies.

There are, however, potential dangers lurking with catastrophic consequences. One area of concern is the possibility of self-produced firearms.

In countries where acquiring firearms is easy, news reports on shooting massacres in public areas occur frequently. This year alone, there were no fewer than 10 reported shooting incidents in the United States.  

Already, in 3D printing, industrialists, hobbyists and general consumers in countries where gun ownership is controlled are upending established policies and frameworks.  

Singapore has tough gun control rules. Any unlawful possession of firearms carries the death penalty. This has served us well in the past 50 years. But is this regulatory framework being challenged with the advent of 3D printing?

Singapore has tough gun control rules. Any unlawful possession of firearms carries the death penalty. This has served us well in the past 50 years. But is this regulatory framework being challenged with the advent of 3D printing?

This development could potentially throw gun regulations in our country into a tailspin if such technology is readily available.

And as Singapore is an open economy, constantly promoting innovation, such advancements cannot be stopped.

How should we address such a development? How are our laws keeping up with technology in firearm regulations and attempts to get around them?

On the economic front, we need to not just add value, but also create value - develop our own solutions or killer applications. 

We also need to urgently establish new policies in tandem with the rise in popularity of 3D printing.

Tan Kar Quan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 06, 2015, with the headline 'Beware the dark side of 3D printing'. Print Edition | Subscribe