Coronavirus pandemic: 3D printing’s big moment?

3D printing technology has existed for years. The community has formed for almost as long. But the case for its wide adoption has remained elusive.

3D Printing maching (CC SVG)

As author and futurist Bruce Sterling remarked in an interview on this blog five years ago: “It interests me that the [3D printing-focused] Maker scene has never created a true megahit, some toy or gizmo that literally everybody had to have.”

Today, one might argue that personal protective equipment is something everyone needs to have – either or directly on indirectly. A leadership vacuum in the US creates the demand for the products of this distributed technology.

The Bloomberg article details how 3D printing hobbyists in the US are stepping in to fulfill the personal protective equipment needs of hospitals and doctors treating coronavirus patients when the government has failed.

Importantly, networked, distributed manufacturing also creates a moment for networked, distributed outpouring of civic-mindedness and care for neighbor (in a time of caustic internal division).

It’s a moment of modernizing for a country that has missed out various stages of infrastructure thanks to the anti-government ideology of recent decades.

Citizens using 3D printing to save the lives of their fellow citizens conveys a sense of order and meaning in this chaotic and hate-filled environment. Like a lot of communication tools that existed prior to the pandemic but are only becoming fully utilized now, such as Zoom, 3D printing is moving from fringe to the core of the citizens’ experience.

The adoption of 3D printing during this crisis may not create a utopia but it can at least act as a salve for the ongoing dystopia many people are facing today. Can economists accurately pick up the activity it generates? As it is embraced more widely, it’s prospects will continue to grow.