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Future of 3-D printing is explored at Milken conference

April 29, 2013|By Shan Li
  • In a little more than an hour, a 3-D printer made a chess piece (it happened to be a rook) at the 2013 Milken Institute Global Conference.
In a little more than an hour, a 3-D printer made a chess piece (it happened… (Shan Li / Los Angeles Times )

What do houses, human organs, food and guns have in common?

According to panelists at the Milken Institute Global Conference, it's 3-D printing, the technology that enables people to print three-dimensional products by precisely depositing layer upon layer of material.

Innovators are working on creating entire buildings and human parts such as bones using the high-tech printers, said Avi Reichental, chief executive of printing firm 3-D Systems Corp.

"All of this activity is happening as we speak," he said at the panel. "It's not futuristic sci-fi."

The technology is on its way to revolutionizing manufacturing in the same way that online music sharing disrupted the music industry and blogging changed journalism, said panelist Peter Weijmarshausen, chief executive of Shapeways.

Eventually, he said, the average consumers will have 3-D printers in their homes capable of printing objects such as jewelry, appliance parts and toys. He called this "democratizing the creative tool."

There was a demonstration: In a little more than an hour, a 3-D printer at the panel created a neon green chess piece (it happened to be a rook).

That kind of capability can be good or bad. Controversy has already erupted around gun manufacturers that are using 3-D printing to craft firearm parts such as magazines and receivers.

Thorny questions also can arise about home production of equipment such as car parts that are governed by stringent safety regulations in the mass market, the panelists said.

"There will be unintended circumstances we will have to wrestle with," Reichental said.

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Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi

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