As the roads diverge in the woods, 3D printing will have to make industry defining choices with accommodating its development and proliferation. 3D designs operate from design files shared similar to music and other media and information files; however, 3D files are highly non-standardized and not necessarily based in the US. These complications distinguish 3D printing files but the dilemma is not averted, yet it is imminent. The issue of what path to take loomed over the 3D printing conference in San Jose with multiple panels addressing the future of the industry in regards to file sharing.
There are factors unique to 3D printing which require attention and will most likely guide industry decisions. File sharing fluidity eerily connects 3D printing to the debacle of the music industry. Pirating work is easy, potentially robbing designers of financial gain. In fact, Ocean Tomo, an intellectual capital consulting firm, CEO James Malackowski stated, “3D printing today is like Napster and file sharing in 1999.”
When considering the truly innovative designs and applications individuals create, after arduous labour and testing, it is disheartening to think such designers would lose the ability to reap the fruits of their toil. In contrast to music files, 3D files are grossly non-standardized with little promise for consumers that a design they want to buy is reliable and compatible with their printer. Panelists came to a consensus regarding government action, again looking at the Napster incident, urging that any intervention be educated and measured.
The new nature of file sharing, especially concerning 3D printing, implores organic regulation. Due to the international bases for 3D printing, government regulation could prove to be tangled and ineffectual. Legislation in the US lags behind innovative technology with ramifications in a myriad of markets across borders and industries. As the panels intimated, the hope is for regulation from within the industry.
In order for a productive system of regulation from within, new standards of compatibility and production need to be established and maintained. A few elements need to be in practice according to speakers at the panels. 3D designs need to improve, specifically in terms of compatibility and uniform quality. The quality assurance needs to be a standard among printers as well. The finished product advertised can be pretty and impressive, but the rough drafts, usually integral to the creative method, cannot filter into the consumer level. High standards would justify a fee. iTunes had its name dropped as an example, yet it is also the result of a market catching up with free sharing. But the model does fit the mould of effective file-sharing at a comfortable price for mass consumerism. To be at that level, 3D printing would need to skip some growing pains usually associated with innovative industries involving file-sharing across a global network. While we would all welcome a simple answer, a wide and well-lit path, the road ahead does look a bit murky. Whatever path we take; it will make all the difference.