When Making and Manufacturing Collide

Samuel Gibbs at The Guardian reports on the creation and demonstration of a metal 3D-printed pistol, made by Solid Concepts, that is capable of firing 50 rounds and doing so with far greater accuracy than the plastic guns reported earlier. What I find interesting about this article is that, as the ecology of possible manufacturing technologies blossoms, our ability to distinguish between expensive, conventional manufacturing that is generally unavailable at home and maker-movement style home hacking will blur in confusing ways. In this case, the “3D printing” is laser sintering, and the machine is (at least for now) too expensive for any of our basements. But as the arc of manufacturing bends toward cheaper, smaller and simpler-to-use, so we can start to see anything built as a harbinger of what our neighbors may build tomorrow, or maybe next year. When I look at the box of metal parts from which this gun is assembled, what I am struck by is not the maker quality of the process, but rather the degree to which the parts look just like what conventional assembly lines would be plying. A genuine question worth reflection may be just how different forms of manufacturing will shake out in the near future: what will be built quick and dirty- perhaps disposable- and what will be made with expensive equipment that individuals will not own or rent?  And what is the strange interstitial space we have not yet explored?

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