My favourite story from the Sunday papers this week? 3-D printing. You can now buy a machine that will ‘print’ out your designs in plastic, so that you can make whatever you want or dream of. It could be that useful gadget that you can’t find in the shops like a customised toolholder, or a made-to-measure sink drainer. Or it could be a spare part for that rather ancient machine that’s off the market. Or something totally new that you have imagined.
Either you draw it with 3-D software or you find a free design online. Then the RepRap (for that is its name) melts a string of plastic and squeezes out layers to build up your object. These ‘printers’ used to be huge and expensive, but are now just under £800 and getting smaller all the time.
It means that what we used to think of as ‘industrial’ production will soon begin to become domestic. Exciting, I thought – you can make just what you want or need, at the press of a button or two on the laptop. Then I thought: all that used to be domestic anyway. For centuries, the things we needed or dreamt of were produced at home or in cottage industries. This just means that we can make plastic things (the article suggested a curly I-Phone).
But is it another sign of the retreat from big, mass-produced production to individual choice – a species of the trend to ‘download your own music /philosophy /universe’? Anything can be the shape you want it to be. The whole of life might become an endlessly individual Lego-style Thingiverse.
But graphics programmes have enabled those who are not adept at painting and drawing to produce art; so why not applaud RepRap’s ability to make us all craftsmen? And what would I make? No question, it’s the modular playset on the Thingiverse website – build your very own Gothic Cathedral.