I consider 3D printers as one of the Game Changers that will transform the waste management and recycling industry. In my book Wasteless Future, that will be published before the end of the year, I am dealing with several details about them. But if you consider that 3D printers will mainly affect the developed and rich countries, there are a lot of possibilities that you are wrong.

Dar es Salaam city, Tanzania’a capital, produces 400 tonnes of plastic waste everyday which are neither collected nor recycled, contributing to unhealthy environment. But now a pilot programme called ReFab is exploring ways of using plastic waste to power entrepreneurship and development using 3D printers in Tanzania. The World Bank and COSTECH-supported ReFab Dar project as an experiment designed to help Tanzanians embrace 3D printing and as a solution to democratise manufacturing and in doing so to create small businesses that tackle unemployment.

The possibility to deliver a kind of solution for the recycling of plastics with 3D printers, especially in a city like Dar es Salaam, highlights the speed, the depth and the huge coverage of the 4th industrial revolution. I have made a new video to demonstrate the huge differences between the traditional ways that cars were assembled (Ford’s assembly line) and the radical new way that they can be created by 3D printers (see 3D printed cars here). The video can be viewed at my YouTube Channel, where 18 more videos (from the ones I use in my lectures) are also stored. This is a direct link for the video Henry Ford Vs 3D Printers.

A recent study by IDC forecasts that the 3D printing industry is going to be rapidly expanding in the next three years. 3D printing will expand globally at a 27% compound annual growth rate. IDC says that the nearly $11 billion industry in 2015 will balloon to $26.7 billion by 2019. This is one of the fastest rates of growth yet predicted for 3D printing, where it is expected that the West European, Asian and United States markets will primarily drive the growth.

In a recent article, Rick Smith, a 3D printing entrepreneur, describes the seven ways that 3D printing already disrupts the global manufacturing and he concludes:

“We find ourselves at a key inflection point in history. The possibilities of growth and innovation are endless, and companies have already begun to seize on what is possible today. But the current uses for 3D printing in production are what email was to the Internet in 1994: an example of the incredible utility of a new technology, but also, merely a glimpse of the sweeping changes to come. In the next and final article in this series, we will all take an eye-opening step forward and see what it might be like to live in a 3D printed future. Hold onto your seats!”

3D printers have the potential to decentralise and democratise manufacturing, allowing a huge improvement towards eco-friendly design. But this goes together with the threat for decentralising micro-plastics pollution, adding more particulates to indoor air pollution and creating catastrophic objects too.

3D printers bring the potential of zero waste supply chains. They also bring the risk of a further dependence and increase in the use of plastics, which are still their main raw material, despite the rapid progress in the preparation of many other materials for digital manufacturing, including biomaterials.

But as with all the other elements of the 4th industrial revolution, their final use and the benefits and costs related, will be determined by the social context in which technologies will be realised. We can still hope for a Wasteless Future!

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