An Interview With Dr. Joshua Pearce Of Printers For Peace

Joshua Pearce, PhD, is a researcher at Michigan Tech who rearches open source and low-impact solutions to engineering problems. He is also the founder of the Printers For Peace contest, an effort to bring together clever 3D-printed ideas that have loftier aims. You can win one of two 3D printers if you submit a winning project.

We asked Pearce a few questions about his goals for the project and about the future of 3D printing.

John Biggs: Why Printers For Peace?

Joshua Pearce: I think it is clear that low-cost open-source 3D printing has enormous potential to do real good for the world – particularly for the poor as it radically reduces the cost of high-value products like scientific tools and consumer goods. This threatens a lot of entrenched interests because the average Joe can fabricate extremely complex products at home for pennies, which is disruptive to say the least. I have noticed a clear bias in 3D printing news coverage – any advances on the low-end of the spectrum are generally ignored or vilified. The media frenzy about 3D printed guns is actually having terrifying consequences – and I don’t mean the guns. A California senator has already proposed registration, background checks, and licensing for 3D printers!

Michigan Tech and Type A Machines sponsored the contest to get the more positive truth about 3D printers into the conversation. There are over 90,000 open-source 3D printable designs available and only one low-quality gun. We do not want to lose the baby with the bathwater. Our aim is to raise awareness of the power of 3D printing to change the world for the better.

JB: What do you think will happen now that the 3D printed gun is out of the bag? It was inevitable, obviously, but what does it mean?
JP: The 3D printed gun is a red herring. Anyone who wants a gun can make a much better one using more traditional tools found in any machine shop and many garages — or just buy one. I am, however, very concerned that the debate about 3D printed guns will be used to squash the incredible technological development we are seeing in the open-source 3D printing community.

JB: What’s the coolest Printers for Peace project you’ve seen so far?

JP: The contest just opened, but there are some really cool designs already developed that I think would make good starting points for derivatives. I really like some of the small-scale 3D printed windmill designs – and there is a graduate student working on what looks to be a printable recyclebot. I would love to see a reliable 3D printed treadle pump as this is one of the most successful appropriate technologies for lifting rural farmers out of poverty in the developing world.

JB: What’s next? 3D printed bazookas? 3D printed heart stents? Where do you see this headed, in either direction?

JP: I think it is clear that existing manufacturers will continue to move from using high-end 3D printing for rapid prototyping into actual manufacturing creating entirely new classes of jobs (e.g. automobile parts, human body parts, etc.). This is exciting, but not nearly as exciting as what is happening on the low-end of the spectrum. As open-source 3D printable designs continue to grow exponentially the value of owning a 3D printer is climbing as their quality improves and actual costs continue to decline. Thus, low-cost open-source 3D printers will become ubiquitous household items, which people use to make a wide array of consumer goods, replacement parts, and highly customized products. Following shortly after I hope to see recyclebots become similarly widespread – with people recycling their waste plastic inhome to make their own products. The implications for improving human well-being are staggering.