No smoking gun with 3-D printers, experts say

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 28/02/2014

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The security threat of guns and drugs created by 3-D printers has been overstated by the Customs Service, experts say.

Their comments came after details of a Customs report into how to deal with the development of 3-D printer technology were revealed by The Dominion Post.

Customs Minister Maurice Williamson, who requested the report, said the printers had already been used for criminal activity. In future, they could render banknotes obsolete by producing undetectable forgeries, make synthetic drugs or create guns, he said.

"Because those printers are getting so sophisticated, the bank note has got a very limited number of years left. Really high-definition 3-D printers could print an absolutely untraceable banknote."

However, experts in the field said Customs was overreacting and some of its speculation was wide of the mark.

The founder of 3-D printer supplier MindKits, Tim Carr, said criticism of the new technology was "infuriating" and 3-D-printed guns posed more of a threat to the person firing it than their target.

There were much more simple ways to build a gun: "A lathe is more deadly . . . I wouldn't want to fire a gun made from a 3-D printer. There are so many easier ways to make something more lethal."

Customs had missed the point of 3-D printing, he said.

"Disruptive technologies which make some people upset are the ones which push us forward."

Wellingtonian Gordon Dykes received a grant from the Government last year for his 3D-printer company, fre3formD. He said Customs was misinformed.

"It's not a magic box," he said. "There is a lot of hysteria around 3-D printers. It's a novel concept and a lot of people try to bring preconceived ideas about other things they know into it."

The more speculative part of the report mentioned the ability to print down to molecular level and make "gold, gems, food or drugs" on a printer in future.

"Eventually at some point we will be able to create things atom by atom," Mr Dykes said. "But we're a long way from that. And I hope when we get there, we will have . . . a more developed social conscience."

Victoria University senior lecturer in industrial design Tim Miller said it was impossible to print gems or gold at present.

"It's way beyond what people are researching in printers at the moment," he said.

In any case, all "printing" needed specific raw material to turn into the objects. You would never be able to turn plastic into gold.

On 3D-printed guns, he said the "Liberator", designed by "crypto-anarchist" Cody Wilson, was created to be provocative and test United States gun laws.

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However, it was right to say the technology could change the world. "The more 3-D printers come online to customers, the more it's going to change the way objects are made and retailed."

- The Dominion Post

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