The ‘Mo.Mo’: can 3D printing be sustainable?
The future of 3D printing is being hotly debated at the moment. The Economist and Wired have run major features on it, we've covered it regularly in Green Futures (see below) and it's all over the twittersphere - new applications, new technology, rapidly declining costs and so on.
For me, I have a nightmarish vision of my young sons, captivated as they are by CBeebies and its attendant merchandisers, pointing and clicking at on-screen characters and printing out hundreds of low-grade plastic figures, filling our house with tat.
This new technology could be the next major disruptive technology, unsettling and reconfiguring manufacturing in the way the music industry has been. It could herald the apotheosis of consumerism, instant gratification, the throwaway society. Or it could be at the heart of a new model of sustainable consumption. Which of these comes to pass will be determined in large part by how we apply the technology, and the systems we build around it.
Which brings me to the Mo.Mo., a product and service concept developed in partnership with industrial design agency Agent, as part of our work with Which? on Consumers in 2030. It's basically a scanner you can point at any item in the home, perhaps something you no longer need or want, to find out what that item is made of and what it could be turned into using a 3D printer. You then send or take the unwanted item to a 3D printing lab, and print off something you do want. Thus your old patio chair becomes a set of cutlery, a broken photo-frame a magazine rack, old wine glasses a bathroom mirror, and so on.
A product like Mo.Mo. could help reduce the amount of new material we need, moving us towards a closed loop economy. It could even change the way we feel about material goods, valuing permanence or perhaps the atoms a product is made of, rather than the product itself.
3D printing is coming. "Additive manufacturing" is already mainstream in high-end engineering. Soon you'll see 3D printers in the high street. Who knows if the Mo.Mo. will ever actually exist in people's homes, but what we do know is that when new technologies like 3D printing come along, we need to do everything we can to ensure that they help us live more sustainable lives.
- Download the Which? Consumers in 2030 report
- Access resources to further explore the Mo.Mo
Read the other blogs in the Which? Series:
- It's 2032: Print Some Energy and Drink the Sea
- Will 3D Printers see the End of Consumerism?