Saturday, 18 September 2010

3D printing and the insurgent

I've started reaching more about the emerging technology of 3D printing of late, and for some reason its gelled with some other thoughts on the drug war in Mexico, the truly horrifying campaign which is going on there and recieving entirely too little attention.

Firstly, if you want to read a decent article on the scope and scale of the violence take a look at this piece on Boing Boing

Here is a week's worth of the headlines, as recorded by Blog Del Narco, one of the blogs which seeks to record what is actually happening in the country:
72 bodies found, a federal policeman killed, 4 men decapitated and hung from a bridge, 19 corpses found, 33 men executed, a massacre at a La Quinta Inn, Girl Assassin Squad Discovered
Bear in mind this is just the headlines, not a full accounting of the violence itself.

As manufacturing capacity, at least for simple objects, approaches the most local level, its worth asking the question, what will happen when it is possible for gangs to become entirely self sufficient in terms of weaponry, body armour and ammunition?

Consider the so called Mobile Parts Hospital, described as:
An 8' x 8' x 20' custom built facility was built for the U.S. Army to house a sophisticated, computer controlled manufacturing facility meeting stringent size, weight, and operational constraints; self - contained, air (C-130), ground (PLS/trailer) or rail transportable, easy to deploy and re-deploy, controlled user friendly work environment
Essentially designed to churn out spare parts to support military activity on the ground, there's not a lot here you couldnt buy, at which point it becomes a software issue. If you can crack that, you'd be able to replicate this device.

If a device like this could be deployed by a drug gang, or a comparable insurgent group (the IRA keeps coming to mind), and kept secret, imagine how dangerous it could be.

Imagine an insurgent group could become entirely self sufficient in terms of the basic materials needed to conduct an armed campaign. Able to directly manufacture, rather than buy, high quality weapons.

Obviously this group would be highly dependent on the manufacturing resource itself, but presumably if you could build one once, you could do it again, and again, ensuring that you were not dependent on a single source.

Shortened, simplified supply chains, a qualititative improvement in equiptment and a broadening of its avaliability, all sound like the glorious dream of generals throughout the ages. Within a decade or two technologies will almost certainly be commonly avalible which can provide this at any level.

Now it might be that the iFactory will have careful controls which stop people building an AK47 in their back yard, but it seems to me unlikely that an insurgent group would be kind enough to stick to this.

Replication technology will be one of the defining technologies of the 21st century. The current debate on protecting copyright is nothing compared to what is coming.


  1. The IRA?

    They are not even the biggest paramilitary group in NI anymore.

  2. i was actually thinking of them at their most active. I vividly remember when the IRA were decomissiomimg seeimg images of bunkers stuffed full of guns and ammunition. I suppose Im asking what would happen if you could replace that bunker with a printer. Stockpile scrap metal rather than the guns and primt as needed. Will try and clarify that when Im next in front of the computer.