Rise in the use of 3D printers for printing human organs could spark an ethical debate which could lead to demand for banning the technology for human and nonhuman use by 2016, Gartner analysts have said.
Gartner's latest report entitled 'Predicts 2014: 3D Printing at the Inflection Point', noted that 3D bio-printed human organs would soon be a reality due to major advances in medical technology.
In addition, the research firm projects that the 3D printing of non-living medical devices including prosthetic limbs, together with a growing population and inadequate levels of healthcare in emerging markets, would explode the demand for the technology by 2015.
Gartner research director Pete Basiliere said that 3D bioprinting facilities with the ability to print human organs and tissue will advance far faster than general understanding and acceptance of the ramifications of this technology.
"These initiatives are well-intentioned, but raise a number of questions that remain unanswered," Basiliere said.
"What happens when complex 'enhanced' organs involving nonhuman cells are made? Who will control the ability to produce them? Who will ensure the quality of the resulting organs?"
As the availability of 3D-bio-printed human organs draws closer, it would lead to complex debate involving vast political, moral and financial interests, the report anticipates.
"The overall success rates of 3D printing use cases in emerging regions will escalate for three main reasons: the increasing ease of access and commoditisation of the technology; ROI; and because it simplifies supply chain issues with getting medical devices to these regions," Basiliere added.
"Other primary drivers are a large population base with inadequate access to healthcare, in regions often marred by internal conflicts, wars or terrorism."
The maturity in 3D printing technology would boost its capability to build customised human anatomical parts while would also have pervasive appeal in medical device markets mainly in economically weak and war-torn regions.
From 2015, there would be a rise in demand for 3D printers due to increasing familiarity within the material sciences and computer-augmented design services sectors, and integration with healthcare and hospitals.
The research firm also predicts that by 2018, about seven of the world's top 10 multichannel retailers would employ 3D printing technology to produce custom stock orders, simultaneously as entirely new business models are developed on the technology.
Gartner research vice president Miriam Burt said some retailers are already selling 3D printers to consumers, and as they become more readily available, consumers could use them to 'manufacture' their own custom-designed products.
"We also expect to see 3D copying services and 3D printing bureaus emerge where customers bring 3D models to a retailer or provider and have increasingly high-end parts and designs printed, not just in plastics but in materials including ceramics, stainless steel, and cobalt and titanium alloys," Burt said.
Amid rapid emergence, the new technology would also pose a challenge of intellectual property (IP) theft, with 3D printing to cost $100bn a year in IP theft across the globe by 2018.
"The very factors that foster innovation -- crowdsourcing, R&D pooling and funding of start-ups -- coupled with shorter product life cycles, provide a fertile ground for intellectual property theft using 3D printers," Basiliere added.
"Already, it's possible to 3D print many items, including toys, machine and automotive parts, and even weapons."