3D Printing: The Future of Missile Production and Proliferation?

For better and, potentially, for worse, 3D printing has made incredible strides since the first printer was developed in the early 1980s. Today, everything from guitars to guns, works of art to artificial limbs can be made on a 3D printer. And while early prototypes were expensive machines for commercial use and industrial manufacturing, today 3D printers are being sold over the internet for as little as a couple hundred dollars, making them available to use at home.

This has raised a number of troubling questions, including: Could 3D printers be used to help build missiles or other weapons of mass destruction?

In a new analysis, Robert Shaw, Director of the Export Control Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, explores the emergence of 3D printing and its effect on missile production and proliferation. Shaw explains that the advances in technology that have made 3D printing a cheaper alternate manufacturing technique could change how institutions and states evaluate the cost of missile production programs. Proliferation experts are concerned that 3D printing may make manufacturing missile parts easy for terrorist organizations and countries like North Korea.

Read the article to learn more about the proliferation threats associated with 3D printing and view the interactive story map that demonstrates the difference between 3D printing (also called additive manufacturing) and traditional (or subtractive) manufacturing.

February 22, 2017
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New analysis explores how 3D printing could reduce the cost and expertise requirements of missile development and other proliferation programs.