3D printing technology undoubtedly presents opportunities for a completely new type of production that will revolutionize the workplace, as the many posts on this blog demonstrate. But as with all new forms of technology its development also raises many questions.
A cheap, commerical 3D printer
A recent report appears to find evidence that the use of 3D printers creates a bi product of nano particles that may be harmful to humans.
A research team measured ultra fine particle emissions (UFP) from the types of 3D printer typically in domestic or office use. Their findings are published in this rather technical report, and mathematics is certainly not my forte’, but it can be easily summarized: the results show that mean concentration of UFP’s is almost three times higher during 3D printer operation, meaning that these types of printers must be classed as UFP “high emitters”.
Now we need to see the results in context however, the levels reported are similar to those produced when we cook on a barbeque, but I personally use my barbeque in the garden, not in a small sealed room in the office.
The printers in question are often grouped together or found in air conditioned spaces with little ventilation, they are not sold with ventilation and there is no venting legislation, so the levels of UFP tends to increase over time in the spaces where they are used.
Particles of this type have been found to be damaging to mammals because they can easily pass into the respiratory system and cause inflammation. Some are so small that they can pass directly into the blood stream and into the organism itself.
The authors conclude that “caution should be used when operating some commercially available 3D printers in unvented or inadequately filtered indoor environments. Additionally, more controlled experiments should be conducted to more fundamentally evaluate aerosol emissions from a wider range of desktop 3D printers and feedstocks”.
A little common sense and some awareness raising and a health risk can be avoided. Industrial users have a culture of health and safety related to emissions, something that office culture might lack, but it could certainly be learned and implemented.
Anyway, the sun is out, where are those frozen veggie burgers?
The World Economic Forum recently released its Global Information Technology Report 2013, and in this post I would like to have a quick look at it.
It is a long document, so I will just try to take a few highlights to give an idea of the findings.
The report has a Network Readiness Index that aims to measure how prepared countries are to adopt and make the most of new technology. Factors such as investment in broadband and other telecommunications fields obviously enter, but so does the quality of the education system and regulatory powers.
Finland leads the world in embracing technology, followed by Singapore and Sweden. The UK is in 7th place, the USA in 9th and my present home Italy is well down at number 50.
The Nordic countries and the so-called Asian Tigers – Singapore, Taiwan (China), South Korea and Hong Kong SAR – dominate this year’s index thanks to their business-friendly approach, highly skilled populations and investments in infrastructure, among other strengths. Finland, which arguably has one of the best educational systems in the world, stands out as a digital innovation hub.
Southern Europe shows a massive lag in fact with the North, and this is a major problem.
The positioning is not only important for so called ‘techies’, but really important for the economy as a whole, and here in Italy (and in Southern Europe on the whole) we are in serious need of economic improvement.
Latin America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa also suffer from a serious lag despite infrastructure improvements, an expansion of coverage and a push into e-government. Weaknesses in the political and regulatory environment, the existence of large segments of the population with a low skills base and poor development of the innovation system are all factors hindering Latin America’s technological potential. In sub-Saharan Africa, costly access to technology, a low skills base and unfavourable business conditions are among the chief obstacles.
The report demonstrates that economic growth and technological readiness are tightly linked.
A look at the top 10
An analysis by Booz & Company has found that ICT could help lift millions out of poverty.
Digitization has boosted world economic output by US$ 193 billion over the past two years and created 6 million jobs during that period, according to the study. Using a Digitization Index that ranks countries on a scale from zero to 100, Booz & Company found that an increase of 10% in a country’s digitization score fuels a 0.75% growth in its GDP per capita. That same 10% boost in digitization leads to a 1.02% drop in a state’s unemployment rate.
If emerging markets could double the Digitization Index score for their poorest citizens over the next 10 years, the result would be a global US$ 4.4 trillion gain in nominal GDP, according to the study. It would generate an extra US$ 930 billion in the cumulative household income for the poorest, and 64 million new jobs for today’s socially and economically most marginal groups. This would enable 580 million people to climb above the poverty line.
So investment is this area is extremely important, but in many places falling profits due to economic downturn (as is the case in Southern Europe and to some extent the USA) mean that less money is available, and this effects future growth scenarios.
Interestingly 3G growth is more important than general mobile telecommunication growth, we really do live in an information society that is based on Internet connectivity.
Medical care is also another area where benefits are net and easy to measure.
Southern Europe is in a particularly precarious position due to lack of investment capability. Rwanda on the other hand is following many other African countries in investing in expanding its fibre optic network and hopes to become a banking and finance hub, moving to being a knowledge based economy and away from agrarian in the next 7 years.
Colombia, Uruguay and Panama have become champions of e-government and connectivity. In Colombia, Internet connections have tripled to 6.2 million in the last 2.5 years. In Uruguay, small and medium-sized tech enterprises helped lift technology exports from US$ 50 million in 2000 to US$ 225 million in 2010.
Here in Italy there is little investment and a distinct lack in centralized planning, so we will soon be slipping below these countries on the scale and continue to suffer the related threats on economic development that this situation provokes.
The report is free to download here. It is as I said long and detailed, but the rankings are in chapter 1 if you just want to see where your own country sits.
On Monday a report was released in France that contained the suggestion that a tax should be levied on Internet devices in order to raise money to promote and protect French cultural production.
A Tax Paid Phone
For several years France has had a policy of taxing broadcasters and spending the money on supporting its own film and entertainment industries, but revenues are falling. The problem seems to be that many more people are accessing their entertainment via the Internet and therefore not contributing to its production cost.
The Lescure report as it is known suggests a tax of between 1 and 4% on any Internet capable devices (smartphones, eBook readers and games consoles included), but as we might imagine many of the producers of these devices are not happy about the proposal.
Money has to be raised to maintain the entertainment industries, but many of the companies that provide access to this entertainment are not based in France and do not contribute. They probably don’t want to either, and so we come across the same problem that I wrote about last week, collecting national taxes from international corporations based in another state is never easy, and borders are porous.
The proposed tax would replace one already in existence upon storage devices. Currently tax is levied on blank CD’s and memory sticks as well as computers with hard discs.
The manufacturers complain that the price of the devices would rise leading to fewer sales, although the author of the report argues that such a small percentage increase would make little difference, and would not even effect the home job market because most of these devices are assembled overseas. A 1% tax would raise something of the order of 90 million Euro a year.
The problem remains though. As our sources of entertainment move away from pay TV, publicity funded channels and national subscription systems such as the BBC, money is taken away from the producers and associations that represent and fund these industries. Some see the fact that Google and Apple amongst others are operating outside the tax system and are not contributing to the industries that they make their money from as unfair, and hope that this change in tax law will go some way to evening out the field.
The Wall Street Journal goes into a little more depth on the matter in its free online edition.
I wonder if France takes this step if others in the EU will follow. There are many different ways of making money through so called free downloads as we all know, but the money ends up in the pockets of the provider and not the producer and the industries involved are feeling the pinch. Maybe this needs to change.