From machines that reproduce to printing pizza, or a new liver or even a new face, 3D printing technology is changing the world. But the big question is: can you print your own craft beer?
James Squire

11 Jul 2014 - 4:48 PM  UPDATED 24 Jul 2014 - 2:50 PM

The world as we know it is about to change. In fact, scratch that: the world as we know it is already changing. And the agent for that change is the 3D printer.

It’s almost a case of history repeating itself. Just as the emergence of the original printing press in the second half of the 16th century transformed Europe and, later, the world, so 3D printing is set to transform… well, everything.

3D printing is not new. It’s been around for the best part of 30 years, used by designers to quickly and easily create prototypes. But over the last decade or so – propelled by better techniques, more suitable and varied materials, media interest and a genuine desire to explore the possibilities and break new ground – its limitless, transformational, even revolutionary potential is now being realised.

How 3D printing will revolutionise manufacturing

For a start, 3D printing will turn the mass-production industry into a thing of the past. As Peter Day, Global Business Correspondent for the BBC puts it in this excellent article: ‘Henry Ford’s production lines have been the overwhelming model for manufacturing for the past 100 years. That predominance will soon be replaced by something much more individual, much more local, much more flexible.’

It’s already happening overseas. In New York, for example, a company called Shapeways receives data over the internet from customers, then prints out the product using its bank of 3D printers then ships it back to them. You can even buy 3D printed products from the same company, from a white nylon plastic tea-light holder to a gold-plated, brass-based Harry Potter Golden Snitch. Pity they haven’t mastered a goblet of fire yet, but hey – you’ve gotta start somewhere…

Whether such an enterprise has a long-term future remains to be seen. At the minute, a 3D printer costs anywhere from a little over a thousand dollars to several hundred thousand for the best models that produce the really jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring printouts. Clearly, that’s out of most people’s price range.

But given that the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, the world’s first mobile phone, cost around $10,000 (in today’s money, adjusted for inflation) when it was released in 1983, it’s not hard to see 3D printers becoming household items in the years to come. In fact, taking 3D printing’s technical advances to their sci-fi conclusion, you will presumable be able to use a 3D printer to print a replacement 3D printer when the time comes to replace it.
Which would technically mean machines are able to reproduce. Which would also mean all our wildest beyond-Blade Runner/Terminator fantasies/nightmares are on the verge of coming true.

But would it mean you’ll be able to print your own craft beer?

Printing the dream

Sure, it may be tempting to scoff at such a notion. After all, as things stand, the closest we are to making such a crazy – yet wonderful – dream a reality is the 3D-printed beer cup in the above video, which has a certain novelty value but is hardly going to win prizes for aesthetics, let alone taste, body, balance of flavours, choice of hops, etc.

And yet… 3D printing is already having an impact in the world of beer production. A team of self-described ‘full-time beer drinkers, part-time engineers’ have created Robokeg – ‘an automated bartender that is the perfect solution for serving customers at high-traffic events’. Essentially, as the above picture shows, you could be at nightclub that features unmanned beer taps (preferably serving something from the James Squire craft beer range). You use your smartphone to speak to the tap, pay for the beer, which then pours for you automatically courtesy of 3D-printed mechanism. You can see a demonstration here.

Moreover, moves are afoot to use 3D-printing technology to make the brewing process faster and more efficient, while a quick scan of home brewing forums reveals that 3D printing is starting to be used to produce the likes of filament extruders and hoppers.

Besides, if the technology can already produce 3D printed livers, 3D printed faces and even 3D printed pizzas, don’t be surprised if 3D printed craft beer – each one subtly different in the best tradition of brewing experimentation and exploration – will be coming soon to a brave new world near you.