Aug 17, 2017 | By Benedict

A report in the Asia Times, a Hong Kong-based publication, says North Korea could use 3D printing to make weapons of mass destruction (WMD). 3D printing could purportedly reduce development cycle times and reduce the number of workers required.

North Korea is famous for many reasons. Its proficiency in 3D printing technologies, however, is not one of those reasons.

Last year, a North Korean trade show for cutting-edge tech showcased a flagrant copy of a MakerBot Replicator 1st Generation, a machine that had an air of DIY roughness about it even in January 2012. It’s hard to tell what North Korea wanted to achieve by publicizing the trade show, but the presence of the fake MakerBot hardly had the international 3D printing industry quaking in its boots.

But despite the seemingly poor state of additive manufacturing in North Korea, Asia Times has suggested that the one-party state could use 3D printing to create weapons of mass destruction. The article notes that the country already uses CNC machining to create missile components.

In and of itself, the idea that 3D printing could produce WMDs is not as far-fetched as it sounds. In an address to the United Nations Security Council in June, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu warned that 3D printing—along with drones and the dark web—could allow terrorists to produce their own 3D printed WMDs. Could North Korea do the same?

North Korea, of course, has a massively restricted access to international technologies, but Doug Tsuruoka of the Asia Times writes that the country “may have” already found access to advanced 3D printers.

Much of Tsuruoka’s information is gleaned from American arms-control expert Robert Shaw, a program director for the Export Control and Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

The infamous North Korean MakerBot copy

Earlier this year, Shaw offered the following warning about North Korea’s potential access to additive manufacturing technology: “Employed strategically, 3D printing could reduce cycle times in development of missiles and other military systems—and with the right printers and software—even reduce the number of skilled engineers needed for such programs.”

And Shaw believes that it is a question of when, not if, North Korea gets its hands on 3D printers.

But is this really something we need to worry about? The U.S. armed forces have attempted to use 3D printing in missiles, but usually for smaller parts, suggesting that much more than a 3D printer would be required to assemble a full weapon. On the other hand, however, American defense contractor Raytheon warned only a year ago that fully 3D printed missiles were “on the horizon.”

While North Korea’s potential access to additive manufacturing tech could be troublesome in the long run, one could argue that the U.S. and other nations have more pressing concerns about the Asian country. Attempting to diffuse current tensions would be a good start.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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