3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing IS Changing the Manufacturing Industry

How will 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing change the way conventional manufacturing methods are utilized?

Is 3D Printing just a cool process or are there added benefits and value gained to using this additive fabrication process over conventional machining methods? 3D Printing is cool, but the manner in which it is being used has greatly added to its appeal. 3D Printing is now moving beyond the prototyping and design validation stages and into production applications.

If you’re manufacturing low volumes of a product, using Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) might be a more cost effective method for producing end-use production parts. Of course one off prototypes or even production parts can benefit from DDM, but did you know it is now being adopted and used as implants in medical applications? Another emerging industry that has begun to utilize 3D Printing are the many food manufacturing sectors.  3D Printers can now produce parts using chocolate!

With these new technologies emerging, how will 3D Printing be used and will it be available for the home/consumer markets at an affordable price while providing similar quality as higher end production 3D Printing machines?

 

Image provided by: http://technabob.com

2 Comments. Leave new

Richard Lum
March 1, 2012 9:04 PM

It is absolutely the case that 3D printing technologies, and additive processes in particular, are exciting and are opening up new possibilities. Certainly, if this weren’t the case, then we would not be witnessing such a mainstream interest (and the naturally occurring hype that will accompanying such attention) in the emerging families of macro fabrication platforms.

At the moment, the most ambitious visions for the future of digital fabrication involve 21st century versions of Star Trek “replicators” in the back rooms of every household in America. Indeed, Cory Doctorow’s novel Makers presents a somewhat dystopic version of this, where favela-like communities of Americans all possess dramatic abilities to design/copy and fab everything from coffee mugs to robotic toys to specialized contact lenses with the gear they all possess in their shanty-town homes.

The question for professional futurists at the moment is, exactly how disruptive will these new technologies be to the fundamental processes that mainstream post-industrial society relies on to produce and distribute all of the “stuff” of life, the basic economic goods like food and retail goods that we all pick up at Wal-Mart or purchase from Amazon.com.

Will, on the one hand, these technologies simply be efficiency add-ons for companies running traditional manufacturing practices, perhaps a “sustaining” technology in the Innovator’s Dilemma sense, or, on the other hand, will it fundamentally disrupt the traditional supply and production chains that currently gird the world, unseating the classic factory and mass production model and causing most of the material things we need to travel down entirely new production chains?

I suspect, as alluded in your post, that some manufacturing chains will be radically disrupted, while others will be improved and altered but not completely unseated. I do think the more radical visions for tomorrow, the “Prosumer Rising” type of images, will remain aspirations until there are more innovations in feedstocks and materials.

And of course, all of this assumes no change in the patterns of consumption and values demonstrated by individuals, and the business environment that has evolved around driving the sense of need in consumers (note, they are not labelled “citizens” or “individuals”) to purchase more, faster and more frequently. Entire business models have been built on maintaining individuals in a perpetual consumption mode for non-vital goods (like iPods and cheap t-shirts).

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Derek Singleton
March 19, 2012 7:33 PM

Collin,

I think you’re exactly right that this has the potential to dramatically change the way we produce goods and it’s encouraging to see that really low-volumes of products can now be produced by 3D printers.

However, it will take a bit of time before the kinds of products that can be made can be change in scope and complexity. I think the most interesting thing is how quickly 3D printers are moving downstream to become accessible to the average person.

Best,
Derek

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