3D Printing; Are We Near the Tipping Point?



In my last posting ("Last Week I Visited the Future… and its in 3D")I wrote about my trip to Shapeways, a company that is on the cutting edge of consumerist 3D printing. Shapeways is not the only company in the business.  If you want to check out some toy specific 3D sites, you may want to visit My Robot Nation where you can design and have 3D printed your very own robot.  Also, check out Makie Lab, a British company which focuses on allowing users to design and 3D print toys and games.

Thanks to Shapeways, I learned about how big the 3D printing market has become and the number of materials there are available with which to work.  But what does it all mean?  Is it important?

MyRobotNationMy Robot Nation

I think it means a lot.  Here are some things to think about:

  • If you own enough 3D printers, why would you need to own any inventory?  You could print out on demand.  It’s JIT (Just in Time) in its truest sense.
  • If you can print out small batches without the need for molds or factories?  Anyone can enter the marketplace with a new item.  The only cost is for the material.  
  • If the need for factories and engineers declines, what happens to people who currently hold those jobs?

  • If you don’t need to ship long distances, what happens to container ships and big rig tractor trailers and their drivers?
  • If you don’t need to assemble the product (believe it or not it prints fully assembled) what happens to the people who work the production lines?
  • In short, what happens when designers and inventors control the means of production? 
  • 3D printing is still a work in progress but those who I speak with tell me that we are nearing a tipping point.  When 3D printing truly comes into its own, it has the power to disrupt industry and society. 




    5 thoughts

    1. Sorry I should add to the list of non-3D-printing-compatible podcurts, clothing and accessories, wood furniture (actual wood, not reconstituted pulp), and basically anything made natural materials that are already structured.If we broaden 3d printing to include computer-controlled (perhaps 3D) weaving/braiding, and a few other semi-additive processes like CNC sliceform/laminated object manufacturing, then America does indeed have many advantages, as a leader in design and innovation, something I think the Asians will take a very long time to become competitive in, if ever, due to culture.

    2. Nice article, Richard. I remember seeing one of these about three years ago for the first time and thinking about the massive impact it will have on consumerism. While the “flux capacitor”, as we called it, was ridiculously expensive at the time, one needs only to look at how fast and far we’ve come with computing! From my understanding, these machines are available for a few hundred dollars these days, and there are plans to mass produce them. I don’t think the reality is that far off.
      Like any piece of technology that will fundamentally change the way we live, I’m a little nervous at it’s implications, but I am nonetheless enthusiastic at the opportunities it presents!

    3. Great Article Richard! What is also interesting is that some key patent are going to run out in 2014 onwards. This will open the door for some cheaper printer and thus make 3 D printing more scalable for up and coming entrepreneurs and accessible for hobbyist. Exciting times!

    4. There´s still too much things to think like the ABS most used material for 3d print isn´t the same for injection molding, in mechanical propierties is less powerfull on 3d print. and the expertise that you need for design and engineer is nothing that could be replace by a databse of alot of CAD or a software that let you to configure and select parts.

    5. The better question is, why wouldn’t we be at a point where printing the object at home would be equally economical?
      I believe the future of manufacturing will become a battle for licensing the rights to print certain objects.
      Innovation will still exist, and just as before, it will take engineers to understand construction, tolerances, forces, etc.; in addition to properly servicing the machines to make our objects. These jobs will actually become more meaningful, and will certainly be different from how we currently perceive them.

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