Printing Stuff: The Future of Manufactoring

The third industrial revolution

If you mention to people that in the future you can print everyday objects such as plastic cups, shoes, toys, and even clothing, they would find you going a little too far in your imagination. It is easy to understand printing letters or pictures on a paper, but objects is something else. The only misleading part about printing objects is that it is not something that you’ll have to wait for to happen in the future. Printing objects is not so new and is certainly possible today. When 3D printing matures and becomes mainstream, it will cause a huge disruption. Manufacturing is becoming digital.

So how does it work? 3D printing is a process of creating 3 dimensional objects. There are basically two ways to create objects. First is subtractive process where solid material is cut until the remaining object is revealed. This is not hard to image. The problem is that lot of material gets wasted. The second process is additive process. There are several ways this can be done but the basic principle is that objects are created by adding layer after layer of material until the final object is created.

Here is an example of a 3D printer from a company called Makerbot. The Replicator printer costs just $1.749.

3D printing has entered the consumer level. There are also many industrial printers that can print 3D models of design, for example cars. In fact, the early use of 3D printing is to make rapid prototypes of industrial objects. The Economist reports that a firm is working on printing wings on drone airplanes. Objects that could not be manufactured using traditional manufacturing can easily be created using CAD software and 3D printing. Researchers have even printed a life jellyfish.

The impact of 3D printing will be huge. The manufacturing process is becoming a digital process run by software. CAD software has existed for years but now we are seeing designs become standards that can be shared easily. Thingiverse (http://www.thingiverse.com/) is a web site where users can upload their own design as well as download them. We can expect new jobs where people will become designers of everyday objects. We can also expect jobs in traditional manufacturing to get disrupted and disappear.

The whole economics of manufacturing is about to change. In the 20th century we saw how production of scale could lower prices for consumer goods. Now economics of scales become irrelevant. Each individual will just print their copy and even customise it to their own taste. The third industrial revolution is about to begin.

Image from: http://www.continuumfashion.com/shoes.html

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