“3-D Printing was initially a solution looking for a problem. With any world changing technology, it only matters once it actually does change the world.” – Scott Summit, Bespoke Innovations
It sounds like science fiction, using a computer to make a complex object – appearing out of thin air. However, 3-D printing is here and it is growing, expected to be the mode of production of the future. I creating an object really does become as easy as a simple download and quick print, the manufacturing industry, as well as our lives will be changed forever.
According to manufacturing context, 3-D printing is considered additive manufacturing. This reveals something important – the difference between traditional and additive manufacturing. When creating a tool like a wrench, in traditional manufacturing, there is forging, grinding, milling, assembly, moulds, jigs and fixtures. 3-D printing can create an adjustable wrench in one operation, layer by layer and comes out ready to go with all of its moving parts.
Additive manufacturing will not be able to replace all forms of manufacturing, but for the right applications, there are significant advantages. 3-D printing can create products that have complex internal structures that are next to impossible to build with traditional methods. There is no need for a large factory or to retool an assembly line, that same printer can create a piece of art and next a bike part.
One of the most important applications of additive manufacturing is in the use of prototyping. Now that the price of 3-D printers has fallen to a reasonable level, companies can make experimental investments without needing to do a full return on investment cost benefits analysis. Additive manufacturing allows for rapid product development and design innovations to be released from previous cost prohibitive factors. Above all, now companies can respond to fast-changing tastes and needs. Designers can touch multiple prototypes and combine it with other parts – they can learn more before committing to expensive equipment and tooling for large production scales. Innovative creators can take more risk now that these prototypes are cheaper and faster to produce.
3-D printers aren’t just good for prototyping though; they’re good enough for actual production. Specialist parts cost a small fraction of what they once did. Now companies can avoid fixed costs and the burden of carrying stock.
Now everyone can become an open-source machine, not just big businesses. 3-D printing is a radical democratization of the creative process and I am very excited for what new products will be created because of it.