3D printing: The future of manufacturing
In an extremely short span of time 3D printing has certainly come a long way. Charles Hull built the initial printer way back in the 1980s as a tool for printing basic polymer objects, but in today’s world, that technology has generated remarkable efforts in many manufacturing sectors; right from the building of complex aircraft and car components, to manufacturing human organs and prostheses for clinical uses.
In recent manufacturing, 3D printers are been extensively used though their use has so far been limited and restricted to only particular processes. And if you’re not excited by the level of waves 3D printing is making, then you’re certainly not thinking big enough, because according to the prediction of some technology visionaries life on Earth will in time radically change because of it, and according to these predictors, 3D printing will make life as we perceive it today barely recognizable in about 50 to 75 years. With the idea of a do-it-yourself mode of manufacturing coming to the forefront, just in a way similar to how the Internet leveled the playing field, by solving the problems of reach and allowing everyone to play equally, that is what has been predicted to happen with manufacturing soon. With the larger business world beginning to grasp the potential of 3D prints for efficient, low cost and eco-friendly manufacturing. It is no surprise that analyst firm, Canalys sees the global market for 3D printers skyrocketing to $16.2bn by year 2018. With the increasing level of adoption of this technology manufacturing, supply chain and the logistics processes will revolutionize.
Technology has certainly developed to a point where we are rethinking industry. Also, the next industrial revolution is creating chances for manufacturing to the entire world where the populace can partake in the process. This idea though will not be much different from the change computers underwent from a few, large, centralized mainframes to something we can comfortably hold in our hands.
A GROWING ECOSYSTEM
Every day, more people have access to 3D printers and technology and thanks to the open source DIY clubs, hackers and maker spaces and Maker Fairies that are popping up in cities around the world. some perfect international examples are the Wevolver in London and Amsterdam, the FabLabs, and more currently, the 3D Hubs network which has grown from coupling a couple of hundred 3D printers to more than 7,000 in less than a year giving room of tech tricks to the users.
Many people have started printing in 3D in their own neighborhood due to easy access to top class 3D modeling and design applications and software, such as the 123D Design which is available for PC or Mac, iPhone and also as a Web application making it accessible for interested users. With entrepreneurs betting on a lucrative market to be achieved in the next few years more 3D printing marketplaces and Service Centers are springing up everywhere. Companies like Shapeways and Maker6 are already pioneers in this area in the United States, while iMaterialise is a well-known brand in Europe. A lot of the big companies are already positioning towards a 3D printing consumer explosion as well, with the recently launched Amazon’s 3D printing Store or the UPS Store’s in the United States perfect examples of this.
In fact, 3D-printing technology is gaining ground at a staggering rate, and American designers are currently working on 3D-printed cars, while in places like China and Holland, 3D-printers are building complete houses. Heralding the possibility of a man-made food supply the first 3D-printed hamburger was recently printed in England. Companies like Boeing, GE and some industry leaders are currently manufacturing state-of-the-art aerospace equipment using this new technology, while NASA is demonstrating how 3D printers will one day be used in space, using Zero-G technology.
In our world of ‘next-day delivery’ where consumers are known to want products fast, 3D printing will make it possible for various establishments to consistently meet delivery of goods even in tighter time scales. With this technology customers’ growing demands for personalized products will also be met. Personalisation has started happening in the clothing and footwear industry as consumers can walk into a store, customize whatever items they want and take them home the same day. This will lead to the demise of the construction and agricultural industries, thereby making many traditional methods of building and food production obsolete.
Although much of what has been said still has some way to go, it’s clear that the potential of increased pace of trade brought about by 3D-printing and recent industry models that are created will certainly need businesses to re-evaluate processes of their supply chain. Manufacturers will then need to make their supply chains far more effective and able to operate real-time in order to be able to cope with faster product design and production cycles. There is a concern that this type of manufacturing, with emphasis on consumer goods will generate greater level of consumption and waste. Since the materials used for 3-D printing of these goods are mostly heat processed recyclable plastic products, thereby making a reverse supply chain approach possible. Therefore, customers can recycle used, damaged and unwanted products by hauling them back to a local 3D-print shop, so that they can be recycled and made into new and useable products once more.
Though, it is not all about replacing the procedures of how we create and get a product, it is about making brand new products having entirely new properties which were not a possibility with the old processes. When this happens countries like China which has been the manufacturing power of the world will lose the strategy that has given it such political heft in the future and though it won’t be losers in the new era and like every other nation it will have a domestic market to serve on a local basis. And since not all products lend themselves to 3D-printing, China will have to step down from being the mass-manufacturing powerhouse of the world but will still command a fair share of the economy.
The great shift of wealth and employment to the East over the past two decades may have seemed a decisive tipping factor, but this new technology will certainly change how the world leans.