It seems like the floodgates are beginning to open when it comes to the world of 3D printing. The promise of this technology seems to becoming more apparent to more people these days, and there are reports on the great potential for additive manufacturing appearing in the mainstream press appearing on a regular basis.
Some of the real advantages of 3D printing is becoming obvious to those who examine it — some its appeals are:
- Infinite customization of products
- Ease of design with CAD software
- Vast reduction in waste products
- Home-based manufacturing
- Designs easily shared over the internet
We recently reported on the special report in the Economist magazine which went into a detailed examination of the current state of digital manufacturing, labeling it a ‘Third Industrial Revolution’. There have been other noteworthy articles since then — for example, The Telegraph has a lengthy article entitled ‘Make your own: the 3D printing revolution‘, which discusses the history, current state of affairs, and possible future impact of 3D printing.
Mashable reports on a talk by Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen who explains how fast product development has become because of 3D Printing. He explains that new versions of a product can be put out almost instantly, depending on feedback from customers. There are tremendous advantages for product designers.
Instead of getting a loan, paying a manufacturer, putting it through retail channels and hoping it sells, designers can make just as many units as they sell. If they have new ideas or feedback, they can incorporate them immediately instead of waiting until their latest version sells out.
Despite all the advantages of 3D printing there are still significant drawbacks. One of these is that mass production of 3D printed products is much more expensive than traditional production methods. Economies of scale in manufacturing allow for the creation of cheap products — but over time this could change. There is also the time issue — it takes a long time, sometimes hours and even days, for current 3D printers to make products which would be much faster with current factory production methods.
So a 3D Printing revolution is still in its very early days, with many problems to solve. But momentum seems to be building, and as the movement captures the imagination of the public we could well see rapid advances in this field which may hasten the flowering of this new way to make things.