3D Printing: Manufacturing’s “Big Bang”

Visualizing the future for me is so easy that I get very impatient waiting for it. Way back in 2005 I wrote a post called, Print 3D Objects on Demand which talked about a breakthrough in 3D printing technology that promised to turn computer aided design in to end-products in an instant. 

Since then we have come a long way but I’m still impatiently waiting for mainstreaming, even though I’m about to jump in to MakerBot, “…a company founded in January 2009 by Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer, and Zach Smith producing an open source 3D printer to democratize manufacturing. You order it, build it, and you have a machine that can make you almost anything!

But is mainstreaming close? Yep. The New York Times “Bits” column about “The Business of Technology” had a brief post on Sunday by Nick Bilton about 3D printing called, Disruptions: The 3D Printing Free for All which said, in part:

It won’t be long before people have a 3-D printer sitting at home alongside its old inkjet counterpart. These 3-D printers, some already costing less than a computer did in 1999, can print objects by spraying layers of plastic, metal or ceramics into shapes. People can download plans for an object, hit print, and a few minutes later have it in their hands.

Near the end Bilton writes:

A recent research paper published by the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, Calif., titled The Future of Open Fabrication, says 3-D printing will be manufacturing’s Big Bang as jobs in manufacturing, many overseas, and jobs shipping products around the globe are replaced by companies setting up 3-D fabrication labs in stores to print objects rather than ship them.

No question we’re a ways off from buying a 3D printer for our home to make finished goods, “Honey! Will you come here and look at these designs online so we can start printing our plates for Thanksgiving?” More likely 3D printing is going to first enable organizations to rapidly prototype new designs and shorten the cycle times for taking a great idea or innovation to manufacturing. Later on we’ll undoubtedly head over to a “Kinkos for 3D Printing” to have stuff made on industrial-strength printers, like those made by my hometown dominant player in the space, Stratasys

But who knows? Maybe breakthroughs in nano-materials will enable us to buy a 3D printer at Best Buy and crank out all sorts of finished goods right at home. Finally I’ll be able to just ‘print’ my ideas vs. taking weeks to get a production-ready prototype.

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