Bringing About the 3D Printing Revolution

Additive manufacturing starts with a virtual 3D object model that is built in solid form one layer at a time, unlike traditional manufacturing which uses injected material in a pre-formed mold or carving away material from base objects. Each layer is created on top of the layer before, developing a solid object representing the virtual model in all of its complexity without machining and post-production treatment necessary in traditional forms of manufacturing. Integrated moving components can be printed already interlocked and ready for operation.

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3D printing allows the same production line to swap from creating parts for cars to parts for homes merely by changing the object file being used in its controlling software. This immediate flexibility threatens to transform manufacturing as much as previous Industrial Revolutions, where water-wheel automation allowed a factory to take the place of hundreds of manual crafters at the end of the 1700s, and again, when steam power automation improved production and distribution in the 1800s. Today, we stand at the opening moment of the next transformation, a Third Industrial Revolution, where mass manufacturing and global transfer of bulk goods will be set aside in favor of locally-produced and highly personalized individual production. Because complexity plays very little part in the production of additive-manufactured goods, instead of printing one object for each production run, the same manufacturing facility can rapidly scale out to produce legions of individually customized versions of the same design.

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Additive manufacturing may be as disruptive to current industries and trades as the previous Industrial Revolutions were before. Just as buggy whip makers had to transition to becoming upholsters when horse-drawn carts were replaced by the automobile, today’s mass manufacturing economies will need to transition to meet this new world where anything can be created locally using less raw material or sustainable alternative materials. The transformation will be felt globally as additive manufacturing matures and reaches more areas of production. A consumer in the next decade will simply locate a design they like, adding features or details, and order its fabrication at a local 3D printing shop for pick-up on their way home.

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Additive manufacturing will touch almost every trade, creating new jobs and improving our capability to clothe, feed, and house the growing global population using 3D printers. Long live the (Third Industrial) Revolution!

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