A New Manufacturing Paradigm

I remember a saying in the 1990s that went something like this: “everything that can be digital will be digital.” Now, almost 20 years later, we can see how much that’s been realized. Products, such as music, movies, and publishing, are now delivered as bits. Many industries have moved processes to digital, including banking, tax reporting, and bill paying. And almost every business has a digital component, whether through web marketing, e-commerce, or just a simple website. Most of these examples deliver bits to screens on electronic devices. In some cases, the final output is printed copy from a digital source. However, what we haven’t seen is printing to 3D space, ie: real-world printing, until now.

The following article briefly surveys a technology called 3D Printing that may revolutionize manufacturing. Imagine designing objects digitally and utilizing machines to render those plans as actual objects. Anything from simple boxes to unibody computer casings to electronic parts to homes and even buildings are possible. Mass quantities or one-offs (aka mass personalization) can all be delivered. Such capability may even reverse the loss of manufacturing to overseas competitors.

… think about what the laser printer originally did for the graphic design profession. Rather than having to rely on a team of production technicians to render the designer’s artwork, suddenly, it was only necessary to hit PRINT, and a camera-ready master would emerge from the printer. Today, it’s possible for a product designer to create an intricate three-dimensional solid model in a CAD system and likewise press PRINT. This time, however, what emerges is not a sheet of paper but a fully-formed 3D object.

If 3D Printing becomes a viable technology, it will eventually impact society, making necessities such as housing, clothing, and efficient transportation much more affordable. If that happens, we may have to shorten that phrase from the ’90s mentioned above to: “everything … will be digital.”

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