A New Manufacturing Paradigm

I remember a saying in the 1990’s that went something like this: “everything that can be digital, will be digital.” Now, almost 20 years later, we see that’s very much come to pass. Industries whose products could easily be delivered as bits are now digital, such as music, movies, and publishing. Many more 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. All of these examples mostly deliver bits to screens and electronic devices. In some cases the final output is printed hard copy from a digital source. What we haven’t seen, however, is printing to 3D space, ie: printing real-world objects. Until now.

The following article briefly surveys a technology, called 3D Printing, that has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing. Imagine being able to design objects digitally, and then utilize 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 (mass personalization) can all be delivered. Such capability may even begin to 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 comes to fruition as a viable technology it could eventually have a huge impact on society, making basic necessities such as housing, clothing, and efficient transportation much more affordable. If that happens we’ll also have to shorten that phrase from the ’90s mentioned above to something more like this: “everything … will be digital.”

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