Understanding the 3D printing revolution

Christopher Barnatt, author of 3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution, recently noted that a number of Ford engineers have Atmel-powered MakerBots in their workstations. As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, 3D printing has clearly entered a new and important stage in a number of spaces including manufacturing, the medical sphere, architectural arena and science lab.

“The question for manufacturers will therefore increasingly be not whether they are using 3D printers in their product design, but where and how frequently. Just as computers escaped from corporate data centers in the 1980s and 1990s and started to be used by non-technical staff, so today it is time for 3D printers to invade a great many offices,” Barnatt opined in an article published in 3D Printer earlier this month.

“Personal 3D printers can now be built or purchased for a few hundred dollars. As such hardware enters the mainstream, more and more people will have at least the potential to start 3D printing things at home, and smart businesses are already starting to recognize this fact.”

In addition to helping customers modify, repair and personalize products, many organizations could very easily start to offer promotional 3D object downloads.

“Today free apps or screensavers are common in the entertainment industry, and within a year or so any marketing campaign that does not include 3D printable content will be missing an easy trick,” he continued. “In retail, there are also opportunities to start selling both consumer 3D printers and consumables, as well as 3D printing and scanning services. In 2013 some of the first 3D printer stores opened around the world.”

However, says Barnatt, while 3D printing will drive a revolution, it probably won’t replace most traditional manufacturing methods.

“Rather, I estimate that, within ten years, 3D printing will be used directly or indirectly in the manufacture of about 20 per cent of products or parts thereof. I would also stress the ‘indirect’ bit here, with the use of 3D printing to produce molds, cores and patterns being very significant over the coming decade,” he explained.

“The desire to achieve material savings will [also] drive the adoption of 3D printing in many industries. This is due to the fact that 3D printing is an additive rather than subtractive process that can achieve minimal wastage. Within a decade, scanning and digital inventory will have a big impact on spare part availability and product repair. [As] natural resources continue to deplete at an alarming rate, increasingly we will need to repair rather than replace broken items, and it is 3D printing that may well actually allow this to happen.”

Barnatt emphasized that software development will determine competitive advantage for many pioneers of fully or partially 3D printed products, with everybody having access to the same industrial 3D printers.

“Successful companies will therefore be those that create the best interfaces between their customers and 3D printing hardware. The future is not about everybody learning CAD, but about smart companies creating a wide range of customized customer apps.”

Last, but certainly not least, Barnatt said he believed bioprinting would become a standard medical practice sometime in the 2020s and 2030s.

3D Printing: The Next Industrial Revolution can be purchased on Amazon for $13.50.

2 thoughts on “Understanding the 3D printing revolution

  1. Pingback: Video: 3D printing a 1927 Miller 91 race car | Bits & Pieces from the Embedded Design World

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