The potential of 3D Printing is so expansive and linked with possibilities that even those possibilities have possibilities within them. I believe 3D printing is an enabling technology, and much like the computer did for information and communication, it will help accelerate the innovation of almost every physical industry going forward. If you don’t believe me, realize that there are 3D printers that can print out circuits using conductive materials. This means electronics will be 3D printed in the future – the same goes for food, textiles, architecture, etc. It seems with materials science advancement and 3D printing, many old manufacturing processes that used to take multiple steps are now able to be reduced into just a couple steps.
I would like to thank John Hornick for contributing this guest piece for 3D Masterminds. John has outlined 10 incredible standpoints on how 3D printing will impact the world in the future and it’s an honor to share them with you here.
The following is excerpted from John Hornick’s new book, 3D Printing Will Rock the World, which is available from Amazon here.
3D printers are the most powerful machines humans have ever invented because they can make finished products, with all their parts, fully assembled. Driven by a digital blueprint of the finished product, they do so by building up layer upon layer of materials, which are fused into a single mass with heat, laser light, electron beams, chemicals, ultrasound, or glue.
Most products are made of many parts. They result from many manufacturing steps performed by many machines, all with their own operators. Each machine and operator do a certain job, such as cutting, grinding, drilling, or milling, then pass the part along to another machine and operator that perform another job, and on and on along an assembly line until the part is completed. Eventually, all of the parts are assembled into a final product, either by other machines or by hand. 3D printing rocks manufacturing by replacing all of these steps with fundamentally different machines and materials that substantially simplify the manufacturing process, reducing its costs and carbon footprint, and eliminating the need for economies of scale.
Ricardo Hausmann, the Harvard economist, calls 3D printing a paradigm shift in manufacturing. One 3D printer makes an entire part or an entire product in one step. It can make different products at the same time, or different products one after the other, without tooling, re-tooling, or changing the way the machine is set up. 3D printers can make structures no other machine can make, and complexity and customization are free. As IBM said in its 2013 study, “For enterprises, 3D printing isn’t just a curiosity, it’s a revolution. It frees companies from the need to build standardized parts and pursue economies of scale.” Combined with advanced materials, 3D printing is the Holy Grail of manufacturing.
Products have always been slaves to how they can be made. If a design cannot be made with traditional machines, it remains trapped on paper or in a computer. Thus, product designers have been forced to design for manufacture. 3D printing changes that. In a 3D printed world, designers no longer need to design for the limitations of existing machines because 3D printers can build almost any design, regardless of complexity. With virtually no limitations on manufacturing, 3D printers will rock how we create because they can manufacture for design, which turns the creative process on its head. Product designs no longer need to be broken into multiple parts, to be made separately. Designers can immerse themselves in the creative process because they can 3D print prototypes immediately. The mediocrity and monotony of mass-produced designs can be replaced with mass-customized and mass-personalized designs. Because almost any product can be 3D printed, the design can follow the designer’s vision and is limited only by the imagination.
Making us makers, again
We are all makers at heart. For all of human existence except the last 100 years or so, we made the things we needed. Manufacturing was democratized. All sorts of people made all sorts of things, for each other, in villages, towns, and cities all over the world. At first they did so on a small scale, making what each person or family needed to survive. Spears, bows, and arrows for hunting. Ceramic jars to hold food and wine. Wine and beer for pleasure. Food. As societies formed, a single artisan made a particular product for a village. Blacksmiths made tools and shoed horses, weavers made fabric, shoemakers made shoes, farmers grew crops. Then along came the Industrial Revolution, which made an amazing variety of consistent quality products widely and easily available at reasonable prices, and people became buyers, not makers. 3D printing will rock who we are, taking us back to our maker roots and re-democratizing manufacturing. As personal 3D printers become better and better, faster and faster, and capable of making more and more sophisticated products, the human drive to make will be rekindled.
President Barack Obama made this point at the 2014 Makers’ Faire in Washington, D.C.:
“Our parents and our grandparents created the world’s largest economy and strongest middle class not by buying stuff, but by building stuff—by making stuff, by tinkering and inventing and building; by making and selling things first in a growing national market and then in an international market—stuff Made in America.”
3D printers will make us makers again.
Shrinking the world and bringing jobs home
America has been bleeding factory jobs since World War II, as have other countries with both high intellectual capital and high standards of living, which mean high labor costs. The UK is in a similar pickle. As its empire slowly faded, so did factory jobs. During a speech in Australia, I heard the same laments we have heard in the U.S. for years: jobs are being lost to countries with substantially lower wages. And factory job shrinkage is not confined to the English-speaking world. In the 1980s, Japan was America’s manufacturing nemesis and seemed economically unstoppable. But it now shares our boat. 3D printing will reverse these trends, rocking where we make things by distributing manufacturing all over the world, fueling a manufacturing renaissance in countries with high intellectual capital and high manufacturing costs, such as the United States, the UK, Japan, and Australia, repatriating jobs by enabling companies to make things, profitably, at the point of need without concern for economies of scale, eliminating boom and bust economies, replacing large companies with thousands or tens of thousands of small companies, putting most countries on a sustainable path of regional manufacturing, and possibly causing short term conflicts between nations as we shift from centralized to distributed manufacturing.
Rocking business as usual and creating jobs you never heard of
President Obama rocketed 3D printing to the national consciousness when he said this during his 2013 State of the Union address, “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering 3D printing; that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.” The President’s words heralded the first days of the 3D printing manufacturing renaissance. But the jobs created by 3D printing won’t be your grandfather’s factory jobs.
3D printing allows us to make things in a fundamentally different way, to make fundamentally different things, and democratizes manufacturing. By lowering or eliminating entry barriers, it’s easier to get into manufacturing. The effects on industry of the democratization of manufacturing will be profound, rocking business as usual on a global scale by reaching into every nook and cranny of almost every economy, eliminating assembly lines and reducing the number of jobs for unskilled workers while creating new ones for skilled workers, simplifying supply and distribution chains, shaking the foundations on which companies, markets, and economies are built, blurring the lines between manufacturers and customers, encouraging some companies to sell designs, not products, and forcing others to do so (especially companies that depend on selling replacement and spare parts), and disrupting traditional manufacturing, distribution, shipping, warehousing, and retail.
On the consumer level, most homes will have a 3D printer and everything will change when consumers or networks of friends can make almost any product they need or want, away from control (meaning that no one knows about it and no one can control it). When consumers start making rather than buying, on a large scale, the need for mass production will be reduced. Markets once dominated by a few huge players will be transformed as existing companies, startups, former customers, and consumers start making, selling, or using competing products away from control and offering a wide range of products and services that never existed before.
Merging science and nature
3D printers can make things that could not be made before, either because there was no way to make them with traditional machines, or because it would cost too much. The elimination of manufacturing limitations and prohibitive production costs, coupled with the availability of advanced materials, are a bonanza for product designers, engineers, and customers, allowing them to think and design outside the box, way outside the box. 3D printing will rock the things we make, resulting in radically different mass-customized products with complex, elegant, and increasingly organic structures in which science and nature merge, both in appearance and reality.
What does “genuine” mean?
Counterfeiting is expected to be a $1.7 trillion threat to world economies by 2015. 325% more counterfeit goods were confiscated from 2002 to 2012 than in the previous decade. NASA says counterfeiting is one of its biggest challenges. 3D printing is a perfect tool for counterfeiters. The democratization of manufacturing driven by 3D printing will lead to counterfeiting on steroids because copies of genuine products can be made by professional counterfeiters or by well-meaning people who print things away from control. As 3D printers get better and better, faster and faster, and more and more consumer friendly, anyone will be able to make copies of genuine products. And counterfeiters will always invent ingenious ways to make products that appear to be genuine.
Even if people want to buy the genuine product, how will they know it is genuine in a 3D printed world? If a bicyclist cracks his head using a 3D printed bicycle helmet, or a child chokes on a 3D printed toy part, how will the company or the victim know if it was genuine, or a perfect knock-off? How will they know who to sue, or if anyone should be sued? In a world where companies sell 3D printed products or blueprints, or both, where such products are bought and resold, where blueprints can be obtained from many sources, and modified, where such blueprints are printed away from control, and where the products of printing away from control are sold and resold, how will you know if a product is genuine? How will you know if a blueprint is the real deal? In a 3D printed world, what does “genuine” even mean?
The Dark Side: 3D printing new kinds of crime
3D printing has the potential to transform the world by simplifying manufacturing, shortening supply and distribution chains, democratizing manufacturing, creating and repatriating jobs, reducing waste, customizing products to our needs, and producing radically different products. But 3D printing can also be the devil’s playground. Like anything else, 3D printing has a dark side and some people will be called to it. It will soon be possible to 3D print almost anything away from control. Guns have already been 3D printed, some within control and some away from control. Thieves are already using these machines to 3D print new types of crime. Counterfeiters, drug dealers, black marketeers, gangsters, terrorists, and other criminals will not be far behind.
3D printing new laws
Because 3D printing will have profound effects on stakeholders — companies, consumers, governments, and economies — it is bound to rock the law too. Intellectual property law is mentioned most often, but the legal effects of 3D printing will be much broader. 3D printing will certainly affect IP law, but product safety and product liability law will probably have more relevance to most people in a 3D printed world. As 3D printing away from control spreads, product liability issues will multiply, as will insurance claims and related legal issues. The FDA will be faced with approving countless 3D printed medical devices, drugs, and human organs. The FAA will face the same issues with 3D printed aircraft parts. 3D printing away from control will also challenge governments’ abilities to collect income and sales taxes. 3D printing new kinds of crime will challenge the law enforcement, investigation, intelligence, military, national security, and criminal justice systems, and inter-country relations, and lead to calls for new laws to address the Dark Side.
Rocking kids’ futures: paving the roads to tomorrow
3D printing will rock the world in many ways, but will we be ready? Many companies probably will be unprepared. But the opposite is true of educators and government policy makers. The former seem to see that tomorrow’s workforce needs to learn about 3D printing today, and the latter are hopeful that 3D printing can revitalize manufacturing. For both, kids are the key and schools and governments around the world are getting serious about 3D printing.
Kids are just starting to use simple, inexpensive, consumer grade 3D printers today. They are the early adopters, and machines that are good enough today will become better and better, faster and faster, and capable of making more and more things. Kids will not only grow up with the technology, the technology will grow up with the kids because they will contribute to its advancement. Today’s young innovators will 3D print our future. To some extent they will learn by using their own machines, teaching themselves and improving the machines as they go. But they will also need access to advanced machines, processes, and materials. Schools and governments are beginning to pave the roads the kids will follow, from printing toys at home today to making high-tech parts and products in the factories of tomorrow.